When the Spider Goes Away, Which Contenders Will Play?

By Raphael Garcia

One of the most compelling aspects of mixed martial arts is the underdog’s ability to pull out a surprise victory at any moment. However, there are some fighters who have the ability to steal the show while dominating their opponents in unbelievable fashion. UFC Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva is such an athlete. He’s sat atop the 185-pound division since 2006, and it’s very difficult to picture the weight class without him. However, at UFC 162, Silva is due to defend his title against the upstart, 9-0 Chris Weidman, in what will be his 11th title defense since defeating Rich Franklin at UFC 64, and regardless of how that fight turns out, sooner or later we will have to imagine the middleweight division, post-Silva. Looking at the rest of the division, there are only a handful of fighters who could be seen as viable contenders to the crown, though there are a number of interesting fights to be made from the top to the bottom of the top 15 rankings which could conjure up new ones.

Many feel that Weidman is the future of the division, but the group doesn’t end with just him. The 28 year old has finished three of his five opponents in the Octagon while fighting three of those bouts on short notice. He has a potent wrestling, grappling, and striking style that makes him an dangerous matchup for not only Silva, but anyone else in the weight division. But what about Vitor Belfort? Although Silva demolished Belfort back in 2011 at UFC 126, Belfort has still looked like a threat to any opponent. He gave Jon Jones an early scare this past September in a fight outside of the middleweight division, but has stopped his last three opponents at fights contracted at 185 pounds. He will be facing the last man to hold the Strikeforce middleweight title in Luke Rockhold at UFC on FX 8 in May, and if he walks through Luke in the same fashion, it will be hard to discredit his place among the elites at 185.

And speaking of Rockhold, is he a viable contender at 185? Coming over from Strikeforce, where he won the title in 2011, he has only two title defenses under his belt, one against a less-than-suitable Keith Jardine, and another against the best contender available at the time, Tim Kennedy. His most relevant win was against Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza when he won the title, so unless the UFC marketing machine can hype up the “Champion vs. Champion” angle, few would see Luke as a solid choice for a title bout without an incredibly impressive win over Vitor.

Outside of these individuals, what about Yushin Okami? Okami looked shaky against Silva at UFC 134 when he was dispatched by TKO. In his next appearance he looked very solid against Tim Boetsch before he was caught with some uppercuts from the clinch and finished in the third round. Since then he’s 3-0 with a recent split decision win against Hector Lombard at UFC on Fuel TV 8. At a young 31 years old, Okami doesn’t have a flashy fighting style, but it is very effective in the Octagon. With one or two more wins, do not be surprised if you see him back as a number one contender if Anderson Silva no longer has the title.

It’s going to be a sad time when Anderson Silva finally decides to walk away from the Octagon. Looking at the top rankings within the division, it will be intriguing to see who is going to emerge at the top of what can become one of the most competitive divisions in the sport. However, it will take more than a belt to supplant “the Spider” in the eyes of fans; whether or not Weidman can wrest the title from Silva at UFC 162, the next UFC middleweight champion will have massive shoes to fill.

UFC 162: Silva vs. Weidman is due to take place on July 6, 2013 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.

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