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Anderson Silva: Top 10 Threats to Silva's UFC Middleweight Title in 2012

Craig AmosFeatured ColumnistFebruary 10, 2012

Anderson Silva: Top 10 Threats to Silva's UFC Middleweight Title in 2012

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    UFC middleweight champion, Anderson Silva, is slated to defend his crown for an unprecedented 12th  time this June in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Silva's opponent, Chael Sonnen, will seek to exact revenge on the "Spider," who defeated the No. 1 contender back in 2010.

    Sonnen's second run at the middleweight strap is well deserved and will be one of the most intriguing rematches the UFC has ever put on. That said, this rematch does not signify any sort of stagnation in the middleweight division. On the contrary, the 185-pound class is swarming with eager contenders that are forming a line behind Mr. Sonnen.

    While Silva is concentrated on disposing of Sonnen for a second time this spring, the challenger is just one of 10 guys who will be vying for his belt before New Year's Day.

10: Yushin Okami: Looking for Redemption

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    Why Is He on the List?

    Okami was passed over for a title shot many times before finally getting a run at the "Spider" in 2011. When he finally had the UFC middleweight strap in his sights, he laid a goose egg.

    It's difficult to say whether it was nerves, injury or something else that handcuffed the Japanese powerhouse, but the Okami that contested Silva last year was a pale imitation of the actual fighter he can be.

    Okami is a tremendous wrestler and one of the strongest middleweights arounda tough combination for anyone to top.

     

    Does He Have a Chance?

    A minor one.

    Okami seems like a prototypical foil for Silvastrong, great takedowns and clinch work and dominating ground controlbut the first time he challenged for the title crushed any illusions that he is Anderson's equal. 

    Okami is a true martial artist and will grow from the experience gained in his most recent defeat. Even so, the gap between him and the champ may just be too wide.

    I can fathom Okami grinding out a decision against anyone, but his second fight against Silva (Okami holds a 2006 disqualification win over Silva) was too much of a blowout to ignore.

     

    Will He Have the Chance in 2012?

    Depends.

    Okami is slated to take on Tim Boetsch in Japan this February. If he is able to finish the "Barbarian," and can rack up another impressive win this summer, Okami cannot be more than one victory away from a second go at UFC gold.

9: Demian Maia: Searching for Consistency

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    Why Is He on the List?

    I grimace while placing Maia ninth on this list because it simultaneously seems too high and too low. Maia should rank higher because he has the talent to be one of the best 185-pounders in the world, but should be left off the list completely because he often performs like a mediocre gatekeeper.

    If Maia stops kidding around with MMA and drills himself to death to improve his takedowns, he could threaten anyone at middleweight, even Anderson Silva.

     

    Does He Have a Chance?

    If Maia were able to get Anderson to the mat with time to work for a submission, he would almost certainly finish the champ. 

    However, when we factor Maia's previous outing against the Brazilian kingpin into this hypothetical match and add in Maia's lackluster performance against Chris Weidman this January, the chance of him doing so seems awfully small.

    If Maia fought as he is capable of fighting, there is no doubt in my mind that he could pose a legitimate threat to Silva, but the likelihood of him living up to that potential seems to fade bit by bit every time he fights.

    Unless Maia really turns things around, Silva by knockout or another mind-numbing decision.

     

    Will He Have the Chance in 2012?

    Doubtful, though crazier things have happened.

    If Maia figures it all out and puts in some impressive submission victories against high-ranking opposition, he may be clamoring for a No. 1 contender bout later this year. To actually be in a title fight before next January, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu master would necessarily be the beneficiary of another contender's injury.

8: Tim Kennedy: Potential Strikeforce Import

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    Why Is He on the List?

    Anderson Silva has disposed of a large portion of the UFC middleweight division's upper echelon, so Kennedy brings the "Spider" some fresh blood.

    Kennedy is a Strikeforce stand out that owns a solid ground game and is more than capable of bringing the fight to the mat. Since joining the Strikeforce roster in 2009, Kennedy has amassed a 5-1 record with four wins coming via submission.

    Kennedy could most certainly give Silva fits with his takedowns and ground control.

     

    Does He Have a Chance?

    Kennedy would have a slight chance to dethrone Anderson.

    While his takedowns are some of the most aggressive the middleweight division has to offer, Silva's takedown defense is nothing to scoff at. The incumbent champion has successfully battled many high level wrestlers before, such as Nate Marquardt, and Yushin Okami. The only wrestler who has given him any real issues was Chael Sonnen, and Kennedy is not on Sonnen's level.

    Kennedy has the talent to slap a submission on Silva if he could bring the champ down, but it is easy to imagine Silva keeping his distance on the feet by utilizing his reach advantage and picking Kennedy apart en route to a unanimous decision or knockout.

     

    Will He Have the Chance in 2012?

    Doubtful, though possible.

    There is nothing keeping Kennedy in the UFC's sister promotion; he is not a champion, nor does he have any score to settle that wouldn't be trumped by an invitation to the big show.

    If Kennedy does find himself in the UFC sometime soon, he would have to get awfully busy in order to earn a title shot by the year's end.

7: Michael Bisping: A Good Opponent for a London Showdown

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    Why Is He on the List?

    I'm sure Bisping's inclusion at the seven spot will draw some groans from readers. After all, the Brit employs strategically comparable game plans to Anderson Silva, but has compiled nowhere near as impressive results as the Brazilian. So then, why is he here?

    Bisping looked good against Sonnen. Real good. He lost the fight, but Bisping was a tailor-made opponent for Sonnen, and he nearly spoiled the UFC master plan of Silva/Sonnen II in Brazil. 

    Having said that, it does seem as though the UFC wishes to see Bisping get a crack at the title somewhere down the line, so a title shot may be only a win or two away.

     

    Does He Have a Chance?

    Before the Sonnen fight this January, I would have given an outright "no!" Since that fight, however, "The Count" has earned himself an upgraded "small chance."

    Bisping showed great hand speed and improved strength against Sonnen. Using these tools he could feasibly bully Silvapin him against the cage and get some takedownslong enough for the fight clock to expire. Silva is, however, deceptively strong. He also has the uncanny ability to turn overhooks into a Thai clinch, or at least a vicious elbow during separation.

    In this hypothetical bout, I give it to the "Spider" by knockout after a competitive two or three rounds.

     

    Will He Have the Chance in 2012?

    Very likely.

    As the UFC continues to forge markets in Europe, a title fight including Britain's biggest star is a no-brainer.

    Bisping will likely get the chance to redeem himself with a fight this spring, and a win may leave him one fight away from getting a crack at Anderson Silva.

6: Luke Rockhold: Strikeforce Middleweight Champion

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    Why Is He on the List?

    Rockhold is an extremely well-rounded combatant. The American Kickboxing Academy standout is the current Strikeforce middleweight title holder and has expressed interest in transitioning to the UFC.

    Rockhold employs a large arsenal of strikes on the feet, possesses exceptional takedown defense and has good offensive wrestling of his own. He is also extremely dangerous from the top position, racking up six submissions in 10 fights.

    Rockhold is going to be a star when he comes to the UFC, and the sole reason he ranks no higher than sixth is because he will be out until midsummer with a broken hand.

     

    Does He Have a Chance?

    Absolutely. 

    Rockhold is comfortable fighting anywhere and can take the fight anywhere. Silva is the more polished striker, but he couldn't relax on the feet. The champ would also have to be very wary of being taken down. For starters, Rockhold has excellent top control, and secondly, he can finish fights on the mat.

    This is a very close fight in my book. I give a slight edge to Anderson because of the experience advantage he holds. But don't be surprised if you see Rockhold wearing UFC gold in the next three years.

     

    Will He Have the Chance in 2012?

    The biggest obstacle to Rockhold winning a UFC championship in 2012 is that he may not get the chance to fight for it.

    Though he has publicly expressed the desire to join ZUFFA's larger promotion, he is not there just yet. His hand injury will further make 2012 an unlikely year for Rockhold to obtain the UFC middleweight title.

5: Mark Munoz: Ferocious Power

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    Why Is He on the List?

    Munoz is vicious. When he gets into a fighter's guard and postures up, he throws haymakers with some seriously bad intentions. I don't care who you are; if those connect, you are going to feel it.

    Additionally, Munoz has serviceable stand up and very good takedowns. He could conceivably floor Anderson and knock him out or win a decision with his ground work.

     

    Does He Have a Chance?

    He does, albeit a small one.

    "The Filipino Wrecking Machine" is a well-rounded fighter, but Silva's advantage on the feet is extreme. The UFC middleweight champion is the much quicker of the two and could effectively employ a strike and move strategy to avoid Munoz's clinch work and double-leg takedowns.

    A knockout for Silva is a good bet if this fight ever goes down. 

     

    Will He Have the Chance in 2012?

    It's possible.

    Munoz was originally slated to face Chael Sonnen in January to determine the No. 1 contender, but an elbow injury forced him under the knife. Once he has recovered, Munoz may only need one win to get a shot, maybe two.

    Another factor to consider is Munoz's relationship with Andersonwould they even fight each other? Indications are that they would if it involved the title, but you never know.


4: Chris Weidman: Sooner or Later

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    Why Is He on the List?

    Weidman is a terrific wrestler with quickly evolving stand up. He didn't look terrific beating Demian Maia, but he took the fight on two weeks' notice, which helps justify his lack of endurance in that match.

    Weidman is going to be a future champion. Period. The only question is when.

     

    Does He Have a Chance?

    Weidman only has eight pro fights, which handicaps him against a savvy veteran like Silva. Even so, Weidman is developing fast and could conceivably beat Anderson before the year is out. Weidman could not only take Silva down, but could submit him as well. This guy is seriously dangerous.

    Right now I would take Silva in a decision. However, if this forecast anticipated a fight at the end of 2013 instead of 2012, I would be very tempted to go with the challenger.

     

    Will He Have the Chance in 2012?

    You never know, but it is unlikely. 

    Weidman has only conquered one Top 10 fighter thus far, but that is all he should see from now on. If the glowing prospect adds two more notches to his belt, it would be hard to argue that he doesn't deserve the chance to dethrone Silva.

    However, given that Weidman is a rare talent, the UFC brass may choose to bring him along slowly, which would delay his chance to fight for the title by a year or so.  

3: Vitor Belfort: Deadly Striker

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    Why Is He on the List?

    Vitor has some of the quickest hands in the division. His punches come straight down the pipe, and he generates significant power with a calm ease that regularly puts bewildered expressions on his targets' faces.

    "The Phenom" will battle legend, Wanderlei Silva, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, this June. What would have made for an extremely intriguing bout five years ago, is likely to be a quick day at the office for Belfort, as Wanderlei is sadly not the fighter he used to be. This fight may produce a result similar to that of the first competition between these two pillars of MMA in 1998.

    Once Belfort disposes of "The Axe Murderer," he may be ready to give Anderson Silva another go.

     

    Does He Have a Chance?

    Yes.

    Anyone with Vitor's ability on the feet has the chance to win any fight. In the past, being knocked out meant Belfort would go into his shell and would spend the next couple fights doing anything he could to get to the ground. If his tussle with Anthony "Orgoglio" Johnson is any indication, that will not be the case this time.

    Though Belfort suffered a quick KO loss to his countryman, Anderson Silva, in their first go round, he could just as easily return the favor given a chance for revenge.

    I believe Anderson is a slightly better striker than Vitor, but it is close. Given how small the margin for error is in MMA, especially with two A-level strikers, we may be looking at a 60-40 advantage to the champ.

     

    Will He Have the Chance in 2012?

    Very likely.

    A win over Wanderlei Silva may earn Belfort a rematch with Anderson. If not, he will likely have to beat either Michael Bisping or Mark Munoz to claim his rite. 

2: Chael Sonnen: Next Up

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    Why Is He on the List?

    I know that isn't the question you are asking. You want to know why he isn't No. 1 on the list, right? 

    Sonnen is the most immediate threat to tearing away Anderson Silva's UFC middleweight belt, and a significant one at that, but he is not the biggest. Even so, he provides Silva with a stiff test and will look to avoid the type of big letdown he had in his first title opportunity.

     

    Does He Have a Chance?

    Yes, yes, a thousand times yes!

    Chael dominated Anderson in their first fight for 23 minutes before succumbing to his oldest foe, the triangle choke.

    What was most surprising about that contest was not that Sonnen was able to control Silva, but that he actually won the majority of exchanges. This is something I don't think Silva will allow to happen again. Even so, Sonnen has a very good chance to beat Silva.

    When this fight happens in June, don't be surprised if the UFC middleweight belt leaves with a different fighter than it arrived with.

     

    Will He Have the Chance in 2012?

    June 29, 2012, Sao Paulo, Brazil. Excited?

1: Rousimar Palhares: Champion by New Year's Day

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    Why Is He on the List?

    "Paul Harris" is on the list because he has improved by leaps and bounds since his UFC debut.

    It is not often you see a fighter tap out high quality opponents with leg locks, but "Toquinho" does it consistently. He is also one of the strongest and most ferocious fighters at 185 pounds. Furthermore, his stand up has improved, and while he is not the most technical striker, he does throw his hands with considerable power.

    The biggest and most important improvement Palhares has made in the last two years is that he has become apt at getting the fight to the mat. He has decent takedowns and pulls guard with the best of 'em.

    Palhares is capable of beating any middleweight.

     

    Does He Have a Chance?

    Yes. I anticipate taking some flak for this, but I don't care: Rousimar Palhares will win the UFC middleweight championship this year. Early 2013 at the latest.

    Against Anderson Silva, "Toquinho" would have a simple game plan: Get the fight to the ground and finish it. 

    The thing is, you don't get mulligans on the ground against Palhares. (Ok, Marquardt got one, but you get the point.) Dan Miller is the only guy to have gotten back up after going to the ground with the Brazilian, and he was only able to do so at the end of each round. And, he received a savage beating for his obstinacy 

    Dan Miller's submission defense is superior to Anderson Silva's, and I believe Palhares would submit the champion. If the champion happens to be Sonnen or Belfort when Palhares gets his turn, he'll submit them instead.

     

    Will He Have the Chance in 2012?

    Either late 2012 or early 2013.

    Palhares will keep winning until he gets a shot. It is a matter of when, not if.

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