The pending rematch between middleweight champion Anderson Silva and Chael Sonnen has become the most intriguing fight of the Brazilian's reign as 185-pound king. However, when the bout comes to pass, a new top middleweight contender will need to be determined.
Surprisingly, in a division that has been dominated by one champion for such a long period of time, a new batch of contenders are beginning to emerge. With Silva nearing retirement, one of these potential title challengers could be the heir to the Brazilian's throne.
Let's take a look at some of the fighters most likely to meet the winner of the upcoming title fight between Silva and Sonnen.
Given their lack of success against elite middleweight competition, the winner of the UFC on Fox 3 bout between Rousimar Palhares and Alan Belcher will probably still be another win or two away from a championship fight.
Still, the winner of this fight would be on a four-fight winning streak and both fighters have been labeled potential title contenders for quite awhile. With his explosive submissions, Palhares has even been singled out by some as the fighter with the best skill set for dethroning Silva.
Injuries during training are far from uncommon in MMA, so the winner of this fight should be prepared to act as a replacement in the event that the eventual top contender is injured in preparing to fight the winner of the Silva-Sonnen matchup.
Chris Weidman has gone undefeated in his first eight MMA fights making him one of the brightest young fighters in the middleweight division. However, while Weidman's win over Demian Maia in his last appearance was a big step forward, it showed that the 27-year-old still had room for improvement.
With a long career still ahead of him, Weidman will need to be much more dominant in his next fight to prove he is worthy of a title fight this early in his career.
One of the most talented grapplers in the 185-pound division, Weidman is certainly capable of a strong outing against a top-level opponent, so don't be surprised if he is named the top contender if he can submit an elite adversary in his next fight.
Considering he is only one fight removed from a knockout loss to Chris Leben, Wanderlei Silva probably isn't in the running for a middleweight title shot. However, the former Pride champion could serve as a stepping stone to a championship bout for Vitor Belfort.
Belfort has won seven of his past eight fights, with his only loss coming via knockout against A. Silva. Ever since that defeat, Belfort has been campaigning for another chance to win the belt.
With a swift and impressive finish of W. Silva, Belfort could have three straight first-round finishes and would become one of the most intriguing contenders available to meet the winner of the fight between A. Silva and Sonnen.
After four straight wins, Mark Munoz was set up for a fight with Sonnen that would have given "The Filipino Wrecking Machine" a chance to fight for the middleweight belt. However, shortly before the fight, Munoz injured his arm and was forced to undergo surgery.
Once Munoz returns from injury, he will once again be thrown into the mix of top contenders in the middleweight division. If the winner of the fight between A. Silva and Sonnen needs some time to recover after the fight, Munoz could slide into the role of top contender with a victory over any highly-ranked 185-pound fighter on the UFC's roster.
Though he came out on the losing side of a narrow decision, Michael Bisping proved he is one of the best middleweights in the world by nearly defeating Sonnen at UFC on Fox 2.
Likewise, Tim Boetsch is riding a ton of momentum after his incredible come-from-behind knockout of Yushin Okami in February.
If the winner of this UFC 148 matchup is dominant in any way, they will be the leading candidate to meet the winner of the championship fight between A. Silva and Sonnen.