There was a point in time in which the UFC's middleweight division was devoid of challengers. Now, as current divisional kingpin Anderson Silva looks for his 10th straight title defense at UFC 148 on July 7, there is new life at 185 pounds.
To keep his undefeated Octagon record intact, Silva must once again face off with his toughest opponent to date, Chael Sonnen. The rematch is easily the most anticipated of the year, and one can only hope that it will live up to the excitement of their previous meeting at UFC 117.
Let's take a look at a handful of contenders that may be next for whoever walks away with the belt in July.
Former Ultimate Fighter winner Michael Bisping is one of the most polarizing fighters in the division, as he is often the recipient of boos regardless of where he fights.
The British fighter may not have the respect of fans, but after his strong showing against current No. 1 contender Chael Sonnen, he certainly has it from his fellow fighters.
With a record of 12-4 in the promotion, Bisping is in a position to be considered a contender. Should Sonnen come out victorious in July, a rematch is not out of the question.
However, for any of that to happen, Bisping must get around Tim Boetsch at UFC 149 on July 21.
Like Michael Bisping, Brian Stann is a victim of Chael Sonnen's path back to Anderson Silva.
The U.S. Marine and former WEC champ had gone undefeated since dropping to middleweight before Sonnen derailed his climb up the ladder.
Although Stann would be the first to admit that he is still learning as a fighter, the power in his hands is unmatched in the 185-pound division.
Need further proof? Take a look at his recent victory over Alessio Sakara in which he knocked out the Italian from inside his guard.
A rematch with Sonnen would likely produce the same results as their previous meeting, but a matchup with Silva means that someone would leave the cage unconscious.
Stann faces a similar scenario against longtime Bellator middleweight champion Hector Lombard at UFC on Fox 4 in August.
Vitor Belfort (L)
After being on the wrong end of an Anderson Silva front kick to the face, there is no doubt that Vitor Belfort is hungry for revenge against his fellow Brazilian.
It remains to be seen whether the outcome would be any different, but Belfort wants a chance to prove it was a fluke.
Further motivating the former light heavyweight champion is his disdain for Chael Sonnen and his anti-Brazil trash talk. If Sonnen takes the belt, Belfort would be chomping at the bit to face the outspoken American.
Belfort can't look too far ahead, though, as he will face off with fellow Ultimate Fighter Brazil coach Wanderlei Silva at UFC 147 in June.
Veteran middleweight Hector Lombard will finally make his UFC debut on Aug. 4 when he takes on Brian Stann.
Lombard is the only middleweight champion in Bellator's history. The Cuban possesses a 25-fight undefeated streak that dates back more than five years. Of his 31 career victories, 24 have come before the final bell.
The 34-year-old is a formidable opponent for anyone in the division, and his explosiveness and power could pose problems for Anderson Silva or Chael Sonnen.
Without a doubt, the fighter most deserving of a title shot in the division is Mark Munoz.
Had it not been for an elbow injury in January, Munoz might be the one challenging Anderson Silva in July. He was slated to face Chael Sonnen at UFC on Fox 2, but was replaced by Michael Bisping.
The former national champion wrestler has gone 7-1 since dropping to the 185-pound division, with his only loss coming in a closely-contested bout with recent title challenger Yushin Okami.
Munoz presents problems for both Silva and Sonnen in the cage.
As a former training partner of Silva's, Munoz may be able to exploit things he learned in training. And being that Munoz has the wrestling credentials to match Sonnen's, it would be appropriate if the previously scheduled fight were to happen.
Just like everyone else on this list, Munoz has a fight scheduled and must win that first. He will headline the July 11 UFC on Fuel TV 4 event against the undefeated Chris Weidman.