Anderson Silva's UFC 148 victory over Chael Sonnen added perhaps the greatest chapter of the Spider's fabled legacy. Sonnen had long been considered the greatest challenge of Silva's incredible UFC career and Silva was able to overcome a lopsided first round to claim victory in the second round.
With Silva's greatest nemesis now conquered, we can shift our eyes to what could be next for the middleweight champion.
At this point, Silva is 37 and while he hasn't showed much in the way of aging, one would have to think that his retirement is coming sooner rather than later. With that in mind, it is paramount that his matchups from this point on in his career are carefully selected.
UFC co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta has already taken to twitter to find out who the fans would like to see the Spider take on next:
With the field narrowed down to five choices (he later tweeted that Michael Bisping was in the running too), we have a good idea of the ways in which the UFC is looking to go with the match making. Here are each of the five possibilities power ranked by significance, potential and probability.
Once upon a time a superfight between Georges St. Pierre and Anderson Silva seemed like the greatest fight the UFC could possibly make.
For the better part of both fighters' current title reign they have jockeyed for position on the hypothetical pound-for-pound ladder that MMA fans love to debate. Both fighters have dominated their divisions and cleaned them out at least once.
However, times have changed. While this superfight would still be great and would make the UFC crazy amounts of money, to have the fight anytime soon would be horrible timing. With Georges St. Pierre's ACL injury leaving him out of action for the last year, the welterweight division has since replenished itself with legitimate contenders.
Aside from a date with interim titleholder Carlos Condit, hungry welterweights such as Martin Kampmann, Johny Hendricks and even Rory MacDonald wait in the wings for GSP to defend his title. Given St. Pierre's extended layoff, he needs to re-establish his relevance before being promoted in a potential mega-fight with the magnitude of St. Pierre-Silva.
St. Pierre's style would make for the ultimate test of Silva's skills, but based on timing alone this is the worst option of all right now.
There's a good chance that Michael Bisping is the most underrated fighter in the UFC.
He may draw a lot of heat for his brash attitude, trash talk and general tomfoolery in his stints as a coach and contestant on The Ultimate Fighter, but behind all of that bravado is a man that has serious skills inside the octagon. Bisping brings a level of technical kickboxing to the table that is matched by few men in the entire sport and his takedown defense, as displayed in his decision loss to Chael Sonnen, is nearly impeccable.
Bisping has long clamored for a title shot and it stands to reason that he will get one eventually. Bisping owns a 12-4 record in the UFC and only one of his losses was by knockout.
Unfortunately for Bisping, he is coming off of a loss. His fight with Chael Sonnen was closer than most expected but at the end of the day a loss is a loss and it's unlikely he sees a title shot without first winning at least two fights.
Given that Bisping's greatest strength is his striking and he isn't known for bringing the kind of pressure and impressive top game that it will take to truly test Silva, a fight with Bisping just isn't that appealing—especially right now.
If we learned anything from watching Chael Sonnen and Anderson Silva do battle, it's that if we want to see Silva challenged it's going to take some elite level wrestling.
Silva's Achilles heel has always been his takedown defense. No one has been able to take full advantage of it, but anyone with a prayer of finding a way to stop him is going to have to be a relentless grappler.
With Wednesday's UFC on Fuel card pairing up middleweight contenders Mark Munoz and Chris Weidman together, the winner may just fit the bill.
Both fighters own a highly-decorated wrestling background. Munoz was a Division I All-American at Oklahoma State while Weidman was a two-time All-American at Hofstra University.
Munoz represents the more well-rounded of the two as he has more experience and has also flashed power in the stand up game. Weidman has transitioned his collegiate wrestling to the slightly different world of MMA grappling quite nicely as he has racked up two submission wins in only four UFC appearances.
Both of these fighters have the background to give Silva problems in a potential fight but Weidman's experience remains a question mark as he is still relatively new to the sport. Munoz lack of elite competition would also give pause to the validity of this matchup, for those reasons this fight isn't quite the draw that the rest of the possibilities would present.
Jon Jones vs. Anderson Silva has officially kicked Silva vs. Georges St. Pierre out of its throne as the most clamored-for superfight among MMA fans.
When asked if he had any interest in fighting Jon Jones during the post UFC 148 press conference, Anderson Silva kept his reply short and simple—"nope."
Silva has forayed into the land of light heavyweight's twice before, but never to take on the champion so this fight is highly unlikely to ever happen. For Jones' part, he relayed through his twitter that he also has no interest in fighting Silva—adding that he has nothing but respect for the champion.
I guess Anderson said he had no interest in fighting me at tonight's press conference, I feel the same way about him. Nothing but respect— Jon Bones Jones (@JonnyBones) July 8, 2012
Both fighters can say they have no interest in fighting each other until they are blue in the face, as long as both fighters continue to dominate their division fans will always wonder "what if?" Jones' elite athleticism and fearsome grappling skills would give Silva fits but The Spider's ability to end a fight at any given time would add the intrigue to this matchup.
There's no doubt that this is the best fantasy matchup that the UFC could make, but when you factor in that it's likely never going to happen—it takes a back seat to the No. 1 matchup on this list.
Among all of the usual suspects mentioned in Lorenzo Fertitta's tweet was an interesting option—former light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans.
Evans recently took to twitter to let Fertitta know that he was interested in picking a fight with the middleweight champion.
@lorenzofertitta i want 2 pick a fight with the middle weight champion! Lol Make it happen!! Please!!— Rashad Evans (@SugaRashadEvans) July 8, 2012
Evans has never fought at 185 so it will be interesting to see if he would be granted an instant title match upon dropping down to middleweight, but this fight would carry a ton of intrigue.
Chael Sonnen was able to beat Anderson Silva for five of the seven rounds that they fought each other (for what it's worth) because of an explosive double leg and a grinding top game. Evans is as qualified as anybody to employ a similar attack against the champion and when you consider that Evans has much more power than Sonnen both in his stand up and in ground game, Evans could be the perfect foil to Silva's dominant title reign.
At Silva's age, we may not know how many more times we will see him step into the octagon and define his legacy. From here on out, it's important that all of his fights carry significance and a potential superfight with a former light heavyweight champion carries plenty of pound-for-pound implication.
If we can't have Jon Jones vs. Silva we could at least have the next best thing. A common opponent between the two would be a great test for Silva and give us a better idea of how Jones and Silva stack up against one another.