Many were skeptical about Anderson "The Spider" Silva's chances of defeating Chael Sonnen after The American Gangster pushed him to the brink at UFC 117, but Silva proved that he is still one of the company's elite fighters when he beat Sonnen via second-round knockout to retain his UFC Middleweight Championship at UFC 148.
Now that Silva has cleared his latest hurdle, there has already been a ton of speculation regarding who his next opponent might be.
The Brazilian star is 37 years old and should be on the downside of his career, but he is better than ever, as he has won 16 straight fights and has defended his title a record 10 consecutive times.
It remains to be seen if anyone is capable of giving Silva a run for his money, but here are the three best candidates for The Spider's next title defense.
Silva has essentially beaten every contender UFC has to offer, so it makes perfect sense to look elsewhere for his next fight.
Hector "Lightning" Lombard recently signed with the company after dominating the Bellator scene. Lombard is 31-2-1 overall and undefeated in 25 consecutive contests. The level of competition is obviously going to be different in UFC, especially if he fights someone like Silva, but Lombard's talent and skill level are obvious.
Lombard is set to face Tim Boetsch at UFC 149 in his debut with the company, and if he comes out on top, then he should be Silva's next challenger.
Lombard is a seasoned veteran in his own right at 34 years of age, so he and Silva should be on a fairly even plane physically and mentally. If Lombard beats Silva, then the UFC will have a new star. If he loses, then he will simply be the next in a long line of victims for Silva.
There isn't much downside as far as this potential fight goes.
For the past couple of years, Chris "The All American" Weidman has been considered one of the best prospects in UFC. The now-28-year-old star has put that potential to good use thus far, as he is 8-0 in his young career.
Weidman's past two bouts in particular have been impressive, as he took out Demian Maia by unanimous decision his last time out and submitted Tom Lawlor the fight before that.
Weidman has slowly improved each time out and has gradually defeated higher-caliber opponents with every passing fight. There is no doubt that Silva would be a massive test for Weidman, but he may be able to outlast Silva if the fight goes the distance.
Weidman is in incredible physical condition and he is capable of winning a fight in a myriad of ways, so he would be a really intriguing matchup for The Spider.
Perhaps English star Michael Bisping doesn't have the same mystery as fighters like Lombard and Weidman, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Lombard and Weidman could be hit or miss, but Bisping brings it every time he is in the Octagon.
The Count is 22-4 and has lost to top-level competition such as Sonnen, Wanderlei Silva, Dan Henderson and Rashad Evans, but he went the distance in three of those bouts and performed admirably.
Even if Bisping doesn't beat Silva, he is capable of hanging around and giving the fans a good fight. Sonnen couldn't do that on Saturday, so I'm sure Dana White will be looking for stiffer competition this time.
You can't count out Bisping because he is one tough customer, so he is a guy that Silva and White should take a long look at if Lombard or Weidman falter in the near future.
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