Anderson Silva has no viable opponent from a marketing perspective...except for a threematch with Chael Sonnen.
Anderson Silva's couch is going to be working overtime for the immediate future, and that is a bad thing for the UFC.
Bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz is out of commission for perhaps a full year. Welterweight champ Georges St-Pierre is going to fight in November (maybe,) but historically tends to have long layovers between fights. Light heavyweight king Jon Jones has literally beaten every realistic competitor, making any future fights for him questionable from a sales perspective.
Other buy-grabbing fighters not wearing belts are also shelved. Alistair Overeem is in the middle of his suspension for his wacky T/E ratio. Nick Diaz is in the same boat for his wacky tobacky. Matt Hughes may or may not be retired. Frank Mir's next fight will be in Strikeforce, where he will face Daniel Cormier (another fighter the UFC wish they had at their disposal.) Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira's arm is still on the mend. The same goes for Mark Hunt's knee.
That is a big headache for UFC matchmaker Joe Silva. While the UFC is through the worst of it, they still need cards that can draw 500,000 buys in a really bad way.
UFC 148 drew over one million buys. Though Silva won in convincing fashion, there was more than a little controversy involved. It started even before the fight, with Silva wiping grease from his face onto his chest. It moved on into the second round with Silva grabbing Sonnen's shorts to help in his defending of the American Gangster's takedowns. Finally, the volley of strikes that ended the fight started off with a knee to Sonnen's chest that simultaneously hit him in the face.
This is not to say that Silva did not earn his win. He was still widely favored and likely would have won the fight without, as it is called in football, “gamesmanship.” Still, if roles were reversed, few would deny that an immediate rematch would already be scheduled.
Anderson Silva's management team knows there is no real legitimate opponent for him in the middleweight division right now. Though many are excited about 9-0 phenom Chris Weidman, his most-watched fight remains his wheeze-fest against Demian Maia at UFC on Fox 2. His eerily dominating performance against Mark Munoz at UFC on Fuel TV 4 averaged only 211,000 viewers, leaving his drawing power a serious question mark.
The rest of the middleweight top-10 has a similar lack of established success. Alan Belcher and Tim Boetsch are yet to make a serious splash with fans, in spite of solid winning streaks. Everyone else (being Michael Bisping, Brian Stann, Yushin Okami and Vitor Belfort) have all lost to either Sonnen or Silva in the last eighteen months.
Anderson Silva's management team recently made a push for a fight against Georges St-Pierre. However, the scheduling and welterweight title picture make this unrealistic.
St-Pierre is scheduled to face Carlos Condit at UFC 154 to unify the welterweight belt. Martin Kampmann and Johny Hendricks are slated for a top contender's match that same night. Both offer a true test for St-Pierre, but even if GSP loses, he has a blockbuster opponent waiting for him in Nick Diaz, who he could fight in Spring 2013.
Making things even worse for Anderson is that the always-discussed move to light heavyweight is no longer a viable option for him. While fights like Silva vs. Rashad Evans or Silva vs. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua would be excellent draws, champion Jon Jones would be a heavy favorite if the two met, given his serious size, reach and wrestling advantage. The UFC, Silva, and Silva's management team all know this.
That leaves Chael Sonnen.
While Chael Sonnen became a household name in large part because of his mouth, he has been nothing but a good sport since losing to Silva at UFC 148. At the post-event media conference, Sonnen downplayed the preliminary talk about Silva's questionable tactics. Since, he has remained quiet on the fight, but acknowledged his reluctance to watch a video of the bout.
While sore losers are not traditionally well-met by sports fans, Sonnen's popularity grew because of his inability to stomach his first loss to Silva. While Dana White dismissed questions about the legitimacy of Silva's win, he must also recognize the matchmaking predicament facing one of his few remaining draws. The UFC's marketing department can easily run promos of Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg questioning if that knee went to the face, or pointing out Silva grabbing Sonnen's shorts.
This remains a tough fight for Silva. While Sonnen was knocked out at UFC 148, he is still the most likely candidate to beat Silva. The entire first round had Silva on his back, and there is no question as to whether Sonnen still has the slippery takedowns and sheer quickness and keep “the Spider” off his game.
An immediate rematch is out of the question. However, a fight against Weidman would be a viable headline for a UFC on Fox card and, regardless of the outcome, makes for a strong top contender bout that will either set up for Silva vs. Sonnen III, or make Weidman a household name.
That situation is a win-win for the UFC. While neither a Silva vs. Sonnen III, nor a Silva vs. Weidman headline would draw seven-figure buys, having Sonnen and Weidman face off in a top contender fight is by far the best thing the UFC can do to shake out the top of the middleweight division.
It is a very realistic option that should be available to Sonnen. All he needs to do is start running his mouth.