At the end of 2010, Chris Weidman was declared the No. 2 middleweight prospect on the planet, according to a scouting report from BloodyElbow.com. Fast forward two years and you'll find that the Serra/Longo prodigy proudly sits with a 5-0 record inside the Octagon. It greatly compliments his 9-0 overall record as a professional and illustrates his status as a top contender in the UFC middleweight division.
When Weidman was forced from a scheduled bout against Tim Boetsch at UFC 155, it was due to a shoulder injury that would require surgery and keep him out of action for approximately six months.
The 28-year-old expects to return in late May or early June, and with a major middleweight battle taking place next weekend between Michael Bisping and Vitor Belfort, it is important to look ahead and see how the division will shake out down the road.
Here is a look at five possible opponents for Chris Weidman upon his return.
The reigning Strikeforce middleweight champion is on his way to the UFC, and I can't think of a single matchup more fitting for him that one against Chris Weidman.
Rockhold is a technical striker coming out of American Kickboxing Academy. He has already held his own against wrestlers like Tim Kennedy and submission specialists like Ronaldo Souza, so Rockhold would not be fearful of the Serra/Longo fighter's grappling.
The winner of this fight is a surefire contender for the UFC middleweight champion at the end of 2013.
Anyone familiar with the Strikeforce middleweight division knows exactly how close the championship bout between Rockhold and Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza truly was.
Since losing the decision and his belt, Souza has put together a pair of wins under the Strikeforce banner. On Saturday night, he takes on Ed Herman in a cross-promotional fight on the final card in Strikeforce history.
Jacare is arguably the most dangerous grappler in the middleweight division. This would likely be enough to convince Weidman to keep this bout standing. However, that isn't a safe place either, as Souza just scored a 41-second knockout in his last contest.
Last month, former Bellator champion, Hector Lombard showed fans exactly what all of his hype was about when he slaughtered Rousimar Palhares in less than one round. It was the sort of performance that makes believers out of even the most skeptical of viewers.
It would be a nightmare for Weidman to try and take this fight to the ground as Lombard is a 4th Dan black belt in judo. In the striking department, "Shango" is a power striker with 18 knockout wins to his credit.
This combination of skills led to a streak that included no losses over a period of 25 fights.
Author's Note: I find it hysterical that fans are so quick to defend Tim Boetsch for his performance at UFC 155, but are relentlessly attacking Lombard's lackluster debut back at UFC 149. The guy was injured heading into the fight, but fought on courageously as to not force the UFC to replace his fight on late notice. Not only that, but he scored a knockdown and did enough that Bleacher Report readers voted him the deserved winner of that contest.
Chris Weidman is currently the most deserving contender of a shot at the middleweight title. The New Yorker's status as a challenger was established in July, when he dismantled Mark Munoz for his fifth consecutive win inside the Octagon.
However, in the event that Michael Bisping comes up short against Vitor Belfort next weekend, Weidman will find himself as the top contender for Anderson Silva.
A matchup between the two was so anticipated that a Head to Toe Breakdown of the potential bout was drawn up shortly after the Munoz bout.
While it's possible that Weidman gets an immediate title shot in the event that Michael Bisping loses next weekend, it's more likely that the heated rivalry between these two men would end up in a hotly anticipated meeting once Chris returns.
This fight only makes sense if Vitor Belfort is successful in spoiling Bisping's title aspirations next weekend. When we consider Bisping's 0-4 record against elite talent, it's a likely enough outcome to warrant thinking about what "The Count's" next move would be in the event of a loss.
The rivalry between Weidman and Bisping has been well documented over the course of the past six months and could serve to generate solid ratings in a televised main event later this year.