The stage was set for Michael Bisping in Sao Paulo, Brazil. UFC President Dana White put a guaranteed title shot against Anderson Silva on the table, and all "The Count" had to do was defeat Vitor Belfort in the main event of UFC on FX 7. Granted, toppling the Brazilian powerhouse would be no easy task, but it was one Bisping promised he was ready for.
Unfortunately for the 33-year-old Brit, "The Phenom" had other plans.
After the first three minutes were spent in a feeling-out process, the former light heavyweight champion poured it on. With a late flurry in the first round, and a well-placed head kick in the second, the 35-year-old Belfort put Bisping on the canvas and ended the fight.
With the loss, Bisping sees his long-awaited title shot float out into the ether, leaving the spot opposite Anderson Silva vacant for the time being. It is a unique situation for a division that seemed to have several contenders waiting in the wings only three months ago.
But after injury and upper-tier fighters losing in crucial bouts, the contender class of the UFC middleweight division has gone eerily silent.
Potential "super fights" with Jon Jones and Georges St-Pierre have been shelved for the time being as both champions are otherwise engaged. Leaving Silva standing alone without an immediate dance partner in sight. It will be interesting to see what comes next for the sport's most dominant champion.
Here are some of the options.
Suga Might Catch a Spider This Summer
Before I get started on this run, let's be clear on a few points. For starters, I fully understand Rashad Evans has a fight coming up...and it's a dangerous one. The former light heavyweight champion squares-off with Antonio Rogerio Nogueira in two weeks at UFC 156 in Las Vegas. It will be the former TUF winner's first fight in nearly a year and "Lil Nog" presents some interesting stylistic problems for Evans.
The Brazilian has a crisp boxing game and proven power in both hands. If Evans can use his wrestling and pressure to put a strong pace on Nogueira, grinding out a decision or a late finish are entirely within reason.
By all indicators, this is a fight Evans should win but as cliche as it sounds, anything can happen in the fight game. Should the Team Blackzilians fighter find success in the match-up, an interesting opportunity could be waiting for him.
Over the past few years, the 33-year-old has flirted with the idea of dropping down to the middleweight division. In fact, on multiple occasions he has specifically stated a bout with Silva would be a great reason for him to make the cut down to 185 pounds. With Bisping heading to the back of the line and no clear contender in sight, the door could be open to a possible showdown with the middleweight king.
A potential Silva vs. Evans dust-up is interesting on multiple levels. For starters, it is an extremely marketable fight and the exact type of scenario Silva covets. High-profile opponents get the pound-for-pound great moving, and a fight with Evans could be enough to bring Silva back from vacation for a summer date on pay-per-view.
As far as the match up goes, Evans's wrestling is enough to make the fight interesting. The 37-year-old champion has proven to be susceptible to lower-body-focused grappling in the past, and Evans is very much that brand of wrestler.
He likes to use his speed to get in his opponent's legs and he's strong enough to dump Silva on his back. The problem, as so many other opponents have found out in painful fashion, getting your hands on Silva can be a nightmarish experience.
On the striking front, the fight is heavily in Silva's favor. No doubt Evans has solid hand speed and knockout power, but the champion's unpredictable approach and laser precision keep his opposition off guard.
This makes them hesitate and when you think twice against Silva, the next thing you see are the ringside doctors waking you up.
That being said, the match-up between Silva and Evans is certainly something fight fans could get behind.
Waiting For the Situation to Play Out
This past summer, the dance card a top the middleweight division looked better than it has in years. Chris Weidman was coming off an impressive knockout win over Mark Munoz, and a pack of potential contenders were carving their way through the ranks.
Fast forward several months and it is a much different picture. Weidman went out with injury and the debacle of UFC 155 knocked Alan Belcher and Tim Boetsch out of the hunt with lopsided losses. When you add Bisping's defeat in Brazil, there doesn't appear to be a contender at the ready.
That being the case, it is quite possible Silva will have to sit on the sidelines and see how the situation takes shape. If this happens, it will be an intense race to see who claims the No. 1 contender spot.
There is no timeline set for Weidman's return, but with his undefeated track record, it makes complete sense for him to come back to a title eliminator fight. With top-level competition coming over from Strikeforce in Luke Rockhold and Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza, placing either across the cage from the Ray Longo-trained fighter would be fitting.
It would seem more likely to put Rockhold in against Weidman, as both would be coming off lengthy injuries. Should the AKA-trained fighter get the nod, Souza could face Costa Philippou later this year.
Another fight which potentially holds great importance to how the division shapes up will be Hector Lombard vs. Yushin Okami. Much like the situation surrounding Bisping at UFC on FX 7, the potential title shot would only be on Lombard's shoulders.
"Thunder" is only three fights removed from a battering at the hands of Silva and has only been successful in two of those showings. While Lombard stumbled in his UFC debut against Boetsch at UFC 149, a first-round smashing of Rousimar Palhares has the former Olympic judoka back on track.
Defeating Okami is no easy task and it is even harder to do it in impressive fashion. If Lombard is able to best the Japanese grappling machine and look good doing so, a trip to the front of the line could very well be in order.