Now that UFC on FX 7 is officially in the books, we can take a look back at the results in Brazil with an eye toward how the middleweight division is going to be restructured—be it in major or minor ways.
Chael Sonnen is out of the division, having moved up to light heavyweight. Cung Le still sits just outside the top 10, waiting for another chance to prove his quality.
A few fighters in the top 10 have not been assigned their next opponent due to injuries or having recently fought, yet they remain in the top 10 nonetheless.
Meanwhile, Munoz and Weidman need to get in action as soon as possible.
Now that Michael Bisping and Vitor Belfort have settled their differences in the cage, we look to the future and ponder where each fighter goes from here. The title waits for the next worthy challenger to appear and try to yank it from the waist of Anderson Silva now that Belfort has knocked Bisping back a notch.
Will Belfort get another title shot at Silva? Or will he have to collect some more wins in order to erase the memory of the first knockout and the notion that he can’t do any better a second time around?
Position: No. 10
Last Performance: defeated Rousimar Palhares via KO (UFC on FX: Sotiropoulos vs. Pearson)
Next Bout: vs. Yushin Okami (UFC on Fuel TV: Silva vs. Stann)
After seeing his epic winning streak derailed by Tim Boetsch in his first UFC appearance, Hector Lombard bounced back and gave us a glimpse of what he is capable of.
Still clamoring for a title shot, Lombard has called out Michael Bisping, although it remains to be seen if his interest in the cocky Brit will remain so strong in the months to come.
With heavy hands and a solid grappling background, Lombard is still going to have to put together some solid victories against top 10 foes before he can get a crack at UFC gold.
His next test is against Yushin Okami. The fight will be interesting as some think he is looking past the Japanese standout, which others have done in the past only to be handed a loss for their hubris.
Position: No. 9
Last Performance: defeated Alan Belcher via unanimous decision (UFC 155)
Next Bout: vs. Hector Lombard (UFC on Fuel TV 8)
As a man who understands just how hard it is to contend with the reigning champion, Yushin Okami is trying to make another title run. Along the way he looks to attempt to rebuild himself into the beast perfectly suited to devour “The Spider.”
But before he can try to conquer that memory, he first has to get past Hector Lombard, who looks to be his match in strength and his superior in punching power.
Okami will have to be in the kind of condition that allows him to push the pace for the entire fight while he remains light on his feet and explosive. Disposing of Lombard will be no easy feat.
Position: No. 8
Last Performance: defeated by Constantinos Philippou via TKO (UFC 155)
Next Bout: N/A
Having slipped in the rankings after his last defeat, Tim Boetsch will need to tighten up his defense and work hard to take the next step at 185 lbs.
At times Boetsch has looked sluggish far sooner than the pace of the fight would suggest. If he hopes to get a title bid against Silva, he’s going to have to get much faster and more explosive than he is now.
He has a ton of grit and serious power in his hands, but in this division, that is only half the battle.
Still, anyone who can stage the come-from-behind victory we saw Boetsch deliver against Yushin Okami knows how to make the most of his natural resources.
That is a man no one should look past.
Position: No. 7
Last Performance: defeated Tim Boetsch via TKO (UFC 155)
Next Bout: N/A
Threatening to crack into the top five, Constantinos Philippou is working hard while the sun (or spotlight, if you will) shines on his face. He’ll no doubt be watching anxiously as Brian Stann and Wanderlei Silva square off in early March, along with Hector Lombard and Yushin Okami.
Should Silva defeat Stann, Philippou will get into the top five with a win in his next fight.
Position: No. 6
Last Performance: defeated by Michael Bisping via unanimous decision (UFC 152)
Next Bout: vs. Wanderlei Silva (UFC on Fuel TV 8)
Brian Stann is a fighter who has been up and down in the top 10, but his work ethic and great attitude keep him coming back. His comeback is just around the corner and waiting to be claimed with a single victory.
He might have been outworked by Michael Bisping in his last fight, but soon Stann will be facing an opponent tailor-made for him: Wanderlei Silva.
Silva is all offense and no defense, which should allow Stann to connect his fists to Silva’s chin enough times to score a knockout victory.
Of course, there's a downside: If you are in range to crack Silva, then he is in range to crack you, and "The Axe Murderer" has proved that he doesn’t flinch in those situations.
He simply wins or goes out on his shield.
Stann has a good opportunity here, and his chances are better than most because he will not underestimate Silva or overestimate himself.
Position: No. 5
Last Performance: defeated by Chris Weidman via KO (UFC on Fuel TV: Munoz vs. Weidman)
Next Bout: N/A
If anyone needs to get back in action soon, it’s Mark Munoz.
As it sits now, he is still associated with the brutal beating he was given by Chris Weidman. Those kinds of associations are not good for the marketability of a fighter.
He needs to get back out there as soon as he is healthy. Given the amount of new talent being pulled into the UFC, his name matches up nicely with several newcomers.
If he can get a valid win under this belt, he can begin to erase that last impression. Along the way, he can remind people that before the loss to Weidman, he was very close to a title shot.
Position: No. 4
Last Performance: defeated Mark Munoz via KO (UFC on Fuel TV: Munoz vs. Weidman)
Next Bout: N/A
Injuries and unfortunate circumstances are threatening to draw all the wind from the sails of Chris Weidman after his brutal stoppage of Mark Munoz.
In a sport that waits for no one, he could end up being replaced in those conversations about who should be the next man to give Anderson Silva a good fight.
He manages to remain at No. 4 simply because of the power of his last performance and the fact that he hasn’t lost in a while, but he’s going to have to get another victory in order to remain in the top five.
Lingering is not the same as slugging it out, after all.
Position: No. 3
Last Performance: defeated by Vitor Belfort via TKO (UFC on FX 7)
Next Bout: N/A
Had Michael Bisping managed to make good on his talk and dispose of Belfort, the middleweight division would have far more clarity than it does now.
Bisping would have been next in line for a title shot against Anderson Silva. Instead, he slips down the ranks a notch. He only sits above Chris Weidman because the latter is still dealing with an injury.
Bisping always regroups fairly well after a loss, and no doubt there is enough new talent coming into the organization that he will have some viable options for exciting fights coming his way. That should keep him in the lens of the media, which is half the battle these days.
Whoever he ends up facing in his next fight, he needs to win impressively in order to remain in the top five.
Position: No. 2
Last Performance: defeated Michael Bisping via TKO (UFC on FX 7)
Next Bout: N/A
After knocking Michael Bisping off the ladder, it is unclear if Belfort will slip into the coveted spot of the man next in line for Anderson Silva’s title.
Dana White seems to believe that the loss Belfort suffered at the hands of the champ, nearly two years ago, is still too recent.
While I think that a second bout between them wouldn’t be as easy for the champion, it’s hard to dismiss just how easily Silva dispatched Belfort the last time. It does, however, beg the question: How long must Belfort wait?
Perhaps that is the reason why Belfort called out Jon Jones, the champion in the next division up. He knew he wasn’t going to get a title shot against Silva, at least not yet.
Belfort moving up the rankings clears up little in a division that is crying out for clarity.
Position: No. 1 (Champion)
Last Performance: defeated Stephan Bonnar via TKO (UFC 153)
Next Bout: N/A
Owning 10 title defenses and the mantle of greatest pound-for-pound fighter on earth come with some perks, most of which translate to letting the world come to you.
At 185, Silva is going to be a heavy favorite no matter who he fights, but the beautiful thing about combat sports is that nothing assumed to last forever actually lasts forever.
With so much talk around superfights with Georges St-Pierre and Jon Jones, Silva could lose some of his focus, which might hand the next middleweight title contender a huge upset victory.
But that has been the talk for a while now, and Silva consistently rises to the occasion. You don’t acquire 10 title defenses and an undefeated record in the UFC by daydreaming.
So, Silva watches and waits with the belt securely around his waist, where it has been since October 2006.