Thiago Alves won't be returning to the Octagon in 2013.
A former welterweight title challenger, Alves has not competed since a March 2012 loss to Martin Kampmann. Alves told MMAFighting.com's Guilherme Cruz on Wednesday that he plans on returning in February or March 2014, which could mean two full years away from MMA competition.
Alves challenged Georges St-Pierre for the welterweight championship when he was 25 years old. Though the Brazilian looked like he'd be a force to be reckoned with in the 170-pound division for years, Alves is now 29 and a loser in four of his past six outings.
Despite his poor win-loss record of late, Alves has still shown signs that he can be a contender in the welterweight class.
All four of Alves' recent defeats came against upper-echelon fighters. He was also on his way to victory against Kampmann before shooting himself into a guillotine choke with less than one minute remaining.
Though he's still within striking distance of the Top 10, Alves could probably use a tune-up fight after such a long period of inactivity. At the same time, Alves is a big name that the UFC will likely try to pair with another well-known 170-pound fighter.
Although he's on a two-fight winning streak and Alves is coming off a loss, Dan Hardy seems like a very intriguing opponent for the Brazilian.
Hardy was diagnosed with Wolff–Parkinson–White syndrome in March, which forced him out of a scheduled matchup with Matt Brown. While Hardy briefly considered retirement from MMA as a result of the heart condition, the Englishman recently told BloodyElbow.com that he's training and will seek a second opinion on his health.
If Hardy does return to the Octagon, he'd likely put on a show opposite Alves. The welterweights are both entertaining strikers who could be Knockout of the Night or Fight of the Night candidates when matched together.
UFC matchmakers rarely book winners with losers, but this is one of those cases where an exception could be in order.
Out of action for 12 months, Hardy has lost the momentum he gained by beating Amir Sadollah and Duane Ludwig. Meanwhile, although he lost his last fight, Alves would still be a step up in competition for Hardy considering he nearly defeated No. 6 contender Martin Kampmann in his most recent outing.
There are plenty of options in the deep welterweight division, but compared to the opponents he was previously facing, a bout with Hardy eases Alves back into competition while still likely keeping him on the main card.
Sean Smith is a B/R MMA Featured Columnist. Follow him on Twitter @SeanSmithMMA.