Lyoto Machida made his middleweight debut at UFC Fight Night 30 in Manchester, England on Saturday. And to say that his 185-lb debut was a success might be an understatement.
He defeated No. 5-ranked Mark Munoz in the first round by knockout.
After ripping kick after kick to the body of Munoz, Machida set up a high kick perfectly. Munoz folded to the mat, and Machida showed restraint in not following up with any more punishment. It was a statement victory for the Brazilian who came in as the No. 6-ranked light heavyweight.
Now the question is: Who is next? While one may think Machida has a lot of options, that is not the case. Two of the highly ranked fighters in the division are friends whom he is unlikely to fight: Anderson Silva and Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza.
With those two out of the question, here are the three best options for Machida's next opponent.
This is the least likely option, but if Weidman retains the UFC Middleweight Championship, Machida deserves consideration at being the next title contender.
This is the promotion business. Machida is one of the biggest names in the division now, and with Silva being a friend and training partner, that adds an extra layer to this potential fight. It is a marketable encounter for the championship.
Potential title contender Vitor Belfort may not like this suggestion, but it is a realistic option for the UFC.
A lot will depend on Belfort's next fight and the result of UFC 168's main event. The chips need to fall correctly for this fight to become a reality.
Bisping was supposed to be in the main event of UFC Fight Night 30, but an eye injury forced him off the card. When he returns, "The Count" will be right back in the thick of the division. That makes Machida a great opponent for the Brit.
If these two can meet in early 2014, the winner can leap to the forefront of the division for the next title shot. That is what both men want.
Bisping vs. Machida could headline a UFC Fight Night or Fox card or be a quality co-main event to a pay-per-view. It is an enticing option on the table.
Trying to find a suitable high-level opponent for Machida will be difficult thanks to his affiliations. Bisping doesn't share those, and that makes him a simple, easy solution.
At one point, Mousasi was one of the very best middleweights in the world. However, he decided to move up to try his hand at light heavyweight. Despite his success, he is looking to drop down to 185 again to make a statement.
An added bonus is that he has already called out Machida following UFC Fight Night 30.
If Mousasi wants this fight, I see no reason why it shouldn't be the No. 1 option for the UFC. Two high-level former light heavyweights looking to make noise at middleweight will make for an interesting matchup between two cerebral fighters.
By calling out Machida, Mousasi appears to be in no rush to get back inside the cage. If he is willing to sit on the shelf for a few extra months, then the UFC should sign the fight. As the promotion looks for more European events in 2014, this is a solid fight to help bolster an overseas card.