The UFC’s middleweight division has never been more compelling than it is now. Chris Weidman taking over the throne from longtime champion Anderson Silva has brought forth new light to a division that was previously dominated by one extraordinary man.
At UFC 173, Weidman will square off with Vitor Belfort in the New Yorker’s first “post-Silva” title defense, but the next contender could be decided Saturday night at UFC Fight Night 36 in Brazil.
Former light heavyweight champ Lyoto Machida is all but guaranteed the next title shot if he can get past Gegard Mousasi in the main event.
However, former Strikeforce champion Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza could steal it from the karate specialist in the night's co-main event if he is victorious. Souza will meet Tristar product Francis Carmont, and it would be tough to deny the Brazilian if he puts the GSP-pupil away.
To help me break down this card, I’ve brought back RedHotVegas.com’s Roni Taylor.
Ciccarelli: Since Chris Weidman dethroned Anderson Silva, the middleweight division has—essentially—been cracked wide open. Weidman will defend his crown against Vitor Belfort at UFC 173 in May in his first post-Silva title defense.
In the meantime, the next No. 1 contender could be crowned this Saturday night in Brazil.
In the main event, No. 4-ranked Lyoto Machida will fight former DREAM and Strikeforce champion Gegard Mousasi, and in the co-main event, No. 3-ranked Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza will meet No. 8-ranked Francis Carmont. In your opinion, who do you feel would be most deserving of a title shot, between those four, with a victory on Saturday night?
Taylor: That’s an easy one for me: Gegard Mousasi. I feel that he is one of, if not the most underrated fighter in all of the UFC today. Mousasi is as decorated a fighter as they come as both a former Dream middleweight and light heavyweight champion and also a former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion.
I mean, have you taken a look at his record? This guy has hammered out 29 of his 34 wins with a finish. Gegard isn’t a man who goes into a fight looking to not lose.
Every fight Mousasi engages in, he brings his deadly Dutch-based kickboxing skills into the cage looking to add to his 18 wins by KO. I personally would love to see him face off with Chris Weidman for the belt.
MC: Besides Weidman, the middleweight division has also seen a breath of fresh air with the emergence of former light heavyweight champion Machida. “The Dragon” made it look easy with his destruction of Mark Munoz this past October in his debut at 185 pounds.
Many analysts are looking at Machida as potentially Weidman's biggest threat, but he has to get past Mousasi first. How do you see this fight playing out? Do you see Machida scoring another highlight-reel finish on his road to the title, or will we see an upset here?
RT: Look, no disrespect to Mark Munoz, but I don’t think beating him is any indication of Machida’s ability to dethrone Weidman. Lyoto hasn’t exactly been stellar over his last eight fights, dropping half of them with a loss on his record.
While he does offer up a unique challenge for anyone who can’t figure out how to get inside of his karate striking stance, I don’t think Machida has faced a skilled kickboxer like Mousasi so far in his career. Mousasi pulls the upset by out striking the karate kid and notches another TKO on his way to a title fight in 2014.
MC: That’s a bold prediction right there. I think you may be the first person I’ve seen that’s picking Mousasi in this fight. If you’re right and Machida does lose, the next title shot could go to Jacare Souza if he gets by Carmont. Souza has looked like a man possessed ever since coming over to the UFC from Strikeforce.
We already knew that he was an assassin on the ground, but after knocking out Yushin Okami in September, we can see that he has some grenades in his hands as well. Carmont won't be an easy fight for him, though. The Tristar product is 6-0 in the Octagon and hungry to break the glass ceiling. Who takes the co-main event?
RT: This is a tough one. Yes, Jacare has been very impressive as of late, but Carmont is a dark horse for sure. Keep in mind that 6-0 is only in the UFC, with an actual total of 11 straight wins.
|Francis Carmont's UFC Record|
|Costas Philippou||UFC 165||(W) Unanimous Decision||9/21/13|
|Lorenz Larkin||UFC on FOX 7||(W) Unanimous Decision||4/20/13|
|Tom Lawlor||UFC 154||(W) Split Decision||11/17/12|
|Karlos Vemola||UFC on Fuel TV 4||(W) 2nd Round Submission||7/11/12|
|Magnus Cedenblad||UFC on Fuel TV 2||(W) 2nd Round Submission||4/14/12|
|Chris Camozzi||UFC 137||(W) Unanimous Decision||10/29/11|
Carmont has the size and reach advantage, and if he can keep Souza at a distance and pick him apart with a stiff jab, I think Francis has a good chance of winning a decision. If, on the other hand, Carmont can’t manage to stay off the ground, the alligator might just take another victim.
MC: Regardless of how the fights play out, out of the four middleweights in the two main events, who do you feel would have the best chance of stopping the new middleweight champion? Obviously we can’t look past Belfort, but assuming Weidman beats him, do you think one of these fighters could do any better?
RT: No need to think about this one: Mousasi. His incredible striking coupled with his high-level judo skills pose a nasty combination for anyone, including the current champion, Weidman. I’ll say it again, I really think Gegard is underrated, and he is going to prove as much when he steps into the Octagon on Saturday.
MC: Besides the two main events, does anything else stand out to you about this card? There’s not a whole lot of big names, but there are a few notables. Guys like Erick Silva, Charles Oliveira, Iuri Alcantara and Maximo Blanco are always fun to watch. Which undercard fight are you most looking forward to?
RT: To tell you the truth, I am not too knowledgeable about a lot of the guys on the card, with the focus obviously being on Brazilians. I definitely need to do my research and get to know these amazing fighters a little better so I can speak to them.
Of the ones that I do know, I am most looking forward to Erick Silva fighting again. He is the biggest betting favorite on the whole card and a super-exciting fighter to watch. I don’t see this one making it out of the first round. I suppose the only thing we don’t know is whether Erick wins by submission or KO in the first.
Mitch Ciccarelli is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report and co-host of Alchemist Radio. He is also a United States Airman. Follow him on Twitter @MitchCiccarelli.