Before Anderson Silva and Chael Sonnen square off in the Octagon tonight, let’s take a look at what’s in store for the future.
Silva has reigned over the division for the past four years like a true monarch, defeating any and all comers with a relative amount of ease. Should he be victorious again this Saturday night, who awaits the deadly Muay-Thai specialist?
But what if Silva doesn’t successfully defend his gold? Sonnen is a very dangerous contender with potential to do some serious damage to “The Spider.” If Sonnen is the one with the prestigious middleweight crown wrapped firmly around his waist at the end of the night, who will he meet in his first defense?
If Anderson Silva retains his title
A victory for Silva would be his seventh consecutive defense of the middleweight crown. The dominant striker has already beaten some of the best that the 185-lbs division has to offer, and has done so without breaking much of a sweat. However, Silva would still have a ways to go before completely cleaning out the middleweight division.
While many will undoubtedly look for Silva to vacate his crown and make a permanent move up to the light heavyweight division, there is still a laundry list of contenders at 185 pounds looking to take their best shot at dethroning “The Spider.”
Let’s first start with a man who many consider to be long overdue for a title shot, a man whom Silva competed against before and lost due to an unfortunate disqualification from an illegal kick, Yushin Okami. Okami’s decisive victory over high-level wrestler Mark Munoz at UFC on Versus 2 puts the Japanese sensation back in line to fight the champ.
While a dominating loss to number one contender Sonnen still remains fresh in mind, Okami has since won two straight in the Octagon. Although he has yet to claim a victory over a top-tier opponent, it wouldn’t be out of the question to catapult Okami into a title shot with Silva.
Another option for Silva would be a long anticipated bout with knockout artist Vitor Belfort. Belfort was set to challenge Silva for the title back at UFC 112 but a serious shoulder injury forced “The Phenom” out of the contest. Belfort vs. Silva is a matchup that fight fans have been dying to see for quite some time and one that would be sure to deliver fireworks with their unique mesh of striking styles.
If the UFC denies both Okami and Belfort the next title shot then the upcoming matchup between Nate Marquardt and Rousimar Palhares at UFC Fight Night 22 could be the icing on the cake. While Marquardt wouldn’t be guaranteed a shot due to his previous one-sided losses to both Silva and Sonnen, Palhares can easily make the case with four consecutive wins and a deadly submission arsenal.
If Sonnen upsets Silva
Before everyone gets out their pitchforks and torches, there is a very great chance that Sonnen might upset Silva. Not only can Sonnen defeat Silva but he may just give the consensus top pound-for-pound fighter the worst beating of his life. If that turns out to be the case then the entire middleweight division will be giving a breath of fresh air. Not because Silva lost but because there would finally be a new champion to shake up the division.
Depending on how the fight plays out, an immediate rematch against Silva could be a possibility. For example, if Sonnen defeats Silva in a controversial decision victory or if the fight turned out to be so incredibly exciting that an immediate rematch just made sense.
Nonetheless, let’s run down the list of contenders that could be next in his path, assuming Sonnen claims the title in dominating fashion. Okami would be out of the question at least for the time being due to how decisively Sonnen handled the Japanese superstar in their fight at UFC 104.
Belfort may have been viewed as the number one contender several months ago, but he hasn’t fought in a year. Belfort vs. Sonnen simply doesn’t have enough drawing power as a Belfort-Silva matchup would either, so it’s difficult to give “The Phenom” the first crack at a newly crowned Sonnen right off the bat.
In which case, Sonnen’s first title defense could come in the form of the Marquardt-Palhares winner. Yes, Sonnen owns a recent one-sided decision over Marquardt but it was a three-round “Fight of the Night” performance. Surely fans wouldn’t mind seeing a rematch.
One storyline that could be interesting if played out would be the potential of Rich Franklin dropping back down to middleweight. Franklin was the king of the 185-lbs division before being demolished by Silva on two separate occasions. Recently Sonnen has made some comments about Franklin “ducking” him when he was the champion, and how he will not give Franklin a title shot in return.
Franklin’s previous reign as middleweight champion could be enough to warrant an immediate shot at a championship he once held so proudly. Not to mention he’s coming off a brutal knockout win over UFC Hall of Famer Chuck Liddell this past June.
Mitch Ciccarelli is an MMA columnist contributing to both Heavy.com and Bleacher Report. He is also a future United States Airman. Follow Mitch on Twitter if you’re looking to read some interesting tweets about MMA, hot chicks, hot dogs, hot plates, hot wings, and other hotness: @mitchciccarelli