What's Next For The UFC Middleweight Division After UFC 117?
After UFC 117 this past Saturday, two things are clear: One, Anderson Silva is one bad, bad dude. And two, the UFC Middleweight title picture just got a whole lot more interesting.
Silva-Sonnen will be one of those fights fans are still talking about years from now. It was an instant classic, and that was before the incredible finish. If you ever want a prime example of the ability of combat sports to move an audience, to thrill them, to utterly captivate and compel them on a primal, human level, look no further then that fight.
For almost five full rounds, Chael Sonnen lived up to every word of his trash talk. He dropped Silva with strikes standing (no, you‘re not in the Twilight Zone). He battered him with shots from inside his guard. He took the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt down repeatedly, and held him there.
It was a virtuoso performance from the Greco-Roman national champion, without a doubt the finest of his career. He won over the seesawing Oakland crowd in pure “Rocky” style, and was only a few minutes from finally wrapping a world title around his waist.
Then Anderson Silva showed us why he is, without any shadow of a doubt, the finest fighter in the world today. After taking a beating for almost 23 straight minutes, a calm and precise Silva capitalized on one small mistake to win the fight via a triangle choke. Silva got his 11th straight win, and Sonnen went hunting for the McDonald's that gave Silva his Happy Meal Black Belt.
What’s more, this fight blows open the middleweight title picture, mainly because for the first time Silva seems human. His struggles in this fight—and his rising to overcome them—throws wide open a division once seen as little more than the champion’s playground. There are two main scenarios the UFC can go with now that we know Silva is injured, and out until early 2011.
We’ll start with the obvious.
Give Sonnen an immediate rematch. By all indications, UFC 117 did big business. As expected, the Sonnen “sh*t talking express" pimped into Oakland right on time, and it picked up a lot of casual viewers along the way. This fight will probably do a big PPV buy-rate, and all those fans who tuned in were treated to an absolutely legendary fight.
The most compelling reason to book Silva vs. Sonnen II is because no one, ever, dominated Silva like Sonnen did. Fans want to know if the Oregon native can pull off the impossible again - and this time get the job done.
That’s all nice, but it’s not the main factor in making this fight. Sadly, this fight will more than likely get made because Sonnen would sell the sweet merry hell out of it. I mean think of how well he did the first time, before many people knew who he was, before he absolutely beat the tar out of Silva, and most importantly, before he quick tapped and then tried to walk it back. If an immediate rematch does happen, expect an “I never tapped” line from Sonnen every other week.
In my personal opinion, an immediate rematch isn’t the way to go. Usually, immediate rematches are reserved for close decisions, or controversial finishes. This fight had neither. Sure, Sonnen had a hell of a performance against the best in the world, but in the end, he lost, and he needs to get back in line like everyone else.
Besides, this match would shelve Sonnen—suddenly one of the hottest PR prospects in the UFC—for almost a year, as well as put the whole MW division on hold. Both are unacceptable in my view. Instead, the UFC should go with Plan B.
Crown a New No. 1 Contender. I was going to title this option “Give a title shot to someone else,” but that in itself poses some problems, because fans and pundits are split on just who is the No.1 Contender at middleweight?
The obvious answer is Vitor Belfort, who had a title shot booked for UFC 112 this past April before falling out with an injury. There was talk from Dana White that he was next in line after Silva/Sonnen, but that was before they put on an all-time classic.
Now fans are starting to question: just what has Belfort done to deservie a title shot? He’s had one fight since his “return” to the UFC, and it wasn’t even at Middleweight. He’s coming off a long layoff, and the division has changed dramatically in that time.
One thing that hasn’t changed is Yushin Okami sitting atop the rankings, dominating fighter after fighter. What has changed is suddenly Okami is beloved by fans, and reborn as a precision striker rather than the oriental Antonio McKee at middleweight that he once was. He doesn’t have the fan awareness of Belfort, but he has the resume in the division to justify the shot and actually holds a victory (via DQ) over Silva himself.
So have them fight. Silva won’t be back until early 2011? Book Okami vs. Belfort for November or December, with the winner getting Silva once he’s healthy. It would be a great way to keep the red hot Silva facing fresh, interesting opponents, and keeping the division's upper echelon from going stale.
And what about Sonnen? I think he needs one fight before he gets a rematch with Silva. The best option for an opponent lies in the Michael Bisping vs. Yoshihiro Akiyama contest at the upcoming UFC 120. Sonnen could face either man in January/February of 2011, with the winner getting a title shot after the Silva vs. Okami/Belfort title match.
If this scenario actually happened, I’d want Bisping to be the one that faces Sonnen. Could you imagine the pre-fight spectacle that would be the Brit and the Republican in a trash-talking contest?
I realize I’ve left some people out, like Chris Leben and Wanderlei Silva. This is simply because these two should fight each other. On free TV. ASAP. Who cares if it’s for a title shot. Do we need a reason for this fight.
Thank me later, Joe Silva.
By Elton Hobson
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