UFC 122 Results: Yushin Okami and Top 10 Contenders for Anderson Silva's Belt
UFC 122 is in the books and wandering eyes are looking forward to the much fatter UFC 123 this weekend. But let's take a moment to pause and consider what Yushin Okami's win over Nate Marquardt in the main event does to the middleweight picture.
If I were a cynic, this article would be very short. In fact, it would be one word:
Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva has been that good—he's absolutely cleaned out the division and done so in soul-crushing fashion. The 185-pound kingpin has either played with his prey like a jungle cat or sent it off to the Land of Nod with merciless precision.
Few rational observers give Thunder, who's now next in line for a title shot, much of a shot against the Spider should he stop or survive Vitor Belfort.
But, for the sake of routine, let's see how the division looks the day after...
No. 10: Alan Belcher
At the moment, the Talent is sidelined indefinitely due to vision problems in his right eye. Even assuming he makes it back to the cage (as we all hope for his sake and the sport's), Belcher wasn't exactly a sure bet to move up the 185-pound ladder.
But he's an interesting combination of striking and submission acumen when he's focused, and he boasts some big names on his career hit list.
Is a healthy Alan Belcher truly in Anderson Silva's league?
Probably not, but we've got to start somewhere.
No. 9: Carlos Condit
To my knowledge, the Natural Born Killer has never fought at 185 pounds.
And, frankly, he hasn't been unassailable at welterweight over the course of his career. However, he's a tall 170-pounder at 6'2", he's still young at 26, and he looked like a different beast in his latest bout with Dan Hardy.
This is the definition of a long shot, but who would you rather see?
Demian Maia? Chael Sonnen?
No. 8: Anthony Johnson
Duty forces me to be creative down here because I refuse to list anyone with whom Anderson Silva toyed or who juiced up yet still couldn't get the job done (cough, Sonnen).
Consequently, Rumble Johnson makes the cut.
He's been out of action for a while now due to injuries and rumor has it he might return at middleweight because cutting weight down to 170 pounds is unpleasant. Of course, other rumors have it that the audition at 185 will be temporary, and he plans to stay at welterweight.
Whatever eventually comes to pass, the fact remains that Anthony is an enormous welterweight at a heavily muscled 6'2".
Rumble is also quick and explosive—two weapons that should only improve if he stays closer to his natural bulk. He'd need a considerable amount of polish on the weaker aspects of his game, but he's got the raw tools to be a force.
If he can get/stay healthy.
No. 7: Michael Bisping
The Count doesn't have a snowball's chance in hell against Anderson Silva—you know it, I know it, and I bet he knows it somewhere in the inconveniently honest part of his being.
Yet Bisping is one of the few bigger names at middleweight who hasn't walked the gauntlet.
That alone merits his placement on this list.
No. 6: B.J. Penn
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It's been a while since we've seen the Prodigy in top form, but there was once a time the names Anderson Silva, Georges St-Pierre, and Baby J Penn were tossed around as interchangeable parts in an imaginary-but-exquisite superfight.
Some of the luster is off Penn's rose thanks to the back-to-back defeats suffered at the hands of Lightweight Champion Frankie Edgar, but let's not forget that this is a freak of nature who once fought Lyoto Machida to a standstill at heavyweight.
B.J. can most certainly move up in weight; the obvious question is whether he could jump all the way to 185 pounds while retaining his full array of assets.
Probably not to the point of challenging the Spider, but such is the state of the middleweight division.
No. 5: Nate Marquardt
I am not Nate Marquardt's biggest fan and, frankly, I have no desire to see him in a rematch with Anderson Silva.
There's simply no reason to believe Nate the Great has improved considerably from his first stab at the champ and that one was practically over before it started. Granted, he lasted a hell of a lot longer than the guy you're about to see, but the next contender has demonstrably improved.
Nevertheless, if Yushin Okami is now No. 2 in the pecking order behind Vitor Belfort, Marquardt demands placement due to the razor-thin margin of defeat at the hands of Thunder.
No. 4: Chris Leben
Of all the middleweights who've already been dispatched by Anderson Silva, I'd be most intrigued by a rematch with the Crippler.
Although Leben got humiliated in his first meeting with the Spider (the latter's UFC debut), Chris seems to have found another gear. By all accounts, he's sorted out his personal life and been able to channel his considerable energy/demons to his training.
If his back-to-back victories over Aaron Simpson and Yoshihiro Akiyama in the span of two weeks are any measuring stick, the new Chris Leben is a vastly improved one.
That's not to say he'd be able to weather the Spider's web, but—with a chin like the Crippler's—he'd have a puncher's chance.
And you KNOW it'd be entertaining.
No. 3: Jake Shields
Yeah, yeah, I know.
Shields is a boring, lay 'n' pray specialist who'd have no shot against Anderson Silva and he's fighting at welterweight anyway.
That may all be true, but the bottom line is that Jake Shields wins fights—the fans might not like it or agree with the judges' decisions, but that doesn't change the result. Furthermore, we all know the 31-year-old is the former Strikeforce Middleweight Champion so he's comfortable scrapping at 185 pounds.
Considering how emaciated he looked after the weight cut to get down to 170 and how badly he gassed in the third round against Martin Kampmann, one might say he's even more comfortable at the heavier weight.
Regardless, that Jake ranks so highly might be more a statement about the division than the individual.
No. 2: Yushin Okami
One can only hope that Thunder's apparent hesitance to open up the throttle on his aggression was due to the large stakes. In a lot of ways, a bout for a chance to fight for the title is more pressure-packed than the actual title bout where you are the challenger.
All eyes will be on the champ and there is no tomorrow for the guy who wants the belt. Whereas, in an tussle for to be the No. 1 contender, one wrong move and the brass ring moves out of reach.
Regardless, if the same Yushin Okami who faced Nate Marquardt gets in the cage with Anderson Silva...
Let's just say things could get ugly.
Especially because Okami technically owns the last victory over the Spider before his current 13-fight win streak, though it was a disqualification for an illegal upkick.
No. 1: Vitor Belfort
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The Phenom is still the No. 1 contender until he officially steps in the Octagon with Anderson Silva.
That day—February 5, 2011—is rapidly approaching. But until it arrives, we just have to hope both champ and challenger stay healthy enough to make their long-anticipated, thrice-postponed clash.
Because Belfort is perhaps Silva's staunchest test ever at 185 pounds and most certainly the biggest hurdle since the Spider's bout with Dan Henderson. Vitor is about the same age (two years younger), has the same ability to be effective at a heavier weight, is a savage striker, and boasts some of the biggest names in MMA amongst his victims.
Just like the champ.
Which is why the New Year can't get here fast enough.