There was a buzz in the MMA community leading up to the Anderson Silva vs. Vitor Belfort middleweight showdown at UFC 126.
Silva had never faced a fighter like Belfort in the UFC. A fighter who had the hand speed and power to knock Anderson out. Vitor could threaten Silva on the feet, how would he react if he got caught in one of Belfort's flurries?
But there was another reason fans were charged up for the Silva vs. Belfort fight, it was because they were already looking past it. Fans were excited about what a Silva victory would mean.
A win by Silva would represent the second last step towards a pound-for-pound showdown with Georges St. Pierre. Dana White said the superfight would happen if both fighters were victorious in their upcoming fights. Dana has never gone back on his word before so fans were excited.
That night at UFC 126 in Las Vegas, Silva showed us how he matches up against another top striker. Silva's shock and awe performance against Belfort will go down as one of his most legendary.
With one kick, fans' reactions went from disbelief to reverence, with Silva possibly topping his performance against Forrest Griffin and his improbable win over Cheal Sonnen.
Anderson Silva brings to the cage what no MMA fighter ever has—artistry.
Silva is a virtuoso whose fighting appear effortless. An effortlessness that has embarrassed some of the best fighters in the world.
Silva's mastery over Belfort at UFC 126, reaffirmed for the MMA world that he is a rare talent. But it also left fans with some doubt.
What is left for Anderson Silva at middleweight?
Silva's dominance over the middleweight division is unprecedented. No UFC fighter in any division has come close to what Silva has done as a fighter and as a champion. Anderson has yet to lose in the UFC, holding a 13-0 record which includes eight title defences. Those are numbers that may never be matched.
Twice Silva has made the jump to light heavyweight and both times he left the MMA community shaking its collective head. For Silva, his fights at 205 pounds have seemed more like time off from his day job.
Silva rises to the challenge like only the greatest of athletes can. So the question is, are there any significant matchups left to challenge Silva at 185 pounds?
Anderson Silva did what was required of him in to make the superfight with Georges St. Pierre happen. However, with his win over Belfort a growing number of MMA fans are beginning to rethink the superfight matchup. Fights fans are now arguing that there are more compelling matchups waiting for Anderson in the light heavyweight division.
Most would agree that St. Pierre poses a challenge for Silva. St. Pierre is the best functional wrestler in MMA and wrestling is the closest thing to a weakness that Silva has.
Few fans will forget Silva's bout against Chael Sonnen last summer at UFC 117. Sonnen, who is a powerful wrestler, was able to control Silva on the ground for four and a half rounds before getting caught in one of the greatest buzzer-beater submissions ever.
Silva's battle with Sonnen only intensified fans demand for the superfight matchup with St. Pierre. If Sonnen, a strong wrestler with a limited skill-set could dominate Silva for 23 minutes, what would St. Pierre, the most well-rounded fighter in MMA, be able to do against him?
Anderson Silva is a big middleweight. He is said to walk around at a weight of 230 pounds between fights. This is comparable to most fighters at light heavyweight.
St. Pierre, on the other hand, is a natural welterweight. St. Pierre has been the smaller fighter in his four of his last five matchups at 170 pounds. If St. Pierre were to move up to face Silva, he will be facing a fighter in Silva who is comfortable fighting at 205 pounds.
A comparable scenario would be 5'6" lightweight champ Frankie Edgar moving up to 170 pounds to fight one of the welterweight divisions top fighters.
Size and strength are big advantages to give up between elite fighters and without question, St. Pierre will be giving up a significant size advantage to Silva.
St. Pierre has stated that if he makes the move to middleweight he will need between 6-8 months to do it properly, in order to allow his body to adjust to the newly added muscle.
If Silva waits for the superfight it will leave him inactive for close to a year. This is a long time for the soon-to-be 36-year-old champion to be sitting on the shelf.
Silva could occupy himself with a title defence against the much deserving Yushin Okami. Unfortunately for Okami, this is a fight which holds little interest to the broader MMA market. Not to mention that it could jeopardize the superfight in the unlikely event that Silva lost.
If the superfight were to happen there will be another important question hanging over the matchup. With no tune up fights at middleweight, how will St. Pierre adjust to debuting at a new weight against arguably the best fighter on the planet?
This is a legitimate question surrounding St. Pierre's move to middleweight.
The matchup between Georges St. Pierre and Anderson Silva is more about a challenge for St. Pierre than it is about a challenge for Silva.
Despite possessing, in theory, the ideal skill-set to defeat Silva, St. Pierre's move to 185 pounds will be accompanied by a number of variables that will make Silva a healthy favourite.
However with Silva's most recent win over Belfort fans are rethinking Silva's matchup possibilities. If carrying the extra weight at 205 does not affect Silva's speed or precision then he poses a threat to every fighter in the light heavyweight division—imagine the match-ups that can be made for Anderson at 205 pounds.
John Jones is scheduled to fight light heavyweight champion Mauricio Rua for the belt at the upcoming UFC 128. Jones got the nod after the injured Rashad Evans was forced to pull out of his scheduled matchup with Rua.
If St Pierre beats Shields and then requires 6-8 months to put on weight it would mean a matchup between Silva and any of the above mentioned light heavy weights could be made sooner than a bout with St. Pierre. Rua, Jones and Evans each present a legitimate threat to Anderson, and on a more level playing field.
What makes the prospect of Silva moving to light heavyweight so enticing is that he would be facing competition that forces him to perform. Silva would be competing against fighters who have the skill and the size to test him in the cage.
A point worth considering—in almost every potential matchup for Silva at light heavyweight he would likely be the odds-on favourite.
This leads to the question, if Anderson would be the favourite in prospective matchups at 205 pounds, then shouldn't he be fighting in that division?
This appears to be the growing sentiment among fight fans.