UFC 134: Brendan Schaub and 14 Fighters Who Are 1 to 2 Fights from a Title Shot

Chris TernateCorrespondent IIAugust 27, 2011

UFC 134: Brendan Schaub and 14 Fighters Who Are 1 to 2 Fights from a Title Shot

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    With the UFC's return to Brazil comes a main-event title defense by the pound-for-pound best fighter in the world, Anderson Silva.

    However, prior to Silva's championship bout against Yushin Okami, a pair of important light heavyweight and heavyweight bouts will take place first.

    Fast rising heavyweight Brendan Schaub will take on former Interim UFC Heavyweight Champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in a bout which could elevate Schaub from contender to the No. 1 contender for the UFC heavyweight title.

    And Schaub isn't the only one who finds himself close to a title shot, as fellow main card fighters Forrest Griffin and Mauricio "Shogun" Rua will also duke it out, with the winner throwing himself right back in the title picture.

    Elsewhere though, the pecking order for the title of each respective division is starting to work itself out, as even the ever growing, talent-ridden lightweight division experienced a major shakeup with former WEC Lightweight Champion Ben Henderson's defeat of then-No. 1 contender Jim Miller at UFC Live: Hardy vs. Lytle.

    All over the UFC, from the bantamweight division to the heavyweights, fighters are finding themselves in position to work their way up the ladder and many of them are one to two fights away from a title shot.

    So, while many have been quick to dismiss the level of competition for champions like Silva and Georges St-Pierre, it seems as though there are more than a couple challengers still waiting for their shot at the title and they aren't that far away either.

    Here are 15 fighters who could find themselves one to two fights away from a title shot.

Melvin Guillard

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    Amidst what is widely considered the most rich division in the UFC, let alone all of MMA, Melvin Guillard is rapidly making a case for himself as one of the top lightweights in the world.

    Since his debut in the UFC, Guillard has always been one of the more talented athletes in the sport, however he has never been able to quite put it all together, often times derailed from success due to a variety of issues.

    However, with substance abuse and behavioral issues behind him, Guillard has now found success under the tutelage of master trainer Greg Jackson at his Albuquerque, New Mexico camp.

    After three recent wins over the likes of Jeremy Stephens, Evan Dunham and Shane Roller, "The Young Assassin" now finds himself with the opportunity to springboard himself to a title shot with a big win over another lightweight standout in Joe Lauzon. 

    With a win at UFC 136 over Lauzon, who recently just bounced back from his loss to George Sotiropoulos with a win over Curt Warburton, Guillard could possibly find himself one fight away from a shot at the title.

    Fights away from a title shot: 2

Jake Ellenberger

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    After debuting in a tough and somewhat controversial loss to Carlos Condit at UFC Fight Night: Diaz vs. Guillard, Jake Ellenberger has since gone on to win four straight fights, with notable victories over Mike Pyle and John Howard.

    Coming from a high-level wrestling base at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, Ellenberger has also showcased an affinity for striking, backing up his punches with some real power.

    Now, headlining the next UFC Fight Night, he'll be taking on the last man to challenge Georges St-Pierre for the title, Jake Shields, in the Battle of the Bayou.

    Shields, known for his world-class grappling game, will not only be a challenge for Ellenberger on the ground, but also provide an opportunity for him to get a massive feather in his cap in Shields.

    A win over Shields would definitely fetch Ellenberger another high-profile fight and, with a win over another contender, Ellenberger could very well be staring at a bout with current champ Georges St-Pierre, providing St-Pierre gets past Diaz.

    But for the fast-rising 26-year-old, a title shot might not be far away.

    Fights away from a title shot: 2

The Winner of Mark Munoz vs. Chris Leben

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    In what will be the UFC's first ever five-round non-title bout, Mark Munoz will face off with Chris Leben in what could not only be an entertaining fight, but also a fight to set up a potential No. 1 contender.

    After a big win over former No. 1 middleweight contender Demian Maia at UFC 131, Munoz had his eyes set on fellow up and comer Brian Stann, hoping to set the stage for a new young contender in the UFC's middleweight division.

    However, Stann was thrown into the No. 1 contender's bout against Chael Sonnen, and instead Munoz was given "The Crippler" at UFC 138 in Birmingham, England.

    While a bout with Leben may not be exactly the bout he wanted, Leben represents a high-profile fan favorite for "The Filipino Wrecking Machine" and the platform for an exciting fight which could lead to a title shot, if he wins decisively.

    More likely though it could lead to another big-name bout, then to a title shot.

    For Leben though, a fight with Munoz is an opportunity to derail a young up and comer and get another big win after knocking out the legendary Wanderlei Silva.

    He may not necessarily have a title shot on his mind, but with a win over Munoz, one more big fight and Anderson Silva might very well be on Leben's radar again.

    Mark Munoz, fights away from a title shot: 2

    Chris Leben, fights away from a title shot: 2

Ben Henderson

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    After a dominant performance at UFC on Versus 5, in which he upset Jim Miller, the man who many believed to be next in line for a shot at UFC Lightweight gold, Ben Henderson's stock rose tremendously.

    He may have lost the WEC Lightweight title in dramatic fashion after a highlight reel kick to the face, but has since gone 2-0 since his UFC debut against Mark Bocek.

    After recently derailing Miller's plans for a title shot, Henderson, in turn, established himself as the new man to beat in the division.

    There have been rumors of him not being opposed to a true title eliminator bout with Clay Guida, and "The Carpenter" could be a very likely opponent for him, given they both beat fighters already slated as No. 1 contenders.

    One more big win, especially one over Guida, would make Henderson an undeniable force in the lightweight division and would definitely make it even harder to build a case against him earning a title shot.

    Fights away from a title shot: 1

Alistair Overeem

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    After his not entirely unexpected release from Strikeforce, Alistair Overeem is rumored to be finalizing his negotiations with the UFC for an appearance at UFC 140.

    The former Strikeforce Heavyweight Champion has been adamant about facing the top level competition the UFC has to offer and now very well might have his chance.

    Once Zuffa purchased Strikeforce, rumors swirled over a title unification bout between Overeem and UFC respective Heavyweight Champion Cain Velasquez, among other bouts.

    However, due to contract limitations, it would seem that Overeem in the UFC bout would never materialize, until as of recently.

    Overeem has been on a tear through competition seemingly everywhere outside of the UFC, winning the heavyweight championship not only in Strikeforce but DREAM as well, in addition to capturing the prestigious K-1 World Grand Prix title.

    Now it seems that as "The Reem's" UFC debut seemingly nears, former UFC Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar might face him in his return.

    The bout would not only be a clash of titans, based on each man's sheer size, but also be a No. 1 contender's bout.

    The UFC has been eager to get Lesnar back into the spotlight and get him back into title contention and, with Overeem's arrival, the ever-thinning heavyweight division could get another big-time bout to mix things up.

    Fights away from a title shot: 1

The Winner of B.J. Penn vs. Carlos Condit

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    While B.J. Penn may have unfinished business with perennial welterweight contender Jon Fitch, he's slated to trade blows with former WEC Welterweight Champion Carlos Condit at UFC 137.

    Penn made a triumphant return to the welterweight division at UFC 123 with a 21-second knockout of Matt Hughes and was rewarded with a fight against Jon Fitch, in which they fought to a draw.

    In the process, Penn threw his name in the mix as a contender once more in the welterweight division where he was once a champion.

    A decisive win for him here against a fast rising Condit could put him one fight away from a title shot, but likely no less than that since he's already fought against St-Pierre twice.

    For Condit, who is coming off a spectacular flying-knee knockout of Dong Hyun Kim at UFC 132, a big win over Penn could either put him one fight away or even get him the next spot in line at the winner of GSP vs. Nick Diaz.

    Penn may still have the skills left to win the title, but Condit, like Penn, is solid in the stand-up department and can work off his back as well—the only edge he has, is that he'd be the "fresher" opponent for the favored St-Pierre.

    B.J. Penn, fights away from a title shot: 1

    Carlos Condit, fights away from a title shot: 0-1

Hatsu Hioki

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    Part of the reason why there was so much buzz surrounding the UFC's signing of Hatsu Hioki, is that he is considered to be a legitimate threat to the UFC Featherweight Champion Jose Aldo.

    The 28-year-old submission artist was widely considered to be the best featherweight outside of the UFC, and after his dominant performance over Marlon Sandro to win the Sengoku Featherweight Championship, he showed why.

    Showing proficiency both standing and on the ground, Hioki will, this time around, be the smaller fighter as he takes on a much taller, kickboxing type in George Roop at UFC 137.

    Roop has shown himself to be no pushover and, with a good victory over him, much in the same fashion as Kenny Florian did over Diego Nunes, Hioki could line himself up for a clash with Aldo.

    The real test for Hioki though, is that while he possesses the skill to beat Roop, will he fall victim to the same curse that seemingly plagues the Japanese fighters who transition to the UFC?

    From Takanori Gomi to Kid Yamamoto, to even other Japanese featherweight standout Michihiro Omigawa, Japanese fighters have had trouble in their first bout in the octagon.

    If he is successful against Roop though, he'll most definitely take the Kenny Florian shortcut to the title shot.

    Fights away from a title shot: 1

Phil Davis

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    Coming in as a late replacement for injured Light Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones at UFC 133, Phil Davis was then forced out of his bout with Rashad Evans due to an injury of his own.

    Now the undefeated prospect is without an opponent of his own, but it is rumored that he could be facing former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Lyoto Machida.

    Davis is coming off a lackluster, but nonetheless big, win over veteran Antonio Rogerio Nogueira at UFC Fight Night: Nogueira vs. Davis, when he replaced the man who would later replace him at UFC 133, Tito Ortiz.

    The former NCAA Division I Champion wrestler has shown a preference for the submission game, but against Machida, his biggest step-up in competition yet, his game would need to be even more complete.

    It would seem that the UFC is grooming him to be a contender in the nearby future, but with a win over Machida and another high-profile victory under his belt, a title shot could come sooner than later.

    Fights away from a title shot: 2

The Winner of Chael Sonnen vs. Brian Stann

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    With the winner seemingly set for a showdown with the winner of Anderson Silva vs. Yushin Okami, Brian Stann vs. Chael Sonnen is another big fight in the middleweight division.

    Sonnen has been vocal about his desire to fight Silva and remains adamant that when his friend and training partner, Okami, defeats Silva, he wants to fight Silva regardless of whether he is the champion or not.

    Stann, on the other hand, seems set to contend for the belt, with Sonnen remaining his last obstacle.

    Sonnen seems like the ideal choice for Silva should he get past Stann, however it seems as though "The Spider's" fate is uncertain, especially with rumors swirling around that current Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Champion Dan Henderson could be a possible opponent.

    If that's the case, then maybe even an eliminator bout between the winner of Jason Miller vs. Michael Bisping or Mark Munoz vs. Chris Leben could even be in the works.

    Chael Sonnen, fights away from a title shot: 0-1

    Brian Stann, fights away from a title shot: 0-1

Lyoto Machida

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    After bowing out of a rematch with Rashad Evans to serve as a replacement for the injured Phil Davis, Lyoto Machida further complicated his situation by stating that he would prefer to be paid more.

    As a result, he may have caught a bit of criticism for the whole fiasco, but the fact remains that while he may not be getting the sort of pay he thinks he deserves, he is still viewed as one of the best in the world.

    Left without an opponent as of now, it is rumored that he could be on a collision course with undefeated up and comer Phil Davis in the near future.

    If so, a win over the fast rising "Mr. Wonderful" and the hype built around a possible showdown between Machida and current light-heavyweight champ Jon Jones could mean "The Dragon" is a lot closer to a title shot than it seems.

    Fights away from a title shot: 1

Clay Guida

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    After utilizing some superior wrestling skill to derail WEC Lightweight Champion Anthony Pettis' title aspirations, Clay Guida has his eyes on the title.

    Amidst the crowded lightweight division, Guida has carved out a place for himself in the division's elite after stringing together wins over Rafael Dos Anjos, Takanori Gomi and Pettis.

    Now, Guida has been linked to a possible bout with Ben Henderson, after "Smooth" recently broke Jim Miller's hope for a title shot.

    With the two high-energy, fast-paced and entertaining fighters squaring off in a contender bout, the winner could maybe be staring at a title shot.

    A decisive win over Henderson would be a big statement in the UFC's richest division and likely place Guida one fight away from a title shot.

    Fights away from a title shot: 1-2

The Winner of Forrest Griffin vs. Mauricio Rua

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    Having previously met with an unexpected outcome, Mauricio "Shogun" Rua and Forrest Griffin meet again at UFC 134.

    Both of the former UFC Light Heavyweight Champions are looking to bounce back from injury, with Griffin getting the head start after his win over Rich Franklin at UFC 126, while Rua looks to rebound after his crushing defeat to Jon Jones.

    Injuries aside, the pair meet, now evenly healthy in Rua's backyard, with the winner getting himself back into the title picture.

    A win over the other is probably not enough to propel Rua or Griffin to a title shot, but it does get them most likely a couple fights away, perhaps a fight with Lyoto Machida or Phil Davis then the loser of Quinton Jackson vs. Jon Jones, who knows?

    Mauricio Rua, fights away from a title shot: 2

    Forrest Griffin, fights away from a title shot: 2

Gilbert Melendez

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    After building up an impressive resume outside of the UFC, it would seem that Gilbert Melendez is looking for some validation.

    The current Strikeforce Lightweight Champion is running out of opponents, especially after his brutal TKO of Tatsuya Kawajiri at Strikeforce: Diaz vs. Daley.

    So with both of his scrap-pack teammates in Jake Shields and Nick Diaz finally making the switch to the UFC, "El Nino" remains the only member still in Strikeforce.

    In a move that could stretch the lightweight division's ranks even more, Melendez could make a big splash.

    The world-ranked champion is already making a case to compete against the UFC's best and it seems like it's only a matter of time before he gets his chance.

    If that's the case, the champ would most likely only require one opponent before he gets his title shot, as a way to ease him in, much in the same way Jake Shields was brought into the UFC.

    Fights away from a title shot: 1

The Winner of Urijah Faber vs. Brian Bowles

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    After an excellent performance against current UFC Bantamweight Champion Dominick Cruz at UFC 132, there was a lot of talk about a rematch for Urijah Faber.

    Now, "The California Kid" finds himself suddenly thrust back into a title eliminator against another former bantamweight No. 1 contender in Brian Bowles.

    Having both established themselves as the top dogs right below Cruz in the division, Bowles and Faber have yet to face each other, having beaten most of the competition not named Dominick Cruz.

    Set to square off at UFC 139, they will literally find themselves fighting to get back to Dominick Cruz.

    Urijah Faber, fights away form the title: 1 (vs. Bowles)

    Brian Bowles, fights away from the title: 1 (vs. Faber)

Brendan Schaub

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    While he may have come in second place in The Ultimate Fighter: Heavyweights, Brendan Schaub finds himself in a much more favorable position than the man who won the title over him, Roy Nelson.

    After a win over former No. 1 heavyweight contender Gabriel Gonzaga, followed by a vicious knockout of Mirko Cro Cop, Schaub is now set to square off with another veteran superstar in Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira.

    However, should he defeat the former PRIDE and UFC Heavyweight Champion, he could very well find himself in a title fight with the winner of Junior Dos Santos vs. Cain Velasquez.

    Only nine fights into his career, Schaub might get one more fight before the title, mainly against a fighter a little closer to his prime, like Mir perhaps, but it also wouldn't come as a surprise if he is declared as the No. 1 contender should he beat Nogueira.

    Fights away from a title shot: 0-1