The interwebs has been buzzing in the aftermath of UFC 95 about the current state of the organization’s middleweight division. The 185 pound weight class has long been considered the middle child of the UFC; while it has never been entirely boring, it’s been overshadowed and ignored in favor of the superstars and megafights seen elsewhere. For that reason, people have tended to pay more attention to 185’s older and more well-known brothers, 205 and Heavy, as well as it’s younger and faster-paced siblings, 155 and 170. It looks like this all might be changing with the seemingly endless amount of contenders that have a reasonable claim to the #1 contender spot.
Nate Marquardt, Demian Maia, Yushin Okami, and the winner of the Bisping/Henderson fight all have serious arguments to fight for the title. Marquardt has been the most dominant looking fighter in the division as of late. Maia has been able to implement his ground wizardy in the most impressive fashion since a young Royce Gracie introduced North America to Brazilian jiu-jitsu in the early 90s. Okami holds an undeniably impressive UFC record of 7-1, not to mention that his name appears next to the last L on Anderson Silva’s record. It might have been by DQ, but a loss is still a loss. The Bisping/Hendo winner will have a huge amount of hype after coaching the reality show and besting a quality opponent. Assuming, for argument’s sake, that Silva defeats Thales Leites at UFC 97, the big question is “What do we do with this mess?”
There are many who believe the best solution is to simply match-up the two big middleweight winners at UFC 95 — Marquardt and Maia — and have them battle it out to decide who gets the next crack at the strap. This solution is logical as few people are clamoring for a Yushin Okami title shot, despite his impressive resume. This is more the fault of the UFC’s reluctance to market him then to anything done by Okami, but it’s true nonetheless. In addition, it could be argued that the Hendo/Bisping winner hasn’t done as much to warrant a title shot as the other fighters mentioned.
I think there’s a better option. If ‘The Spider’ is victorious in his title defense, I say send him on another trip to 205. There has been some speculation that the reason Silva is looking to retire when his contract is up is because he simply doesn’t feel challenged. Moving up in weight is certainly a challenge. Plus, the pay check ‘The Spider’ would receive from fighting one of 205’s bona fide stars would likely be substantially bigger than what he normally receives (imagine the buy rate for Liddell v. Silva). At the same time, this would allow the four top contenders mentioned time to fight it out in an un-official tournament, with the winner receiving a title shot. Whoever emerges victorious would have a lot more steam behind him then the winner of a Marquardt/Maia fight. This would make the eventual championship bout that much bigger in terms of hype, magnitude, and marketability which would benefit the fighters, the organization, and the fans alike.
UPDATE: We can all stop speculating. The most reliable source of news in all of existence, The Sun, is reporting that the Hendo/Bisping winner will fight for the belt.
[Anderson Silva's] next challenger comes in the form of fellow countryman Thales Leites at UFC 97, and, should he come through that test, Silva will face the winner of July’s Henderson and Bisping clash.