With Anderson Silva defending his title against Chris Weidman in July, Michael Bisping recently picking up a win at UFC 159, and standouts Luke Rockhold, Vitor Belfort, Costa Philippou, “Jacare” Souza, Chris Camozzi, and Rafael Natal all hitting the Octagon in May, the middleweight division looks like it could be in for a shakeup. So what better time is there than now to see how the 185-pound weight class stacks up in the latest edition of the UFC Fighter Rankings?
The Champion: Anderson Silva
After dazzling the UFC faithful since 2006, 38-year-old Anderson Silva may be facing the most pivotal year of his career in 2013. A July bout against unbeaten Chris Weidman is no walk and the park, and if he gets past the New Yorker, odds are that “The Spider” will be setting his sights on a Superfight (or Superfights) with the likes of Jon Jones or Georges St-Pierre.
1. Chris Weidman: Weidman is one of the most talented fighters in the game today. But with just nine fights under his belt, is the Long Islander ready for Anderson Silva? Their UFC 162 main event on July 6th will answer that question, but in the meantime, it pays to point out that Weidman has done everything asked of him since arriving in the UFC in 2011, from taking (and winning) short notice fights to beating legitimate 185-pound contenders like Demian Maia and Mark Munoz. They’ve been raving about Weidman here in the NY area since before he entered the Octagon, and in a couple months he gets to prove that all those raves were warranted.
2. Vitor Belfort: With only one loss in the last two years (and that was to Jon Jones in a short notice light heavyweight title fight) Belfort should be knocking on the door of a rematch with Anderson Silva after finishes of Yoshihiro Akiyama, Anthony Johnson, and Michael Bisping. But it was the way he lost to Silva in 2011 and the highlight reel fashion in which he was knocked out in the first round that is likely to keep him from another title opportunity unless Chris Weidman upsets Silva in July. In the meantime, the resurgent 36-year-old Belfort will try to do what he did against Bisping: play the spoiler, and on May 18th his chance to do that will come against the last man to hold the Strikeforce middleweight crown, Luke Rockhold.
3. Yushin Okami: He’s the steadiest presence in the middleweight division, and with wins in 13 of his 17 UFC bouts, Okami has cemented his place in the top ten. But after three straight wins, including victories over Alan Belcher and Hector Lombard, what can you do with the Japanese standout, who isn’t exactly known for collecting Fight of the Night bonuses? A third bout with Anderson Silva has little chance of ever taking place, so “Thunder” will have to keep winning and hope for someone else to take over the throne if he’s going to get a second opportunity to become the first fighter from Japan to win UFC gold.
4. Michael Bisping: You can never count out “The Count,” and Bisping proved it again last Saturday night with his three round technical decision win over Alan Belcher. Standing in the range of the dangerous Belcher and beating him at his own game with quick combinations and effective lateral movement, Bisping rebounded nicely from his January loss to Vitor Belfort, and put himself back in the middleweight title race. The question is, will he ever get his shot at middleweight gold? A couple nice wins in a row should answer that question affirmatively.
5. Luke Rockhold: The most high-profile middleweight import from the Strikeforce organization, Rockhold was the last man to hold the promotion’s belt and he comes into the UFC with plenty of expectations, both in and out of the Octagon. That’s why he was put in a main event with one of the UFC’s true superstars in Vitor Belfort, and if he pulls off the win, it could have the same impact felt by Rich Franklin’s first headlining win over Hall of Famer Ken Shamrock back in 2005, a victory that kicked off the march of “Ace” to the UFC 185-pound crown. Rockhold has similar aspirations, and on May 18th, his journey begins.
6. Costa Philippou: New York’s Philippou came out of nowhere to win five straight in the UFC, most recently defeating Tim Boetsch at UFC 155 in dominant style. Next up for the former boxer is a May 18 showdown in Brazil with “Jacare” Souza, and with a win, you would have to put him in the title picture, even if a title shot doesn’t seem likely by the end of 2013.
7. Mark Munoz: After a devastating July 2012 loss to Weidman and a subsequent layoff due to injury, Mark Munoz has a lot of catching up to do when he returns to the Octagon in July to face Tim Boetsch, and at 35, he needs to do it fast. Then again, if anyone can pull it off, it’s the “Filipino Wrecking Machine,” whose determination to succeed in this sport is second to none.
8. Ronaldo Souza: Perhaps the most intriguing member of the top ten, “Jacare” Souza is a supreme grappler and former Strikeforce middleweight champion, but what has caught the eye of most in the fight game is the Brazilian’s improving all-around game, which was on display recently in his knockout of Derek Brunson and his submission of UFC vet Ed Herman. Souza has a tough out in his way on May 18 in Philippou, but if he wins, he will have made a statement that he’s ready for the other big dogs at 185 pounds.
9. Chael Sonnen: The self-proclaimed “Gangster from West Linn” hinted at retirement after his UFC 159 loss to light heavyweight champion Jon Jones last weekend, but if Sonnen decides to stick around and return to the middleweight division, there are some interesting matchups from him, primarily against Wanderlei Silva and Belfort, two fighters that (surprise, surprise) Sonnen got into some trash talking with.
10. Tim Boetsch: Making his move into the top ten after Alan Belcher’s exit, Boetsch can move up even further should he defeat Munoz at UFC 162. A victory would be the fifth in six fights at middleweight for “The Barbarian,” with his only loss being a punishing defeat at the hands of Philippou last December. If Boetsch shows no ill effects from that bout, he should be in the top ten conversation for a while.
For a look at the complete UFC Fighter Rankings for this week, click here.