Solutions for the 'muddleweight' division

January, 21, 2013
1/21/13
6:47
AM ET
Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
ESPN.com
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SilvaJosh Hedges/Getty ImagesSix months since defending his middleweight title, Anderson Silva is still waiting for a challenger to emerge.
Anderson Silva has surveyed two potential foes up close, only to have things go haywire.

First he traveled to Montreal for UFC 154 as a prelude to a “superfight” against Georges St-Pierre. Then, two months later, he hit Sao Paulo, Brazil, to check out the latest hubbub, Michael Bisping.

St-Pierre won, but wasn’t interested in a bout with Silva. Bisping lost spectacularly, and now we’re right back to where we were long before Silva’s thrown-together gimmick bout with Stephan Bonnar: Who’s next for Anderson Silva?

These are always murky waters.

Silva, whether he admits it or not, wants a rare blend of marketability, worthiness, nonrepetitiveness and beatability in his opponents. He will settle, of course, but Silva’s camp is not afraid to air its druthers. And now that the St-Pierre reverie has past, and Bisping -- our modern-day Sisyphus -- has tumbled back down the hill, who’s out there?

Vitor Belfort beat Bisping on Saturday night, and had a long-shot case. Yet (somewhat inexplicably) he chose to call out light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, in hopes of a rematch of their UFC 152 bout. Dana White reiterated that Belfort would not get the crack at Jones, anyway, given the dramatic finish of their first fight at UFC 126. So no Belfort.

Alan Belcher lost to Yushin Okami very unspectacularly, so he’s out -- and so is Okami, who had his shot at UFC 134 and doesn’t do himself any favors with his grinding, unspectacular style. Feel free to exhale, because it won’t be Okami.

Hector Lombard, whom Bisping referred to as a “little poison dwarf” not so long ago, slipped against Tim Boetsch in his UFC debut, even if he redeemed himself a little against Rousimar Palhares a few months later. He’s an option, but he’s motivated in strange ways. Besides, he's fighting Okami next, and here's guessing he wouldn't mind Bisping after that.
[+] EnlargeAnderson Silva
Ed Mulholland for ESPN.comFight fans aren't exactly clamoring for a rematch between Anderson Silva and Yushin Okami.
Mark Munoz slipped against Chris Weidman (badly), and Weidman lacks billboard appeal and experience (according to Silva, and Silva’s opinion has echoed down the media chambers). Tim Boetsch lost to Costas Philippou, and Philippou is too green, too new and too unproven.

There are out-of-division intrigues. Dan Henderson would do it, but Silva hates repeat customers, and besides, Hendo’s got a date with Lyoto Machida at UFC 157. Rashad Evans is a possibility, but he has business first with Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. If Rory MacDonald wasn’t already locked up with a fight against Carlos Condit, maybe he’d use this opportunity to move up a weight class. But that fight is made, and don’t even try to talk to MacDonald about foregoing his chance to avenge that Condit loss.

Ronaldo Souza is interesting, but he’s not the reigning Strikeforce champion. That leaves Luke Rockhold, who was just a few days ago calling out a cusp top-10 fighter in Philippou. He is the reigning Strikeforce champion, but since dethroning “Jacare” he’s fought Keith Jardine and Tim Kennedy. Should he be asked to fight Silva in his UFC debut, it would feel like he was being jumped into a gang.

The most logical name is Jones. Jones fights Chael Sonnen in April and, realistically, isn’t expected to encounter much turbulence there. Silva could wait it out. But that would be a long time between bouts.

So what is the UFC to do? It would be nice if things were simple, but they’re not. It’s either pick between Lombard, Rockhold or Weidman, or dredge up another Bonnar-type as a potboiler.

Or, the UFC could think bigger. Have Silva travel one more time to check out a potential foe. This time to New Jersey. Put him cageside for Sonnen/Jones, as a looming presence for Jones should he win. With no true No. 1 contender within the division for matchmaker Joe Silva, set the table for the fight people are most curious about.

Convincing Silva might be difficult, but if there’s going to be a superfight, then make a superfight already. The timing isn’t perfect, but given how complex superfights are to put together, it might be as good as it gets.

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