Between 2008 and the first half of 2010, the UFC middleweight division was in the midst of a dark age—a time where contenders were few and champion Anderson Silva's level of interest was diminishing.
The downturn began just after Silva's win over Dan Henderson at UFC 82 in March of 2008. Following that victory, Silva fought three less-than-qualified contenders and seemed genuinely bored with the lack of top competition.
His opponents—Patrick Cote, Thales Leites and Demian Maia—were unable to put "The Spider" in danger, and Silva reacted by displaying his disinterest in the cage (see: UFC 112).
Then everything changed.
Following his miserable, borderline-offensive performance against Maia, Silva found himself on the receiving end of a verbal barrage from Chael Sonnen, a brash middleweight unafraid of "The Spider" and his air of invincibility. The division has never been the same since.
Now that the B.C. (Before Chael) era is long gone, the 185-pound weight class is as good as it's ever been. Actually, it's by far the most competitive version of the middleweight division we've ever seen.
Just one thing: Silva is methodically taking out all of the top contenders.
On July 6, top contender Chris Weidman looks to begin a new era when he challenges Silva for the title at UFC 162. Many, including welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre, believe Weidman is the man to finally break Silva's incredible winning streak and rob him of his championship belt.
But what if he doesn't? What if Silva does to Weidman the same thing he did to Sonnen at UFC 148, Yushin Okami at UFC 134 or Vitor Belfort at UFC 126?
What then? Good question.
The situation—which, for the sake of argument, assumes Silva defeats Weidman—is complex for a number of reasons.
One reason: Silva has defeated the majority of top middleweights.
In his last four title fights, Silva has defeated the current No. 2 middleweight contender (Belfort), No. 3 middleweight contender (Okami), and No. 9 middleweight contender (Sonnen), though Sonnen would be ranked much higher had he not jumped ship for the light heavyweight division.
Another reason: mobility is lacking.
Belfort and Okami (and even Sonnen if he stayed at 185-pounds) are perennial contenders. And, as poorly as they've performed against Silva, they're quite good at taking out the rising contenders.
Michael Bisping entered his bout against Belfort at UFC on FX 7 with a lot on the line; Dana White promised him a title shot if he could defeat the Brazilian.
Belfort knocked him out in the second round, and Bisping took a tumble out of contention.
Sonnen did the same thing to him in January of 2012. The decision win earned Sonnen a rematch with Silva, while Bisping failed to jump into a top contender's slot.
Oh, and Bisping's first title eliminator—against Dan Henderson at UFC 100—ended in utter disaster.
"The Count" is currently ranked as the No. 4 middleweight contender, which may simply be his ceiling, as he can't get past anyone ranked higher.
Of course, there are a few others who are currently making a push for the title at middleweight.
One name that sticks out is Costa Philippou, who earned his fifth straight victory at UFC 155 when he knocked out Tim Boetsch (No. 10 ranked contender).
Another is Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza, who finished off his Strikeforce career with a victory over Ed Herman, then debuted in the UFC with a submission win over Chris Camozzi. "Jacare" is expected to face Okami next.
Then, deeper down the list, guys like Luke Rockhold and Mark Munoz appear, sitting at least a couple wins out of serious contention.
Unfortunately, out of Souza, Philippou, Munoz and Rockhold, the UFC doesn't have a ton to work with.
Souza and Philippou could turn into top contenders, but neither has earned a win over top-caliber competition such as Belfort, Okami or even Bisping. And Munoz was absolutely wrecked by Weidman, while Belfort did a number on Rockhold just recently.
The third cause of an uncertain future if Silva wins at UFC 162: the promotion can't keep pressing the rematch button.
The Silva-Sonnen saga deserves a chapter all its own in the UFC history books, but that rivalry has run its course. And a Silva-Okami rematch is not something the UFC or its fans should want, considering how their last meeting ended.
The promotion, should the first fight prove entertaining enough, could call for a Silva-Weidman rematch, or they could throw Belfort back into the cage; as of right now, those are the only two matchups with any intrigue.
But rematches can plague a division, not allowing the weight class to develop or progress. The 155-pound weight class is a perfect example of this.
Of course, Weidman could upset Silva, effectively pressing the reset button on the weight class, yielding an endless amount of possibilities. With Weidman as champion, the list of contenders suddenly would be lengthy.
But the odds (designating the contender as a 2:1 underdog) suggest Silva is at least supposed to win the fight. If he does, the list of contenders will once again be shortened.
So, again, the question must be asked: what next?
In all likelihood, Silva rematching Belfort seems the logical next step, if he tops Weidman. And Belfort has been impressive in his last two outings, making that matchup at least somewhat intriguing.
But there's no point in pretending the division has a wealth of legitimate competition for Silva beyond Weidman and "The Phenom." And by 2014, if Silva is still champion, that will be all too apparent.
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