For Anderson Silva's Title, Line of Challengers Begins and Ends With Chael Sonnen

Anderson Silva and Chael SonnenYou can't blame Anderson Silva for not wanting to get bossed around by Chael Sonnen. Here's the UFC middleweight champ, the consensus pound-for-pound king of MMA, and he has to sit next to Charles Barkley in Houston and listen to a guy he beat a year ago stand in the cage and try to map out his future.

Super Bowl weekend. Las Vegas, Nevada. Loser leaves the division and possibly the UFC "forever." That makes for a great pre-fight promo piece, but it must have come as a surprise to the champ, who had yet to agree to any of it.

That's why it's somewhat understandable for Silva's manager, Ed Soares, to insist on a recent episode of Inside MMA that Sonnen should "get to the back of the line" if he wants a crack at the belt.

The trouble is the line isn't quite as long as he seems to think. The Silva camp can argue with the UFC over dates and locations, but there's really only one dance partner that makes any sense right now, and it's Sonnen.

One can see how it might seem frustrating to Silva. He beats Sonnen in August of 2010, Sonnen then gets put on the shelf following the dual headache of testosterone use issues and money laundering charges. When he comes back, Sonnen wins exactly one fight before demanding a title shot on his own personal timetable and according to his own specific pro wrestling terms. Who does this guy think he is?

But that's an easy question to answer. Sonnen happens to be one of the only middleweights left who can sell a fight against Silva, and he knows it. That's why he can afford to call his shots, at least to a degree.

Silva (or Soares) might not like it, but what other options are there? Should he get past Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, Dan Henderson has said he'll cut down to middleweight for a rematch with Silva. Then again, he also said he'll only cut down for a fight with Silva, which makes you wonder what would happen if he managed to beat the 185-pound champ.

Henderson is 41 years old, and, from the sound of it, not all that excited about losing a bunch of weight every three or four months at this point in his life. Does the UFC really want a middleweight champ who doesn't want to be a middleweight?

Even with the potential infusion of Strikeforce fighters, the landscape at 185 pounds isn't exactly overflowing with attractive contenders. Luke Rockhold, Tim Kennedy, even the winner of the Michael Bisping-Jason Miller fight -- there's no logical contender who poses enough of a threat to be interesting to fans right away.

Some of that is Silva's fault. It's hard to find a compelling fight for him when he has so thoroughly dismantled every challenger. That is, every challenger except for the one who took him five rounds deep before one careless mistake cost him the fight.

Ideally, the case for a rematch should be based on more than simply the potential to make it a close fight, but this is Silva we're talking about. Finding him a close fight is a battle in itself. Finding him one with an opponent who can also do all the hype work that the champ either can't or won't is like finding the winning lottery ticket in among the dirty laundry. The UFC would have to be crazy not to cash in on this find while it can.

If Silva doesn't want to fight as soon as Super Bowl weekend, whether it's because his shoulder is still bothering him or because he simply wants more time to prepare, that's the champion's prerogative. He should get more say in choosing the date, just like he should feel free to ignore Sonnen's loser-leaves-town proposition altogether.

But if he's waiting around for a better challenger or a bigger fight, he's going to be waiting a long time. At 36 years old, and with the clock likely ticking on his MMA career, now's the time to fight the big fights, the ones people will remember him for long after he's retired.

The first fight with Sonnen was one of those. Whether the second fight can live up to those expectations or not, he's really got no choice but to take it and find out. And besides, it might be his only hope of finally shutting Sonnen up for good.

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