Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
UFC President Dana White said last week that the Anderson Silva-Chael Sonnen rematch will take place in a Rio soccer stadium big enough to break the promotion's all-time attendance record, and the UFC is already hyping the fight as the biggest in history.
I wouldn't go quite that far, but I do wonder if it's the last challenge at middleweight for the greatest champion in UFC history. Silva has so dominated the middleweight division that Sonnen is just about the only opponent who has even made Silva break a sweat inside the Octagon.
So as I rank the best middleweights in MMA, I'll look at whether any of them could potentially beat Silva down the road, or whether the rematch with Sonnen is the last chance we'll have to see someone who can really threaten the best fighter the UFC has ever seen.
Top 10 Middleweights in MMA
(Editor's note: The individual fighter's ranking the last time we did middleweights are in parentheses.)
1. Anderson Silva (1): The best fighter in the world turns 37 in April and has talked about retiring. If he beats Sonnen in the rematch would he consider doing what so few fighters ever do and retire on top?
2. Chael Sonnen (3): Sonnen wasn't at his best in defeating Michael Bisping in January, but he's now beaten two Top 10 opponents since returning from his suspension and has earned another shot at Silva.
3. Vitor Belfort (2): Belfort hits as hard as anyone at 185 pounds, and I think he'll crush Wanderlei Silva. But I'm not all that interested in seeing the rematch with Anderson Silva that Belfort wants. Silva knocked Belfort out in spectacular fashion last time, and I think he'd do it again.
4. Mark Munoz (5): Munoz is an option as a future opponent for Silva: He has the great wrestling and is currently riding a four-fight winning streak. But realistically, it's hard to see Munoz as much of a challenge to Silva. If you get knocked cold by a Matt Hamill head kick, what's an Anderson Silva head kick going to do to you?
5. Luke Rockhold (NR): The Strikeforce middleweight champion has a good chance of reigning over the division as long as Strikeforce lasts. It would be better to see him take on some of the best in the UFC, although I think the likes of Silva, Sonnen and Belfort would beat him handily.
6. Michael Bisping (10): Bisping put up a good fight in his loss to Sonnen and will try to rebound against Tim Boetsch at UFC 148. Bisping has always seemed to be just on the periphery of title contention without ever getting there.
7. Hector Lombard (NR): The Bellator middleweight champion has even fewer good opponents available to him than Rockhold has in Strikeforce. I'd love to see Lombard, who's an incredible 24-0-1 in his last 25 fights, step into the Octagon, although I think he'd get messed up by Silva.
8. Brian Stann (7): After taking a tough loss from Sonnen, Stann will be back against Alessio Sakara in April. Stann is a fighter the UFC would love to promote as a title contender, but it's not realistic to think he could ever be on Silva's level.
9. Chris Weidman (NR): After beating by far the best opponent of his career in Demian Maia, Weidman is a perfect 8-0. At age 27 he may become a middleweight title contender some day, but that day will likely be after Anderson Silva has hung up the gloves.
10. Tim Boetsch (NR): I loved the heart Boetsch showed in his comeback win over Yushin Okami. He's now 3-0 since dropping down to middleweight.
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