If hindsight is, as the saying goes, 20/20, we should certainly take another look at Alan Belcher's win over Rousimar Palhares from last Saturday night's UFC on FOX 3.
In a performance that saw Belcher out-grapple the man many believed to be the best MMA grappler in his division, if not the sport, he worked his own submission game, defended a series of heel hook attempts, and then beat him up on the ground. It was really a thing of beauty, and an example of how the sport doesn't rely on two guys trading wild strikes to be considered exciting.
Beyond that, it's another chapter in the still-evolving Belcher comeback story. His career was threatened just a couple of years ago due to an eye injury, and now he's thrust himself into the middleweight title mix.
Where Belcher goes from here is a fair question. The UFC has nearly all of its top middleweight talent scheduled in the next few months, so he is likely to be on the shelf for a while, but Belcher has explained that what he learned from his eye injury is patience. He's no longer in a rush to get where he's going, and that attitude has no doubt permeated into the way he fights, because it was only a clear mind that could stay calm enough to escape the seemingly unescapable. Because of it, Belcher is a legitimate middleweight threat.
On to the Forward Roll...
Belcher probably opened more than a few eyes on Saturday by finishing Palhares, which only Nate Marquardt was able to do in the past while under some bizarre circumstances. Most of the middleweight talent is booked for June or July fights, so either he has a wait ahead of him, or he may be faced with a situation where he gets a short notice offer in the case of an injury. For the purposes of this column, we'll assume he's booked as some of these scheduled fights find a winner.
Prediction: He faces the Michael Bisping vs. Tim Boetsch winner
Hendricks has said he will wait for the title shot he was promised after beating Josh Koscheck in a close split decision. That means he could be on the shelf for nearly a year, since champ Georges St-Pierre isn't likely to fight until November, and he already has Carlos Condit lined up as an opponent. So we're probably looking at a March return for Hendricks if that is the case. I had the chance to speak with him on Saturday night after his win, and he was pretty adamant he'd wait for the golden opportunity. Minds can always change, but for now, I'll take him at his word.
Prediction: He waits for his title shot
Diaz found himself in a similar position as Hendricks, promised the No. 1 contender slot if he won. He did so in impressive fashion, becoming the first man to stop Jim Miller in a submission win. Diaz, who has been the most active UFC fighter over the last five years -- 16 fights in that time -- said he was ready to take a break and collect his shot. While that sounds a bit surprising coming from him, he deserves it. He won't have to wait quite as long as Hendricks to collect, either, as Frankie Edgar and Ben Henderson should have their rivalry settled by around September.
Prediction: Diaz takes a well-deserved rest
Here's one guy who won't ask for a rest anytime soon. In fact, moments after his fight was over, Koscheck said he hoped to have his next fight scheduled within a week. He'll probably have to wait a little bit longer than that. Koscheck is a gamer, but he's in a pretty tough situation when it comes to his divisional relevance. He's still a top 10 fighter, but he's just 2-2 in his last four, and because he's already lost to Georges St-Pierre twice, his chance of getting a third crack at him if St-Pierre continues to hold the belt are slim, even with a long win streak. From the sounds of it though, Koscheck is content fighting the best available guy and making money, which sounds good enough for me.
Prediction: He faces the loser of June 1's Jake Ellenberger vs. Martin Kampmann fight
With losses in two of his last three, Miller's long win streak seems far in the rearview mirror. Since he's just 28 years old, he remains a viable fighter in the division, and there are still many different matchups that could re-launch Miller into the title picture in time.
Prediction: He faces the lose of June 22's Clay Guida vs. Gray Maynard fight.
Let's face it: Johnson is a lot to handle for anyone when he's standing upright. He may not have the most technical striking, but he hits with brute power, and he is fearless, and that's a scary combination. If he continues to progress, his ground game will become more of an issue for him, but matched up with a fellow puncher, he's always got a chance.
Prediction: He faces Matt Mitrione
John Dodson and Louis Gaudinot
I'm not pairing these two up for any reason other than the fact that they both fought and represented the UFC flyweight division well on Saturday night. Because the weight class is still in its infancy, the promotion has only a few 125-pound fighters under contract. That should change soon, but for now, it makes booking fights tough. I guess that means they fight each other.