No matter who gets the next crack at Anderson Silva, the leadup will not be quite as interesting the next time around. Chael Sonnen certainly managed to make the rematch with Silva more than a simple fight, and transform it into a mega-event. The show is believed to have generated more than 1 million pay-per-view buys, and it also boasted the largest gate in U.S. MMA history.
But with Silva's fame at an all-time high, the UFC has the challenge of following it up in a meaningful way. We could know his next challenger following Wednesday's UFC on FUEL 4 event. If Mark Munoz beats Chris Weidman, the slot could be his. It's also possible that the UFC waits a couple of weeks to see how Hector Lombard does in his promotional debut against Tim Boetsch. A fast knockout could fast-track him to a spot across from Silva.
But with all due respect to those fighters, neither of those possibilities seem to be quite big enough. Instead, there seems to be a groundswell of interest in Rashad Evans for the role.
The former UFC light-heavyweight champ has not formally announced a move to middleweight, but it's something he's mentioned as a possibility, and he Tweeted an interest in fighting Silva after UFC 148.
Evans would offer Silva the biggest name opponent, as well as the biggest challenge. Evans has competed in more significant matches, has a more decorated resume, and would generate more interest than any of the aforementioned names. Moving down from 205, he would clearly be seen as the largest threat of the group as well. Even though he's coming off a loss, Evans deserves serious consideration as Silva's opponent if he is serious about wanting to fight at 185.
For UFC executives and Evans, it's a conversation well worth having.
On to the predictions...
At 37 years old, Silva continues to astound with his speed, power and adjustment capabilities. During his reign, he's beaten wrestlers, strikers, submission artists and hybrids. While I would maintain that Evans would offer him the most interesting challenge, due to the fact he's never actually fought at middleweight, I think the UFC is most likely to offer the spot to someone already in the division. That means the two most likely candidates are Munoz and Lombard, provided they win their upcoming fights. Of the two, I think Lombard is the more intriguing option to UFC brass, and I think he gets the call.
Prediction: Silva vs. Lombard, if he can beat Boetsch at UFC 149.
Based upon some of Sonnen's post-fight comments, it wouldn't surprise me if he decided to retire. To paraphrase him, he said that he would not hang around just to fight; his goal would always be the championship, and if he couldn't hunt for gold, he would move on and do something else. With two losses to Silva, a third opportunity against him seems a remote possibility. But maybe Sonnen will hang around long enough to see if Silva loses, offering him new life in the division. Maybe he'll move up to 205.
Prediction: He has a ready-made feud with Wanderlei Silva. It's time to cash it in.
There doesn't seem to be an obvious matchup for Griffin coming off his win over Tito Ortiz. On one hand, he's won three of four. On the other, two of the wins have come against Ortiz in performances that have not been particularly strong, and he was also knocked out by Mauricio "Shogun" Rua during that stretch. Do the wins make him a contender or is he on the UFC version of the senior's tour? Right now, it's hard to tell.
Prediction: He faces Antonio Rogerio Nogueira
After earning his first octagon win, the 40-year-old Le was asked by UFC president Dana White to prepare for a spot on the promotion's upcoming show in Macau. If Le fights on the show, which will air on FUEL, he's probably going to be in the main event. If you think of who might oppose him, it'd have to be someone who makes sense, a veteran coming off a win who can hold up the other end of the marquee.
Prediction: Le vs. Rich Franklin
After a 47-second fight due to an opponent injury, Maia is in the welterweight win column, but it wasn't exactly the type of statement he was hoping to make in his 170-pound debut. Due to his fight ending so quickly, I wouldn't be surprised if the UFC slotted him into any upcoming injury openings, making his next step a tough prediction. Barring that possibility, I'll go with this...
Prediction: Maia faces grappler Rick Story
The bout with Cody McKenzie was ill-advised from the get-go, and Mendes unsurprisingly made quick work of his overmatched opponent with a 31-second TKO win. Dana White practically apologized to Mendes afterward, saying he deserves a better opponent.
Prediction: He faces top five featherweight Chan Sung Jung
It's three straight wins for Mike Easton in the UFC after beating veteran Ivan Menjivar, who himself had a three-fight win streak snapped. That makes Easton a player among bantamweights, even though he still has work to do to get into true title contention.
Prediction: Easton vs. Eddie Wineland