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State of the UFC Middleweights

November is a month without any title fights, which makes it a good time to take a long view of the future title picture in each weight class. Today we look at the middleweight division.

Anderson Silva just keeps on winning. At age 35 he's probably past his athletic prime, and it's been quite a while since he's had a dominant middleweight title defense, but the bottom line is that while no one else in UFC history has ever won more than eight straight fights, Silva is 12-0 inside the Octagon.

So will Silva stay undefeated over the next year and remain head and shoulders above the rest of the middleweight division? Or is 2011 the year that the UFC sees a new middleweight champ? We explore the state of the division below.

Next title fight:
Anderson Silva vs. Vitor Belfort, UFC 126, February 5: UFC President Dana White has been clamoring to put Silva and Belfort in the cage together since way back in the summer of 2009, when Belfort was under contract to Affliction. The UFC got Belfort when Affliction went bust, but he's only been able to fight once since then, and he's likely to have plenty of ring rust when he takes on Silva. That has to make Silva a significant favorite.

Key fights to watch:
1. Nate Marquardt vs. Yushin Okami, UFC 122, November 13: The winner has been guaranteed a middleweight title shot. These "guarantees" don't always pan out, but I do think it's likely that the Marquardt-Okami winner will be next. Plenty of UFC fans don't realize this, but Okami is actually the last man to beat Silva, by disqualification in a Rumble on the Rock fight five years ago.

2. Chris Leben vs. Brian Stann, UFC 125, January 1: Leben went 3-0 in the UFC in 2010 and will try to get a big start in 2011, and the UFC is already hinting that he could soon be in title contention. That seems tough to swallow as long as Silva is the champion because of how easily Silva dispatched Leben when they fought in 2006, but if someone else beats Silva and Leben keeps winning, it's plausible that Leben could become the No. 1 contender.

Others in the title mix: The wild card is Chael Sonnen, who was promised a rematch with Silva until news broke that he had tested positive for steroids after his fifth-round submission loss to the champion in August. Before that test became public Sonnen would never shut up; since then we haven't heard a peep from him. But he's probably going to be suspended until the summer of 2011, and the big question is whether the UFC will give him an immediate title shot when he returns.

And don't forget about Wanderlei Silva, who's the UFC's second-biggest middleweight draw, after Anderson Silva. The UFC would love to see the Axe Murderer get healthy, get a win and get into middleweight title contention.

Potential breakout fighter: Gerald Harris signed with the UFC this year and is already 3-0 inside the Octagon, with his fourth fight coming against Maiquel Falcão at UFC 123. If he wins that one he'll be ready to take on a Top 10 opponent in 2011. He's come a long way since Amir Sadollah eliminated him from The Ultimate Fighter two and a half years ago.

Predicted champion at end of 2011: Anderson Silva

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