Move over Dan Henderson and Nate Marquardt ... it looks like Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) has finally decided on the next middleweight contender to challenge its reigning division champion, Anderson Silva.
Los Angeles Times reports that former light heavyweight champion Vitor Belfort has verbally agreed to saunter into "The Spider" web at UFC 108, which is scheduled to take place from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Jan. 2, 2010.
Henderson actually appeared to be the front runner to challenge Silva after his most recent — and emphatic — victory over Michael Bisping at UFC 100. Company president Dana White indicated that it was enough to earn him another crack at the Brazilian; however, his manager, Ed Soares, made the case that Henderson should take on Nate Marquardt first to determine a clear-cut contender.
That now appears to be the plan. And it's likely that the recent addition of Belfort to the 185-pound roster had a lot to do with it.
"The Phenom" is coming off a first round destruction of former division champ Rich Franklin on Sept. 19 in Dallas. The stoppage — coupled with his two devastating knockout wins under the Affliction banner — were enough to convince White that "The Old Vitor" is back and ready to face his fellow countryman.
It's a tall order, considering Silva hasn't really lost in more than five years (sans a disqualification loss to Yushin Okami in 2006), and he's essentially obliterated the middleweight division since entering the Zuffa fold in mid 2006.
In fact, he's been so good that White and Co. have started to match him up against 205-pound fighters to give him more of a challenge. He passed with flying colors, sending former champion Forrest Griffin running for the hills and pasting James Irvin with a highlight-reel, fighting-ending combination.
Silva has not had a solid (perhaps trademark is a better term) performance in the middleweight division since he submitted Henderson at UFC 82: "Pride of a Champion" back in March 2008. He's had two forgettable -- albeit winning -- fights against Patrick Cote and Thales Leites since that time.
It's safe to say that the promotion is looking to Belfort to bring the excitement back to the middleweight division ... win, lose or draw.
UFC 108 is expected to serve as the promotion's traditional "year-end" event because the Christmas holiday falls on the last weekend of 2009. No other potential match ups are known at this time; however, UFC typically likes to go out with a bang so expect more goodness in the near future.