Photo via UFC.com
Mark Muñoz had just won the biggest fight of his career and did so in impressive fashion.
Standing inside the Octagon in Birmingham, England, he heard Bruce Buffer bellow his name as the winner of the UFC 138 main event.
Perhaps it was the emotion of the situation or perhaps the "Filipino Wrecking Machine" legitimately feels this way but he made it absolutely clear that he wanted a middleweight title shot. He had defeated the likes of Aaron Simpson and Demian Maia and torn through C.B. Dollaway and Chris Leben on top of winning his first three bouts at 185-pounds and demanded a crack at friend Anderson Silva.
Sporting a 7-1 record at middleweight overall, there shouldn't be much of a debate whether or not Muñoz should get a title shot. He's ranked as the fourth best 185-pounder by SBNation and seems primed as ever for the biggest opportunity that can be afforded to fighers.
So why should he have to win one more fight?
It seems like Muñoz's loss to Yushin Okami was a lifetime ago even though it was only last year. In the UFC Live bout, Okami was able to stifle his opponent's takedown attempts and keep the fight vertical for the most part. Despite how naturally talented Muñoz is, his stand-up simply hadn't had time to evolve beyond that of the Japanese fighter's and "Thunder" walked away with the split decision.
In the 15 months since, the "Filipino Wrecking Machine" has rattled over four straight wins include one over top 10 ranked Demian Maia and last night's victory over top 15-ranked Leben.
But there's another middleweight with a nearly equal record at 185-pounds who might have a thing to say about Muñoz getting the first shot at Anderson Silva.
His name is Michael Bisping and despite how unpopular the idea may be, he's on the cusp of a title shot as well.
Ever since dropping down from light heavyweight, the Briton has gone 7-2 with the losses coming at the hands of Wanderlei Silva and Dan Henderson which was of course, one of the most famous knockouts in mixed martial arts (MMA) history.
But nearly two years removed from his loss to "The Axe Murderer" and nearly three from "Hendo," Bisping himself is riding a three-fight win streak that will be put on the line next month when he and Jason Miller square off inside the Octagon as the end of this season's The Ultimate Fighter (TUF).
The traditional fight between the two coaches will take place on the TUF Finale for the first time since B.J. Penn and Jens Pulver went head-to-head and promises to be a bout not to be missed. Should "The Count" win, he would be in prime position to be jockeying for a title shot himself. But he wouldn't be quite ready either. Ideally, if Bisping gets the victory over "Mayhem" in a month, he and Muñoz should be booked in a title eliminator bout.
Let's not be naive here. Chael Sonnen will be fighting Anderson Silva next. No matter what Ed Soares says, no matter what anyone says. If someone tries to convince you that Sonnen won't be challenging "The Spider" in the early part of 2012 -- barring injury, of course -- you have legal right to call the police because you are dealing with a legitimately crazy person and those people can be dangerous.
There's just too much money to be made in Silva/Sonnen 2 that Dana White and company would be utterly inept not to book that fight. And they aren't. I know because they have taken the UFC this far. They make -- not always but usually -- good business decisions and a rematch of the UFC 117 main event is a damn good one.
So that leaves Muñoz and Bisping on the outside looking in at least for now. Should Miller end up winning, I could definitely see him getting booked against the "Filipino Wrecking Machine" instead. He's got personality and mainstream exposure from his Bully Beatdown show.
But if the UFC decides not to rush a title shot for "Mayhem," a middleweight bout for UFC 142 has just been announced between former title contender Vitor Belfort and recent welterweight defecter Anthony Johnson. Muñoz taking on the winner of that bout would work as well.
It's not that Muñoz hasn't done enough to earn a title shot. In a more shallow division, he probably would have already gotten one. But with Bisping running around nearly matching the accomplishments on the Filipino's resumé and Sonnen knocking on Silva's door, the time for Muñoz to get a chance at 12-pounds of gold simply isn't now.
But if his performance against Leben is any indication, once he does get that shot, it's going to be a long night for the fighter who happens to be champion.