The Middleweight division has a number of potential suitors for the champion, Chris Weidman, who is riding a tidal wave of hype right now. He just defeated arguably the best fighter in the world, Anderson Silva, two times in a row.
And say what you will about how he won those fights because it is not Weidman's problem.
As a matter of fact, Weidman knocked out the former champion in their first fight and the second time around almost finished him in the first, dominating him for the entire fight before the gruesome leg break (watch video highlights here).
Indeed, Weidman earned the biggest victory of his career on Saturday night, and yes, it was bigger than his first championship triumph. Weidman could only consider himself a champion once he defended the belt. And he did so last night by looking incredibly sound and improved in all aspects of his game, showing the public that he is more than just for real.
He is one of the best fighters in the sport today.
It would be incredibly soon to declare Weidman a legend or the best fighter in the world after defeating an athlete who merited those labels (and still does, to a certain extent); however, he is starting to shift himself toward those tags. He is undefeated (11-0), has three straight finishes and has never really been in danger of losing a fight inside the Octagon to date.
Now, it is time to assess his potential opponents moving forward.
It has already been made official that Vitor Belfort is next after three straight head kick knockouts (or at least kicks that were used en route to finishes, if you will). Belfort will be a good test for Weidman because he has the tools to make the fight exciting no matter where it goes.
That fight will happen, and it will be the next middleweight championship fight; however, it is too soon to say when.
Lyoto Machida is the new chip off the block at 185 pounds after a dazzling performance over Mark Munoz at UFC Fight Night 30's main event with a head kick of his own. With a win over Gegard Mousasi at UFC Fight Night 36 in a few months, he surely makes the case for the next crack at the gold.
And vice versa, for Mousasi, who may need an extra win for his troubles if he defeats "The Dragon."
Looming on the outside, but not far off, is Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza, who quickly disposed of Yushin Okami at UFC Fight Night 28, and currently rides a five-fight win streak which includes two first round finishes in the UFC.
Finally, there is Michael Bisping, who has been petitioning for a title shot as long as we can remember, and has been vocal about Weidman in the past. He is 2-2 in his last four, so he may have to string a few more wins together for convincing purposes, despite his longtime involvement with the promotion.
What do all those men have in common?
They could not guarantee a fight with Silva, excluding Mousasi and "Jacare," unless there was a Brazilian pride issue for the latter. Belfort was going to fight Silva a second time had the former won, however Belfort had been finished so badly by Silva at UFC 126 in less than two minutes that it remains one of the most memorable knockouts in the sport's history. That was the reason why Dana White hesitated to make that second fight for so long, hence the beef between the two. It seems set in stone that he is next, though.
Machida trains with Silva, and he is one of his closest friends. Mousasi could have fought Silva, however it would have been an awkward decision to award him the shot over Souza, considering he only has two fights in the promotion, which was the reason "Jacare" did not get it. As for Bisping, nobody ever wanted to see him fight Silva. It is harsh to say, but unless that fight happened in Wembley Stadium or something, it just was not in the cards.
They do, however, all make possible opponents for the current champion moving forward.
Now, here is something to consider with Weidman. Envision this middleweight division as a sort of medieval war movie, or at least one that involves a kingdom. Weidman enters as the protagonist, who must defeat the king in order to hold the throne. Instead of going through the knights and the opposition in order to claim the crown, he did the complete opposite.
He defeated the king first -- twice, actually -- and now sits at the top of the kingdom. Surely, there are knights who will pose problems for him, however he made a humongous statement by defeating the most important and dangerous man based on track record. The assailants who are supposed to protect the king must now be defeated.
And they are surely gunning for their chance to wear the crown.
Chris Weidman is the new king. The division is now his kingdom, and he has no intentions of leaving that throne any time soon.
For full UFC 168: "Weidman vs. Silva 2" updates and results, check out our story steam here.