UFC

Will we see Rockhold vs. Silva?

Inside Fights Scott Sawitz
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Going into UFC on FX 7, Michael Bisping was the next logical candidate to challenge Anderson Silva for the UFC Middleweight title. He had gone 6-2 in his past eight fights, with one of the two losses being debatable against Chael Sonnen at UFC on FOX 2 in Chicago, and was coming off a rousing victory over Brian Stann. He was facing off against one of the true legends of MMA, the last man standing from the early days of the UFC, in the Brazilian’s backyard. Silva was even in attendance, as well, to set up the TUF Season 3 winner’s long overdue title shot. You couldn’t have set this up better for Bisping to earn a big-money title shot and give Silva a new challenger.

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And then Vitor Belfort ruined it all by head-kicking him back to the middle of the pack.

With Tim Boetsch being punched out by Costa Philippou and Alan Belcher ground out by Yushin Okami, Silva is now left without the crop of challengers that had seemingly popped up after the Sonnen rematch. After the beatdown he gave to Stephan Bonnar in Brazil late in 2012 he had left it open when he’d defend the title again, as he wanted to take some time away from the sport before filming a (questionable) movie with Steven Seagal. And after the last potential challenger to his title lost, and with Chris Weidman being out with a shoulder injury until the summer, even Silva has no clue who’ll he face next.

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"I don't know. I don't know. I need to talk to Dana & Lorenzo," the champion said. One has to believe he’s telling the truth. Vitor has already been knocked out in spectacular fashion by Silva and would need two to three more wins in the division against top-tier guys to get another chance at “The Spider.” Hector Lombard has to prove he’s the killer the UFC signed away from Bellator. Weidman’s going to be on the shelf for a while. Chael Sonnen won’t be getting a third crack at the apple nor will Yushin Okami get his second. Everyone else of note has lost recently, as well. Middleweight is full of challengers but none of them is going to cut it.

Couple this with Georges St-Pierre wanting to have a couple of fights under him before the super-fight for the ages and Silva’s probably (if not forcibly) content to wait it out to see if someone else pops up to challenge for his middleweight title. He has earned his right to call that shot, of course, and one challenger remains that could perk his ears. There’s one candidate out there, if only by default, that he could face this spring without too much difficulty.

Strikeforce champion Luke Rockhold.

Of course, Rockhold still doesn’t have a first fight in the UFC despite having come over in the Strikeforce folding. He wants Philippou on FOX in San Jose alongside his American Kickboxing Academy teammate Daniel Cormier, but one imagines he’d jump at the opportunity to take on Anderson Silva instead. Right now Weidman would be the best candidate, but he’s hurt and coming off a significant shoulder injury. He’s going to need a couple of fights to build up the confidence necessary to fully trust that shoulder and face Silva. Make no mistake, with a shoulder injury like the one he has suffered it’ll be a while before he gets back into his pre-surgery groove.

Despite all of this, odds are Weidman won’t get the shot. No one has earned a shot by winning impressively on a Fuel TV. To jump from Fuel to headlining vs. Silva in a title bout would be unprecedented.

That’s not to say Rockhold’s position isn’t very strong. He’s holding a Strikeforce title and has a win over Silva’s teammate Jacare Souza. And as for that unbreakable precedent, fellow Strikeforce champion Gilbert Melendez is getting an immediate title shot in the UFC against lightweight king Benson Henderson. If Melendez can get a title shot with no prior fights in the UFC then Rockhold can argue for the same privilege. Champion vs. Champion would mean something for Silva, one imagines, and Rockhold should be given fair consideration. It just makes sense.

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