MMA fans have already learned several things in 2013. They learned that Demetrious Johnson is the true dominant force at flyweight after he defeated John Dodson. They learned that Quinton “Rampage” Jackson’s time in the UFC has run out when his most recent defeat at the hands of Glover Teixeira brought his record to 1-3 since 2011. They also learned that Jose Aldo definitively belongs ahead of Frankie Edgar on the pound-for-pound rankings after Aldo successfully defended his featherweight title against “The Answer.”

Despite these significant developments in the year’s first month-plus, several questions remain unanswered. Perhaps the most important, and one that has been asked every few months since 2008, is the question of who UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva will face next. Since his win over Chael Sonnen in July, which marked Silva’s tenth successful title defense, the middleweight title picture has been less than clear. Silva’s dominance over his fellow 185-pounders, while certainly an extraordinary sight to have seen, has often left the UFC brass scratching its collective head in its search for adequate title-fight opposition for “The Spider.”

Most recently, Chris Weidman has emerged as one of the favorites to face Silva next. The undefeated New Yorker has beaten both Demian Maia (himself a former title challenger) and, in his most recent fight, decimated fellow contender Mark Muñoz to make himself known as a true threat at 185. Weidman is currently ranked second in The MMA Corner’s middleweight rankings and is one of the only fighters at the top of the division who has not already been defeated by Anderson Silva.

This impressive resume does not, however, mean that the potential Silva/Weidman fight is not without its detractors. Weidman is undefeated, but has only had nine professional fights. His recent list of bested opponents is pretty impressive, but he has yet to defeat any other of The MMA Corner’s top-10 middleweights. Perhaps most importantly, Silva’s camp has steadfastly remained disinterested in Weidman as his next challenger. Despite his ranking and reputation, Weidman is far from being the biggest name in the middleweight division, and his relative inexperience has apparently left Silva and his handlers thinking they have nothing really to gain by fighting him.

Instead, some of the other names that have been floated out there as potential opponents for Silva are former Strikeforce middleweight champions Luke Rockhold and Cung Le, but neither of those fighters has a clear argument to be placed ahead of Weidman in the line. Rockhold was the last Strikeforce middleweight champion and has a 10-1 record. Unfortunately, his resume of victories, while certainly impressive, does not stack up against that of Weidman. Le does have two UFC victories over fellow veterans Patrick Cote and Rich Franklin, but that fact alone should not put him in title contention. The fact that Le is 40 years old and thus likely on his last legs as a fighter are additional reasons against him getting an immediate championship fight.

All of this is certainly not to say that Weidman, Rockhold or Le would make bad opponents for Anderson Silva, but it would certainly be preferable to have a more obvious contender waiting in the wings. Of course, the UFC could throw everyone for a loop and instead announce that Silva will be fighting someone outside the middleweight division in some type of superfight. As much as a Silva/Weidman fight would interest the more dedicated MMA fans, the potential buy rates for that fight pale in comparison to those for, say, Silva/St-Pierre or Silva/Jones or, hell, even Silva/Diaz.

More recently, Silva’s manager Ed Soares has acknowledged that the UFC is ultimately the one who decides his most prized client’s opponent, which perhaps signifies that the team has softened its stance on a fight with Weidman. After all, unless Silva wants to wait until at least late 2013, none of the much-hyped-but-not-yet-planned superfights involving him won’t be happening due to the existing commitments of his potential opponents. Perhaps Silva wouldn’t mind the extended layoff, but if he’s looking to fight in the next few months, it will likely be for his belt.

If that’s the case, it’s looking more and more like Weidman will be the guy to challenge “The Spider” next. Rather than fighting against the inevitability of the match-up, perhaps Silva and his camp will now start focusing on fighting an explosive wrestler entering his athletic prime who has been begging to take on the greatest mixed martial artist ever for the better part of six months.

In the coming weeks, we’ll know the answer to the question of Anderson Silva’s next opponent. If it ends up being Weidman, the next question will be: How will he fare against the world’s very best?

Photo: Chris Weidman (L) may be the next to challenge Anderson Silva (James Law/Heavy MMA)

About The Author

Eric Reinert
Staff Writer

Eric Reinert has been writing about mixed martial arts since 2010. Outside the world of caged combat, Eric has spent time as a news reporter, speechwriter, campaign strategist, tech support manager, landscaper and janitor. He lives in Madison, Wis.