Let’s give Chris Weidman his due for what he did to Mark Munoz at UFC on Fuel TV 4 this past Wednesday. He went up against an experienced veteran in Munoz in the headliner of a highly-enthralling fight card, albeit a Fuel TV fight card, and he not only outwrestled Munoz, but he also (technically) knocked him out.

With a win, the victor in this contest was expected to get the definitive next crack at UFC middleweight champion Anderson “The Spider” Silva, and the MMA world did not hold back in thinking that Weidman had indeed earned that honor.

Call me a pessimist, call me a voice of a silenced minority, but don’t misconstrue and label me a “hater,” for I am nothing of the sort with Weidman. If anything, I am a believer that if any current UFC middleweight can present the 37-year-old Silva with the type of wrestling and aggression that one needs to bring to dethrone him, Weidman is that man. As his current 9-0 pro MMA record and unblemished five-fight UFC record will attest to, Weidman possesses everything that Silva’s critics felt Chael Sonnen and Dan Henderson had against Silva plus more—solid wrestling, beautiful submission skills, dynamite in his hands, the guidance of Matt Serra and Ray Longo, and the ability to go in for the kill without relent when he smells the proverbial “blood in the water.”

However, let’s keep it real while giving Weidman his due. Yes, he can bring the fight to Silva and probably become the first man in the UFC to earn a stoppage on Silva, but is the Munoz fight enough to move him to the front of the line?

Yours Truly just does not think so, but if you’ve been stalking my Twitter ever since the announcement of UFC 149’s co-main event of Hector Lombard vs. Tim Boetsch, you already knew that.

Had Munoz won, a win still wouldn’t have been enough for the definitive next crack at the gold, and the reason for that lies within not only Lombard vs. Boetsch, but also Alan Belcher and the recently-announced UFC 152 co-headliner of Michael Bisping vs. Brian Stann.

Belcher’s run towards the gold has been difficult to ignore as of late; Stann is back on track; many still maintain that Bisping was robbed of a decision against Sonnen; Lombard’s insane winning streak makes it difficult to fathom how an impressive win  over Boetsch should deny him of a title shot; and Boetsch just spoiled Yushin Okami’s argument towards a rubber match with Silva.

Weidman’s win over Munoz only fuels the fierce discussion further, but let’s say Weidman didn’t get the next title shot. Suppose that Weidman fought Belcher next, and the winner found themselves opposite the Bisping-Stann winner. Imagine that Weidman beat Belcher and either Bisping or Stann to earn a title eliminator against Lombard or Boetsch.

Now, would that path not better justify a potential shot at Silva? I should say so.

The simple fact is that we can all speculate on how Weidman might do if he comes off of his win over Munoz to face Silva, and I’ll admit, Weidman’s chances are good. In MMA, however, even the most promising of prospects run the risk of getting thrown to the wolves before they’re ready to dance with the pack. Weidman has confidence and an outstanding career already. And he does have his arguments towards a title shot at this stage of his career, which is not something easily earned for a 9-0 prospect. But beating a well-documented training partner of the champ does not mean the man is ready just yet.

If Weidman is going to face Silva, it will work in his favor to knock his competition off and establish that Silva really doesn’t have any other challengers left. If Weidman can knock off Belcher, the man who defeated Rousimar Palhares at UFC on Fox 3—the same Palhares that many felt could have easily submitted Silva—and if Weidman can knock Belcher off in as impressive a fashion as he just knocked Munoz off, Weidman will have gotten a great start on the path he needs to take to prove his argument towards a title shot.

Besides, Belcher doesn’t have a fight lined up yet, so who better than Weidman to see how bad Belcher wants Silva?

Now, if Weidman can knock off Belcher, why not have him face Bisping next, provided Bisping beats Stann? Bisping already expressed how he felt when Weidman beat what Bisping described as a “fat” Munoz, and a fight with Weidman not only gives Weidman a shot to take on a bigger middleweight name, but it also gives Bisping a chance to “put up or shut up,” so to speak.

The winner of Bisping-Stann works well for Weidman if he fights and beats Belcher, even if Stann is the winner, because while Stann provides a unique game on the feet for Weidman, Weidman provides the wrestling game that has prevented Stann’s own crack at UFC gold.

So by know, you might remember my mentions of Lombard and Boetsch, and you’re probably wondering why I’d have them wait for Weidman, if he takes this path to a title eliminator. I’ll elaborate more on it as UFC 149 approaches, but the short form of it is that the winner of Lombard vs. Boetsch will have emerged from a much tougher fight than expected, and thus, they will not have made their case for a title shot as clear as they would’ve liked.

Looking at either Lombard or Boetsch against Weidman, it’s not hard to see the questions to which Weidman would need answers. Weidman has never faced a fighter with Lombard’s knockout power or Judo expertise, nor has he ever had to try to finish off a monstrous middleweight like Boetsch. Boetsch knows how to neutralize Weidman’s strengths with his size, and Lombard knows how to time his shots, even when setting up for his Judo throws.

If Weidman does face the Lombard-Boetsch winner, though, and if he can defeat either Lombard or Boetsch in what would have to be a title eliminator, then and only then could we understand how Weidman could be ready for Silva. Knocking Munoz off was a great start, but it’s not the only thing he absolutely had to do to earn his shot. For Weidman to earn his shot, he needs to firmly establish that he is literally the only option for a title shot instead of just saying he’s the best choice.

Only when Weidman literally clears out the arguable competition on the road to the championship gold will it be time for Silva. The harsh reality is that the moment will not come a minute sooner or a minute later than when he wipes out the last of those contenders. Weidman can, however, take one bright spot out of this gloomy reality check, which is that he’s already gotten started on doing what he needs to do to earn his title shot.

Now all he needs to do is finish the job.

Photo: Chris Weidman (R) danced with Mark Munoz at UFC on Fuel TV 4 and emerged with a big win. (Tracy Lee/Combat Lifestyle)

About The Author

Dale De Souza
Staff Writer

Dale De Souza is a 22-year-old kid straight out of Texas, who grew up around Professional Wrestling but embraced the beauty of Mixed Martial Arts and Combat Sports at a young age. Dale is a Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report MMA, a writer at The MMA Corner.