Just over a month ago, the UFC middleweight division looked deep with a host of fresh contenders.

Chael Sonnen was preparing for his rematch with the champion Anderson Silva; solid new contenders filled the rankings, including Michael Bisping, Mark Munoz and Brian Stann; and former title challengers filled out the top 10, including Vitor Belfort and Yushin Okami. Fresh blood was also breathing excitement into the division with the reigning Bellator champion, Hector Lombard, making the move over to the UFC and young up-and-comers such as Chris Weidman adding promise for the future. Add in Tim Boetsch, who had put together a solid winning streak in the division, and the announcement that Rich Franklin wanted to drop back down, and the division never looked better.

What a difference a month makes. Sonnen lost his rematch and is now in a state of limbo, having had two shots at the title and losing both. He is making a move to the light heavyweight division.

Munoz lost in devastating fashion to Weidman, making some question if he ever deserved to be in title contention in the first place. To make matters worse, the fight was hidden on Fuel TV and was seen by few fans. So, instead of launching a new star, the fight just buried both guys.

Lombard looked horrible in his debut loss to Boetsch in a fight some claim was evidence he never belonged in the UFC.

Belfort, Okami and Franklin have all been destroyed by the champion before.

This all leaves the question of who is left to challenge Silva, who likely won’t return to the Octagon until 2013. The answer is, surprisingly few.  But here is a look at some of the names in the mix:

Most Likely

Michael Bisping: This isn’t a sure thing.  Bisping first must get past Brian Stann at UFC 152, and there is no guarantee he will. However, Bisping has been on the verge of a title shot multiple times, most recently taking part in a No. 1 contender fight with Sonnen at UFC on Fox 2 in a bout many thought he actually won.  Bisping is one of the few current middleweights that brings along his own fan base. He was the star of The Ultimate Fighter reality show as both a fighter and a coach, and has been a main-event fighter over the last several years. Bisping would be one of the biggest draws out there that Silva could face at the moment.

Alan Belcher: Like Bisping, Belcher has to take care of some business first.  If Bisping loses, I would expect Silva and the UFC to wait and see what happens when Belcher meets Belfort at UFC 153.  Belcher has put together a nice little winning streak, but he was forgotten when he nearly lost his career to an eye injury. He reminded fans who he was when he played with Rousimar Palhares on the ground and still walked away with a victory. An impressive win over Belfort would give him something many in the middleweight division are missing—a victory over a marquee name that could be marketed.

Best of the Rest

Georges St-Pierre: Just this week, UFC President Dana White announced that both fighters were interested in the fight, which has led to chatter that if St-Pierre beats Condit the fight would likely be put together.  This is the fight Silva wants the most. St-Pierre was one of the biggest draws in the sport before his injury. He would bring by far the largest fan base against Silva.  It is also a fight the fans and the UFC’s bottom line would like to put together. So why am I still a skeptic when it comes to whether this fight will happen?

White’s endorsement means little as he again chose his words carefully to not confirm the fight. In addition, St-Pierre is coming off a major injury.  His return fight against Condit is expected to take place at UFC 154, but the UFC is yet to officially announce it.  Will he be ready, or will that fight be postponed?  If he is ready, will ring rust and a major knee injury prevent him from getting past Condit?  Not to mention, he has been reluctant to move up in weight in the past. Also, while GSP has been out, a host of new contenders have emerged at welterweight, including Johny Hendricks and Martin Kampmann.  It seems unfair and a little unlikely the UFC would continue to keep the welterweight division on hold while it put together a super fight that could diminish one of its stars.

Chris Weidman: Weidman is the man of the hour. White had previously said Weidman was next in line for a shot before Silva decided to wait until the new year to fight again.  The case for Weidman to get the shot rests on White’s promise that Munoz vs. Weidman was a No. 1 contender bout.  Weidman is 9-0 and absolutely embarrassed Munoz.  He is the latest fighter for fans to clamor behind as the answer to dominate Silva.

The case against Weidman is equally as strong.  Weidman has only had nine fights in his career. His career-defining fight so far was buried on Fuel TV, where few fans could see it.  Before the fight with Munoz, Weidman put on a boring fight at UFC on Fox 2 which was seen by millions of fans. Complicating matters further, Silva is 37 years old and has made it clear that he is looking for big fights that will lead him into retirement. Weidman doesn’t really fit the bill yet.  And, if Weidman lost to Silva, in hindsight he would likely be viewed in the same light as Thales Leites receiving a title shot.

Slim Chance

Luke Rockhold: After defeating Sonnen, Silva asked for a fight with the Strikeforce middleweight champion.  While the fight could be promoted as a champion vs. champion fight, most fans don’t view Strikeforce on the same level as the UFC.  This also gets really complex to put together because Rockhold is one of Showtime’s fighters and needs the network’s permission to fight anywhere other than a Showtime card.  Even if Showtime were willing to allow Rockhold fight Silva, would the UFC want to risk having its champion losing to a non-UFC competitor?

Tim Boetsch: Somehow, Boetsch has become the forgotten man in all of this.  In his last two fights, he holds victories over Okami and Lombard.  With back-to-back top-10 wins, he may be one of the best options for a title shot. However, he faces the same problem Weidman does—nobody knows who he is. Silva would not be excited about this fight, and the UFC would have to solely promote this fight on Silva’s name.

Rashad Evans: Evans sent a tweet out that many took as him expressing a willingness to drop down to middleweight for an immediate title shot.  Evans is similar to Bisping in that he was a TUF fighter and coach who has main-evented many bouts in the past, but he also has the added bonus of being a former UFC light heavyweight champion. However, he lost his last fight, and it was a title shot against light heavyweight kingpin Jon Jones. How do you go from losing a title shot at one division directly into a title shot at another?  Add to it, Evans isn’t committed to dropping down a weight class and he is actively seeking out other opponents.  He most recently sent out a tweet that appears to be laying down a challenge for Sonnen.

No Chance

Nick Diaz: Diaz recently announced through his manager, Cesar Gracie, that he would like to move up and face Silva. Silva’s management has expressed interest in the fight as well. The problem is that Diaz just lost an interim welterweight title fight. Like Evans, how can he move up to middleweight and instantly get a title shot?  Not to mention the fact Diaz is currently suspended until early next year. Finally, the kiss of death is that Dana White is not a fan of this fight, making it even less likely the bout could be made.

Jon Jones: This is the fight fans want to see. Both Jones and Silva have appeared unstoppable and have dominated their divisions. However, the two most important people in making a fight happen appear to have no interest in this fight. Jones has stated that he doesn’t want to fight Silva, and Silva’s management has also indicated that Silva has no interest in the fight, effectively killing this blockbuster.

Photo: Anderson Silva (James Law/Heavy MMA)

About The Author

Richard Wilcoxon
Staff Writer

An East Coast native, Richard Wilcoxon grew up a die hard fan of traditional team sports. In the early 1990's, he stumbled onto the sport of MMA and has been hooked ever since. He started writing about the sport on his Sporting News member blog in 2005 where he worked to spread his passion for the sport. He eventually became an official staff writer for Sporting News' "The Rumble" MMA/boxing blog before joining The MMA Corner.