Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza

Pic by SHERDOG.COM -click for source- Credit: Dave Mandel

The state of the middleweight division is where it’s been for a long time now. Since Anderson Silva came on the scene, it’s been completely cleaned out over and over again by the current middleweight and pound-for-pound king.

Fortunately a semi-true number one contender has been granted a shot at Silva. Chris “The All American” Weidman has been injured since he pulled out of his fight with another top contender Tim Boetsch back in November, over a month before the scheduled bout at UFC 155.

Yet Boetsch lost to an upstart replacement in that one, along with every other top contender who was considered a win or two away from being thrown in to the web of The Spider. To quickly go down the list, Hector Lombard lost to Boetsch in July, Alan Belcher lost to Yushin Okami and Michael Bisping lost to Vitor Belfort in January.

While 2013 has just kicked off, it looks like the real question in the middleweight division is who will be the most likely challenges for Anderson Silva in the following months. Listed below are my personal top ten list of fighters I feel are closer to title contention than their peers, and why.

(1)Chris Weidman (9-0) probably never realized how his injury could turn in to a positive development in his career. Now without a single clear cut contender in his division to challenge his legitimacy for an immediate title shot upon his return, it looks like the New Yorker has been all but handed a shot at the greatest fighter of all time on a silver platter. The fight will happen at UFC 162 in July. Will he be able to dethrone the champ though? That’s the million dollar question which most of us will say no to at this point. But whenever a fighter of Silva’s caliber enters the cage these days, the hype train will be moving at a reckless pace, right before it is completely derailed. Weidman definitely has the skill set to beat Silva, but it remains to be seen if Silva has even begun to slow down at this point.

(2)Luke Rockhold (10-1) may be one fight away from his shot against Silva if he is able to defeat Belfort in their main event tilt at UFC on FX 8 in May. The fact that he is the last Strikeforce champion and with a win will carry his untarnished belt in to a great champion vs. champion match-up, is what has gotten him placed this high on the list to begin with. This will easily be the most difficult test in his career, and should be a great determinate of where Rockhold really belongs among the greatest fighters in the world. His skill set is almost identical to Belfort’s, yet with substantially less power to boast of in either hand. Taking in to consideration the way Strikeforce fighters have been tearing it up recently, I wouldn’t count him out just yet.

(3)Vitor Belfort (22-10) Has gone 4-0 in the middle weight division recently and with another win over Rockhold, could be granted a rematch against the champ. This is clearly one of the strongest possibilities in the middleweight division these days since he plowed through Bisping and doesn’t seem to be slowing down, not even for the last reigning Strikeforce champ, especially considering he has been aided by the avenging angel of unethical practices known as testosterone replacement therapy.

(4)Ronaldo Souza (17-3) has quietly entered the UFC with a strong striking and grappling skill set and technically a win against a UFC fighter since his last fight in Strikeforce saw UFC fighter Ed Herman cross over to give him a last hurrah in the organization. Souza will be fighting Philippou on the same card as Belfort vs. Rockhold, so clearly the UFC is trying to guarantee a couple contenders will emerge without incident this time.

(5)Costas Philippou (12-1) may have to string a win or two together to earn the top spot in the division, unless of course all the current top fighters lose, which is a strong possibility since none of them are matched up against easy opponents at the moment, and let’s face it, its been happened over the course of the last few months. Regardless of his lack of quality opponents though, he’s at least fought Tim Boetsch, and is on an impressive five fight win streak in the division.

~ Honorable mention, yet not likely top contenders in 2013 ~

(6)Michael Bisping

(7)Tim Boetsch

(8)Mark Munoz

(9)Hector Lombard

(10)Chael Sonnen