Last Saturday, Anderson Silva dispatched the man who will likely go down as his greatest nemesis, Chael Sonnen. The results weren't unexpected. In fact, it played out much like it did the first time they met, except Sonnen was only able to control Silva for a single round before a poorly thought out spinning backfist resulted in Sonnen landing on his rear end and eating a knee to the chest that knocked the wind out of him. It was sort of like watching the first fight sped up eighty percent.
But now the question on everyone's mind: what's next for Anderson Silva? Like Georges St-Pierre, he's all but cleaned out his division. All that's left among active middleweight fighters are newer acquisitions and younger stars that we think could be a threat somewhere down the line. There are some possibilities for intriguing match-ups, though, if the UFC decides to get creative and Silva is willing.
Here's a list of candidates for Silva's next fight, listed in order from most to least likely.
In terms of a fight that will not only draw mainstream interest but also maximize competitiveness, this in my mind is the fight to make. Rashad Evans is coming off a loss to Light Heavyweight champion Jon Jones where he did much better than I think most people expected him to. He's one of the best pound for pound fighters in the world and still probably #2 at Light Heavyweight, which is no small feat considering the champion, and is actually impressive when you consider that Evans is pretty small for 205. A cut to 185 wouldn't take much for him, and his cage grappling is one of the best in the UFC, which is what gave Silva trouble against Sonnen and Henderson. He's not just believable and marketable as a challenger, he's an actual threat. An Evans vs. Silva fight could be as big (if not bigger) than Silva vs. Sonnen. The UFC just has to find a way to make it worth their while.
He's a polarizing figure and has been dogged for years with the label of a gatekeeper who has coasted mostly on a reputation artificially inflated by careful matchmaking on the part of the UFC. It's true that his feet weren't held to the fire like so many others would have been in his position due to his notoriety and value as a draw in the UK. But that's ancient history. The last few years have seen him face down the best in the middleweight division, and by my scorecard, he won that last fight against Chael Sonnen. He's been around long enough, is a top five fighter, and arguably beat the guy who is still considered the second best Middleweight in the world. I don't think he'd do well with his style against Silva, but he'd make a compelling case.
Weidman's ascent in the sport has been impressive, though it was muted by a very dull decision win against Demian Maia. Mark Munoz was thought to be a possibility for Silva's next challenge, but Weidman's quick and brutal finish on Wednesday changed that conversation, with Chael Sonnen himself anointing him as the next great white hope. In all reality, Weidman's not ready for a challenge like Silva, but the memory of fight fans can be remarkably short. With the right marketing, he can be sold as a threat.
He's further down on this list because of his lack of an impressive resume and the fact that a potential title shot is going to be dependent on how he performs in the UFC. The former Bellator Middleweight champion makes his UFC debut at UFC 149 next Saturday against Tim Boetsch. He's looked great in what we've seen from him in Bellator, but his opponents aren't what you'd consider world beaters and Boetsch is a dangerous opponent and perhaps the most underrated middleweight on the UFC payroll.
Luke Rockhold/Tim Kennedy
These two face off this Saturday for Strikeforce's version of the Middleweight title. It's unfortunate that these two are mired in the uncertainty of that promotion, because they're both top ten fighters and would excel against better competition in the UFC. I would hope that an impressive performance for one or both can lead to them getting a bigger stage to ply their wares.
Watching Anderson Silva maneuver his head to avoid punches like he's from three seconds into the future, it's easy to forget that he's thirty-seven years old and has been active as a fighter for over fifteen years. That's an incredible run, and while he hasn't taken much damage the last few years, it still has to take its toll. He's also accomplished more than enough to warrant a retirement without leaving any question as to his legacy. What else does he have to prove? I personally don't think retirement is very likely, but I wouldn't be surprised if he at least announced his intention to do so in the near future.
The UFC Welterweight Champion is the only other fighter that could be considered the best pound for pound fighter in the world. Some criticize his emphasis on grappling, but he's shown in the past that he can finish fights. And grappling seems to be the only thing that can give Anderson Silva anything resembling trouble. The only problem is that GSP fights around his natural weight. He flirted with the idea of moving up a few years ago, but didn't like the added weight and decided it wasn't for him. It's possible that they could face off somewhere down the line, but it'd be a ways off. As things stand right now, there's absolutely nothing in it for either fighter.
Chad Mendes Piloting Voltron
I know what you're probably saying: "that's ridiculous. Voltron needs five pilots." However, if they have the technology to create a giant robot made up of smaller (but still big) lion-themed robots, I'm sure adjustments could be made to have a solitary pilot at the helm. Besides, you're already asking Silva to sign on to face a dangerous fighter inside of a six story tall robot with an energy sword. But there's no way he's sign on to fight five guys at once.
Patrick Cote with a Chainsaw for a Hand Like Ash in "Army of Darkness"
Back in October of 2008, Patrick Cote lasted two full rounds with Anderson Silva before having to resign half a minute into the third round due to a freak knee injury that would later require surgery. He recently returned to the UFC in a losing effort to Cung Le that, while unsuccessful, impressed the fans with his ability to absorb punishment. In their first encounter, Silva was reluctant to engage. Just imagine if Cote had a chainsaw on his hand and stuff. Between that and his (perhaps literally) thicker skull, he might provide an interesting challenge.
A Genetically Enhanced Human Being Grated with an Adamantium Skeleton by Canadian Scientists
It's a long shot, but maybe if there's someone out there with a tenacious, bullheaded fighting style, a healing factor, and the weight necessary to hold down Silva and smother him, we could see a new champion. The only problem could be if the weight of the adamantium put him over the 185 pound limit. You'd have to make sure whoever you get is a shorter fighter, which could present its own problems but be negated if the person in question goes in for the clinch. Or, maybe, has claws.
He's the opponent most frequently discussed, but he's also the least likely to face Silva. The biggest issue is Jones's considerable advantage in size and reach. Jones is a big fighter with the longest reach in UFC history; longer even than 6'11" heavyweight fighter Stefan Struve. At the UFC 148 post-fight press conference Silva stated unequivocally that he has no intention of fighting Jones, and Jones himself came out and said that there's not much in it for him either. It's something the fans will continue to clamor for, but I just don't see it ever happening.
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