Today’s news that Chael Sonnen has tested positive for performance enhancing drugs means that an immediate rematch with Anderson Silva, which had been penciled in for early 2011, now looks highly unlikely.

Depending on what substance Sonnen used he could well be suspended for as much as nine months to a year, and that leaves the UFC in need of a new title contenderat middleweight.

The first name that springs to mind is Vitor Belfort who just days ago was still talking up a potential fight with the champion, and was originally scheduled to face Silva at UFC 112 before suffering an injury.

The catch of course is that Belfort is already installed to headline UFC 122 in Germany this November against Yushin Okami, and therefore the most obvious solution is to make the Belfort – Okami fight for the No.1 contender spot at 185lbs with an aim to a title fight in February or March of next year.

That’s roughly around the time Silva Vs Sonnen 2 was expected to take place so it doesn’t affect their plans too much.  It also affords Belfort the opportunity (assuming he wins) to get a fight under his belt after his recent injury problems before taking on the champion.

After his quick victory over Rousimar Palhares on Wednesday night Nate Marquardt is also back in contention too, but ideally he needs another high profile win before qualifying for a second shot at Silva’s title.

Michael Bisping is another middleweight contender who’s been making plenty of noise about wanting a title shot, but even with a win over Yoshihiro Akiyama at UFC 120 next month he would also still require at least one more win to justify it.

So either Belfort or Okami Vs Silva next, and, depending on results perhaps Bisping Vs Marquardt for the No.1 contenders spot after that seems like a solid progression for the division at this stage.

Sonnen’s absence will be a blow for the promotion since the rematch with Silva would likely have been a money-spinner given all the hype surrounding it, but the division won’t grind to a halt in his absence.