When Anderson Silva steps into the octagon in Abu Dhabi on April 10th it will have been almost a year to the day since he last defended his middleweight belt against Thales Leites.
That night marked the fifth time he had successfully defended his title, and looking at the other challengers on the horizon at that time it became difficult to pinpoint exactly who was going to stop the Brazilian’s remarkable run in the UFC.
There have been a lot of twists and turns in the race for the NO.1 contendership since then, but with Demian Maia last night being named as a late replacement to face Silva, it appears as if the situation has come full circle.
To see why, let’s take a look back at the series of ups and downs in the division that have brought us to this point.
Originally in the build-up to the Silva Vs Leites fight at UFC 97 the talk was that the 11-0 Maia, who was putting together a string of impressive submission victories in the octagon, would face the winner.
Enthusiasm for that match-up was tempered however by the lackluster display put on by Leites and the title holder. It was the second uninspiring title defense in a row for Silva and the feeling afterwards was that he needed an opponent who would be prepared to engage with him standing-up, and give a more entertaining fight for the fans.
Maia’s submission based game didn’t fit the bill.
Instead UFC 100’s co-main event between The Ultimate Fighter: USA VS UK coaches Dan Henderson and Michael Bisping in July was widely reported as being the bout that would establish the next contender.
When Henderson knocked out Bisping however, it appeared that UFC officials cooled on the idea – perhaps since Hendo had already been beaten by Silva back in March of 2008, and was also now out of contract with the promotion.
That left room for Maia to come back into the picture. At UFC 102 in August he was lined up against another former challenger, Nate Marquardt, and a win their looked like it could convince the UFC that he was worthy of the title opportunity.
Of course then Maia decided this would be the perfect time to show off his developing striking skills, a plan that would end with him slumped in a heap after just 21 seconds of the first round.
Just when it seemed as if either Henderson or Marquardt were now the only options left for Silva, Vitor Belfort knocked out Rich Franklin at UFC 103 in September to mark his return to the UFC after a four year absence.
Though the fight had been fought at a 195lb catchweight, Belfort was suddenly declared as the new No.1 contender at 185lbs by Dana White at the post-fight press conference.
It wasn’t a move that sat well with some, but finally we had a title fight to look forward to, though an injury to Silva’s elbow then pushed the bout back several months to April as the main event of UFC 112.
Then we got the news this week that Belfort was pulling out due to injury and may not be fit again for between 4-8 months and the middleweight merry-go-round started spinning once again.
And so, almost a year later the UFC have essentially been left with no option but to settle for the man who had originally been expected to get the opportunity – Demian Maia.
Ironically it would probably have been better to have just given him the fight in the first place since he was undefeated at the time, whereas now he is coming off a KO defeat to Marquardt, followed by a less than enthralling decision victory over Dan Miller.
Not exactly the form of a title contender.
It’s worth sparing for Chael Sonnen in all this, as he had just finished talking his way from under-card status to being considered the No.1 contender to face the winner of Silva Vs Belfort in the space of a single fight.
Where does he stand after yesterday’s events though? Will he face the winner of Silva – Maia, or does Belfort get the next shot when he returns?
Considering how the last year has went in the middleweight division there might be a few more ups and downs along the way before we get a definitive answer to those questions.
Article By RossC