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Opening Round: And the Next Meh-ddleweight Contender is…

As you likely already know unless you live under a rock, Chael Sonnen and Brian Stann are set to scrap tonight at UFC 136 with the outcome almost certainly crowning the middleweight division’s top contender as the only alternative involves a scenario where Dan Henderson beats Mauricio Rua at UFC 139, then opts to drop down and face Anderson Silva again rather than the winner of Jon Jones vs. Lyoto Machida.

However, regardless of whose hand is raised in Houston, that individual will personify the problem relating to finding a legitimate challenger for “The Spider” and possibly the weight-class in general – there are no other elite 185 pounders.

Sure, there are lots of talented guys and in a sense therein lies the issue. While highly-skilled, none have been able to truly separate themselves from the pack by stringing together more than a handful of consecutive victories let alone wins over widely respected opponents. In fact, let’s take a quick look at exactly who he’s faced over the last three years in chronological order and how their records looked leading up to the fight:

Patrick Cote: Five wins in a row, not bad at all, but they came against Scott Smith, Jason Day, Kendall Grove, Drew McFedries, and Ricardo Almeida (where a Split Decision earned him a title-shot).
Thales Leites: Five wins in a row again, an adequate number like Cote’s streak but likewise with the success coming against subpar opposition including Pete Sell, Floyd Sword, Ryan Jensen, a fight he would have lost to Nate Marquardt minus point deductions, and a submission of McFedries landing the crack at Silva’s belt.
Forrest Griffin: Coming off a knockout loss to Rashad Evans.
Demian Maia: Coming off an outpointing of Dan Miller with a knockout to Marquardt in his previous fight.
Chael Sonnen: Three decisions over Miller, Yushin Okami, and Marquardt after being choked out by Maia in less than three minutes before the three-fight run.
Vitor Belfort: Five straight wins, only one in the UFC over Rich Franklin that wasn’t even at middleweight, and the other four being James Zikic, Ivan Serati, Terry Martin, and Matt Lindland.
Yushin Okami: A win over Lucio Linares and two decisions including one of the “split” variety against Mark Munoz.

Not necessarily a list of contracted killers, is it? Even Sonnen would be one fight removed from his loss to Silva at UFC 117 and Henderson with a defeat in his last bout at 185 pounds (to Jake Shields who is a natural welterweight). While it may seem surprisng, at least on paper, Stann may be the best opponent Silva has faced since beating Henderson the first time in terms of relevant wins as a middleweight relating to his three straight over Chris Leben, Jorge Santiago, and theoretically Sonnen.

All that being said the difficulty in finding a white-hot contender is not a bad thing per say with the silver lining involving parity. The more-polished Mixed Martial Artists become the rarer dominant performers like Silva will become. Closer examination might even reveal the same issue in all of the divisions, especially when you look at the news from earlier this week regarding Machida’s contendership. As such, we should appreciate master-level artistry while it exists but also never lose sight of the big picture when it comes to understanding why its hue appears so brilliant in comparison to duller shades.

What do you think about the subject on today’s “Opening Round”? Tell us on our Twitter account (@mmatraining)!

PHOTO CREDIT – UFC

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