Former UFC light heavyweight champion Lyoto “The Dragon” Machida recently made a very successful middleweight debut when he knocked out Mark Munoz with a first round headkick in the main event of last October’s UFC Fight Night 30 from Manchester, England.

The emphatic victory cemented Machida into the No. 4 spot on the middleweight Top 15, immediately announcing his presence in a division that’s quickly becoming populated with killers at the top. Machida will look to keep his momentum rolling when he faces a returning Gegard Mousasi in the main event of UFC Fight Night 36 in Jaragua do Sul, Brazil, on February 15.

And with Chris Weidman set to defend his middleweight title belt against Vitor Belfort in the main event of UFC 173 this May, every win at middleweight is going to be a crucial one. So crucial that UFC president Dana White spoke up on “FOX Sports Live” to declare that Machida could ‘possibly’ get the next 185-pound title shot if he beats Mousasi:

"Yes, if Machida wins, he could possibly be next in line for a title shot."

Beating Mousasi is far from set in stone for Machida, but the deck is stacked in his favor. Mousasi has only had one fight in the last year, an uninspired decision over Octagon newcomer Ilir Latifi at UFC on Fuel TV 9 after his scheduled bout with Swedish sensation Alexander Gustafsson fell apart after “The Mauler” suffered an unfortunate cut in training.

After beating Latifi, former Strikeforce champ Mousasi went under the knife to get surgery for a torn ACL, an injury that he says is fully behind him. However, facing a lethal karate master like Machida is never easy, especially off of a serious surgery and yearlong layoff. Mousasi is on the hunt for his own title shot, but his chances of receiving one with a win aren’t as good as Machida’s. 

“The Dreamcatcher” will most likely need another top quality win or two to put his name into the crowded middleweight title mix.

Machida, on the other hand, may be deserving of the shot, especially if he can do what no man ever has and knock out Mousasi. “The Dragon” appears to have a decided power advantage due to his cut down to middleweight, a decision that he made after splitting two very lackluster bouts with Dan Henderson and Phil Davis.

He also looks like he’s re-focused on finishing fights for the fans rather than eeking out split decisions with a backpedaling, counterstriking style. With three fights in under a year, Machida is definitely the sharper of the two, at least on paper.

Can he translate that into a huge win (and potential title shot) against Mousasi in Brazil?