Chris Weidman’s rise to the top of the middleweight division was as sudden as it was unexpected, at least for the most of us. His humble beginnings were made apparent when it was revealed that ‘The All-American’ couldn’t afford to pay his bills while training for his UFC 162 bout with Anderson Silva.

When you look back at it, it really was a rags-to-riches tale; ‘The Spider’, long considered the best fighter on the globe and a humble, hard working kid from New York looking to make his name. The shocking knockout of Silva at 162 was about as far from reality as this sport has taken me.

With Weidman’s next title defense scheduled for UFC 173 against Vitor Belfort, we have plenty of time to speculate about the future of the current 185-pound boss. My first thought on that front is how long is Weidman going to remain champion, and who will be the one to eventually defeat him?

Many would argue that with the hungry ‘Phenom’ on the horizon, it might not be very long at all before ‘The All-American’ is dethroned. As is quite often the case in MMA, it isn’t really that simple. Belfort is very heavy handed, and has added to his striking arsenal with flashy kicks, but suppose that Weidman is victorious at 173; will the next champion be as much of a surprise as the current one?

The Middleweight division is a very dangerous place to be right now, and it could be argued that most of the top 15 has what it takes to get in the title mix. The bottom end of the top 15 is loaded with wild cards like 7-1 KO expert Yoel Romero, 12-1 Tompkins product Brad Tavares, Francis Carmont and Jacare Souza will battle it out at FN 36, as will former 205-pound boss Lyoto Machida and Gegard Mousasi.

Perhaps there is an unranked fighter just waiting to burst on to the scene, and with the growth of the UFC there may well be the next P4P king in the makings. For now, we’ll stick with the top 15 of the currently ranked fighter. If I had to narrow it down to three viable options, my first would have to be Lyoto Machida.

‘The Dragon’ has some serious power at Middleweight, and has the best style to beat Weidman, at least in my mind. His subtle footwork and timing is a nightmare for wrestlers, and I think that he is currently the best candidate for the job. We know Machida can make it to the top, and a win Saturday against ‘The Dreamcatcher’ could signal the beginning of ‘The Machida Era 2.0’.

My second choice would be Anderson Silva. I know this will probably get a bit of hate, but consider it from a realistic point of view; anything can happen in this sport. Yes Weidman has beaten Silva twice, but does that really hold any bearing at the top end of pro MMA? To say that one of the greatest fighters of all time couldn’t win one out of three matches against the same fighter would be outlandish.

If Silva is able to heal up well and come back in form, Weidman could well be in trouble if he is still at the top. This is by no means a prediction (yet), but it seems foolish to argue against ‘The Spider’ having a great shot at a second reign as champ.

Lastly I’d place Ronaldo de Souza. ‘Jacare’ has added heavy striking to his wide arsenal of weaponry in recent times, and I think he’d be in with a great chance against Weidman. Souza’s ace grappling skills are going to make him hard to take down, at least without getting choked, and his raw power would cause problems for anyone.

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