Abu Dhabi, we have a problem.
Due to a severe shoulder injury, Vitor Belfort has been forced to withdraw from his title fight with UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva on April 10. The bout was scheduled to headline UFC 112: Invincible from the Concert Arena at the Ferrari World theme park in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
UFC 112 is a pivotal fight card for the organization. In addition to being the promotion’s primitive venture into Abu Dhabi, it is also going to be the UFC’s very first event to be held outdoors. While the card is not near its completion, Anderson Silva vs. Vitor Belfort was one of three fights already announced for the historic event.
Lightweight champ B.J Penn will look to defend his title against Frankie Edgar in the nights co-main event. “The Prodigy” is coming off of a destructive performance over Diego Sanchez back at UFC 107 and is running out of worthy competition in the 155-lbs weight class. Edgar, though is on an impressive win-streak and known for being one of the most exciting fighters in the division.
Penn is a hot commodity in the UFC and widely recognized as one of the pound-for-pound greatest fighters in the sport, so regardless of who he is fighting, fans will tune in to watch the Hawaiian go to work.
Also, legendary Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt Renzo Gracie will make his long awaited MMA return as he squares off against former welterweight champion Matt Hughes. This fight may not be entirely relevant to the welterweight title picture, but both athletes will enter the Octagon with a tremendous amount of fan-fair and respect.
With those three fights alone, UFC 112 was already being considered a rival to last year’s UFC 100 mega-card. With Belfort out, the UFC can still maintain that level of anticipation.
That said, let’s take a look at some of the UFC’s realistic options now that the planned middleweight championship bout has been cancelled.
Keep Silva on the card, have him defend his title against another contender
Let’s cut to the chase, Belfort’s knockout over Rich Franklin at UFC 103 was impressive and all but by no means should he be viewed as the clear-cut number one contender. That right was reserved to former PRIDE champion Dan Henderson and Nate “The Great” Marquardt.
When Henderson was denied the title shot, he opted to sign a multi-fight deal with rival promotion Strikeforce. Meanwhile, Marquardt got absolutely man-handled for fifteen minutes in his fight with Chael Sonnen at UFC 109 this past weekend.
Which means Sonnen should be next in line for a coveted title shot, right? Had he left the Marquardt fight unscathed, an April 10 meeting with “The Spider” would be his for the taking. Unfortunately that was not the case and it will likely take the NCAA All-American wrestler a few more months to prepare for a showdown with the middleweight champ.
So who else in the 185-lbs division can be elevated into an instant clash with Silva? Demian Maia can certainly make a case. Maia is world renowned for his Jiu-Jitsu abilities and he also showcased an improved standup game with his victory over Dan Miller at UFC 109. Although with a crushing knockout defeat at the hands of Marquardt at UFC 102 still fresh in fans minds, can Maia realistically be looked at as a worthy challenger? One would think the Brazilian would have to win at least one more big fight or two before being bestowed that honor. Then again, stranger things have happened and Maia does hold a decisive submission win over the true number one contender in Sonnen so it wouldn’t be entirely crazy if the UFC opted to promote this matchup.
Other than Sonnen and Maia, perhaps Yoshihiro Akiyama, nobody else in the UFC’s middleweight division seems to be riding enough steam to be rushed into a championship fight.
Keep Silva on the card, against a light-heavyweight
The most marquee matchups for Silva are in the ultra-stacked 205-lbs division. Silva has already jumped up to light-heavyweight on two separate occasions against James Irvin and Forrest Griffin. Both of those fights produced similar results: a first round knockout victory for “The Spider”.
“The Phenom’s” injury could turn out to be a blessing in disguise in the sense that it could give the UFC an opportunity to promote a huge headlining fight for Silva at light-heavyweight instead.
The biggest bout that comes to mind is a fight against former UFC champion and UFC hall of famer Randy “The Natural” Couture. Couture’s domination over Mark Coleman at UFC 109 is Couture’s second straight since dropping back down to 205-lbs. At 46 years old, Couture is still proven to be in great physical condition and able to perform at a high-level in the Octagon. Along with being a stylistically interesting opponent for Silva, Couture’s name value and marketability would make this fight even larger than the original headliner between Silva and Belfort.
On the contrary, the UFC may have other plans for “Captain America”. According to sherdog, the UFC has approached Couture about a June meeting with former middleweight champ Rich Franklin at UFC 115. It seems Couture also made prior commitments with his acting career as well, so a clash with Silva might be ruled out.
Couture isn’t the only option at 205 for the middleweight champ. Fellow Brazilian wrecking-machine Thiago Silva is coming off a closely contested unanimous decision loss to Rashad Evans at UFC 108 and is looking to smash his way back up the rankings.
Silva vs. Silva won’t be a huge draw but with the way both fighters come out to fight, fans can expect a war.
Take Silva off the card, postpone title fight
The last time we saw the middleweight title contested in the Octagon was back at UFC 97 in April of last year. On that night, Silva and challenger Thales Leites put the crowd to sleep in one of the most dreadfully boring fights of all time.
The middleweight division is in dire need of an explosive championship battle and if they have to take Silva off the Abu Dhabi card in order to do that then so be it. Yes, it’s a huge blow to what was set to be a significant event in UFC history but its not like Silva was the only thing keeping this card alive.
The UFC can bump the lightweight title fight up to main-event status and the bout between Gracie and Hughes can easily be promoted as the co-main event. In the meantime, Sonnen will get the title shot instead of Belfort once the Team Quest product is physically ready to compete again.