Chris Weidman won his title from a Brazilian, his first defense will be against a Brazilian and UFC Fight Night 36 (UFN 36) will likely present him with his next challenger – and you guessed it, it’ll probably be a Brazilian.
Behind Anderson Silva and Vitor Belfort in the UFC middleweight rankings sit Jacare Souza (#3) and Lyoto Machida (#4). All four are from the nation famed for big butts, beaches and football (soccer for you Americans).
At UFN 36, Souza will fight Francis Carmont in the co-main event and Machida will take top billing against Gegard Mousasi. It could, essentially, be described as a four-man tournament to determine the next challenger for the middleweight belt.
It isn’t technically a tournament but, if it was, it would be obvious who the UFC wants in the final. Souza and Machida are the clear favourites in their respective bouts, no surprise considering the location of the fights. It is practically UFC policy to all but ensure a hometown win when in Brazil. The baying crowd almost demands it.
The UFC has implemented the tactic of a themed card before – creating a main card that focuses on a specific division. UFC 146 and UFC 158 being obvious examples.
Personally, I like it when they do this. It gives the event an added dimension and provides some extra narrative for the viewer. At UFC 158, for example, a champion defended his belt moments after a number one contender for that very same belt was decided. Questions are answered instead of raised. We don’t have to wait for the outcome of fights taking place weeks or maybe months apart to discover the immediate future of a division. Everything gets tied up in a nice little bow.
Whilst there are only two middleweight fights on the main card of UFN 36, they both have direct title implications.
As previously mentioned, Souza and Machida are next in line. Both are former champions – we all remember the Machida era – who have looked spectacular so far at middleweight in the UFC.
Three fights, three wins and three first round finishes. Amongst their victims are Mark Munoz and Yushin Okami. The boys from Brazil have made their point, they are serious contenders at 185.
Whether by grand design or pure chance, the timelines of these fighters, at the top of the middleweight division, seem to mesh rather nicely.
Weidman vs. Belfort has been scheduled to main event UFC 173 on May 24, a little over three months after UFN 36. Should Souza and Machida come through their bouts victorious, as expected, a number one contender bout could take place around a similar time. The winners would then be able to meet later in the year.
It is also a possibility that a number one contender fight won’t be necessary. A particularly emphatic win in Jaraguá do Sul may be all that’s needed for one of the Brazilians to jump straight into a title fight. We all know how impulsive the UFC – mainly Dana – can be.
Despite Souza’s higher ranking, however, it is Machida who is the more likely to get a title shot off the back of UFN 36. A win over Carmont is commendable but it isn’t exactly the type of win that thrusts you into the spotlight. Machida, on the other hand, is facing a man who has only lost one of his last 23 fights. Being the former light heavyweight champion helps too.
If Weidman is going to extend his tenure as UFC middleweight champion, he will have to face, and defeat, a murderer’s row of Brazilians. First there were his two unique fights with Anderson Silva – the arguable GOAT. Next up he has the ever improving and increasingly muscular Vitor Belfort to contend with. After which, either Souza or Machida will be there waiting in the wings for the victor. UFN 36 may decide who that man will be.