Lyoto Machida bulldozed C.B. Dollaway at UFC Fight Night 58 last month with a devastating body kick before ending it with punches in the first round. While the win doesn’t put “The Dragon” back into immediate title contention, it will certainly begin his journey back up the ladder after dropping a decision to 185-pound champion Chris Weidman last Summer.
The question now becomes, “who is the next rung on the ladder?” While the middleweight division is rife with talent, the obvious answer is Luke Rockhold. Coming off a second round guillotine victory over Michael Bisping at UFC Fight Night – Rockhold vs. Bisping just last month, Rockhold tweeted after Machida’s victory saying that Machida “looked good” and “Ready whenever you are” to Dana White.
Vitor Belfort (the #4 ranked fighter on the UFC Rankings) is set to face current Middleweight champ Chris Weidman at UFC 184 in February. Jacare Souza (#2 in UFC Rankings) is also set to fight at 184, versus Yoel Romero (#6 in UFC Rankings). This leaves Machida (#3) versus Rockhold (#5) as the most logical choice. A Machida match versus Tim Kennedy (#7) makes for an interesting fight, but with Kennedy’s controversial loss to Yoel Romero, and the fact that Rockhold holds a win over Kennedy from their Strikeforce days, Rockhold again moves to the top of the pack.
Rockhold, who also holds a win over Souza, is more than just a game fighter, to be sure. He rebounded from his KO loss to Belfort with three straight wins (all finishes) over a ten month period and is ready to face Machida because he knows a win over Machida will put him in title contention. Machida, now 3-1 as a middleweight, may not be able to cement himself as the number one contender after this fight, but at worst (depending on how soon it happens), he sets himself up for a potential number one contender match with the winner of Souza/Romero.
But the wrench that could still be thrown in the machine that is the middleweight division is the return of Anderson Silva. Silva, still #1 in the UFC rankings (the rankings list the Champion and then start with a #1) , could change a lot of things. With a dominant win over Nick Diaz, Silva could make the case for a third match with Weidman. With a less-than-dominant win, perhaps the UFC brass puts him up against the winner of Souza/Romero, or the loser of Weidman/Belfort. Or, since he now has a fifteen fight contract, perhaps Dana lets him fight on the sidelines for a bit, or throws him some superfights to see if Anderson’s friend Machida can work his ways into a rematch with Weidman.
Both Machida and Silva are crowd draws, but there’s no disputing that Silva has more star power, but that star power also lends itself to allowing the UFC to make fights for Silva that may not make sense in the title picture, because people will watch Silva fight regardless of who he faces. Machida, on the other hand, while a strong draw, does his best work as a drawing power when either fighting in Brazil (as he did this past weekend) or when he’s facing truly elite competition, like his decision loss to Weidman.
Regardless of who the UFC chooses for Machida, it will be an entertaining fight. The UFC’s middleweight division is stacked with talent right now, and there are a lot of solid matches that can be made. Stay tuned to see what happens. For the record, I see Machida fighting Rockhold in late March/early April.