There has been little need for a list of future contenders to the Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight title for the past several years. Champion Anderson Silva has had such a firm grip on the belt since taking it from Rich Franklin in October 2006, no one else has really mattered.
That has to change someday, and the shift of power in the 185-pound division likely will happen sooner rather than later, now that Silva is 37 years old and financially secure beyond what he ever thought an MMA career could provide when he entered the sport. Although there has been some criticism of the strength of the division during Silva's reign, several well-rounded and talented contenders have begun to emerge.
Not a whole lot separates the top two entrants on this list, other than six years in the key age department. Though Mark Munoz is almost universally ranked ahead of Chris Weidman, this series is all about the future. Few fighters anywhere in the world have the potential of Weidman, which is why he's No. 1 here.
The 28-year-old was a two-time All-American wrestler at Hofstra University after earning similar honors both years at Nassau Community College. He has had little trouble making the transition to MMA, winning all eight fights since turning pro. His wrestling skills have served him well, but he also picked up jiu-jitsu quickly under the tutelage of Matt Serra and Ray Longo in New York. Weidman's winning streak includes four UFC wins, two coming by first-round submission.
Weidman expected his first true challenge in his previous fight, taking on perennial contender Demian Maia on just 11 days notice on the UFC on Fox 2 card in January. Although Weidman certainly showed the effects of the condensed training camp, he never really got much of a challenge from Maia.
The real test is expected to come July 11 in San Jose, Calif., when he steps in against Munoz, who has even better wrestling credentials and probably a bit more power in his hands. Weidman can prove he truly belongs with a win against Munoz, but even with a loss, Weidman can view the matchup as a learning experience. He is, after all, six years younger than Munoz.
A victory would only solidify Weidman's lofty position atop the ESPN Insider list of "Future Contenders" in the middleweight division. The "Future Contenders" series focuses on fighters in every weight class who have the best chance to work their way into a UFC title shot down the road. Eligible fighters are those who:
1. Have not held a UFC belt in the weight class
2. Have not fought previously for a UFC title in the weight class
Fighters need not currently be in the UFC to qualify, but they must be active. Also, holding a title or having fought for a title in another fight league does not disqualify a fighter.
Here are other prospects for the middleweight division:
2. Mark Munoz, UFC