These days, Anderson Silva doesn't do much of anything he doesn't want to do, so you can be sure that if he made the trip to Sao Paulo for UFC on FX 7, it was to watch a fight with some personal meaning for him, one that he thought would yield his next opponent. Silva sat among the crowd in the Ibirapuera Arena, his eyes partially obscured behind glasses but his gaze fixed upon the octagon, and more closely, on the man that he deemed worthy of his attention.
To Silva, Michael Bisping made a potentially perfect foil. He is well known, he is a credible fighter and he has a knack for generating headlines and drawing attention. But Bisping has one serious flaw: he tends to lose when the stakes are at their highest. He did it before, against Dan Henderson in 2009 when he could have advanced to a title shot; and then again in 2012, when he lost a close but controversial decision against Chael Sonnen in another top contenders fight. It happened again on Saturday night, when he was knocked out by Vitor Belfort in the second round of their main-event bout.
Sitting in the front row, Silva had to have experienced a feeling that is quite foreign to him: disappointment. The top of his division is in a fair amount of chaos right now, and that's a situation only complicated by Bisping's loss.
Don't get me wrong, there are a few fresh contenders attempting to break free from the pack. Chris Weidman has established himself as a legitimate threat; knockout artist Hector Lombard recently bounced back from his lackluster debut; Luke Rockhold just came over from Strikeforce with a belt on his shoulder. It's just that none of those guys seems to interest Silva right now, and as we noted earlier, Silva doesn't do what he doesn't want to do.
"I don't know. I don't know," he said on the FUEL post-fight show when asked who he wants to fight next. "I need to talk to Dana [White] and Lorenzo [Fertitta]."
I am going to tell you what the UFC should do, not because it is the right thing, but because it is the only thing now that Bisping is out of the running as Silva's next opponent. They should pair him off with Rashad Evans.
Silva wants big fights. He wants opponents that can lead to monster pay-per-view buy rates and further his legacy. When he looks at Weidman, Rockhold and Lombard, he sees names that are still building UFC fan bases.
He won't have that problem with Evans.
Admittedly, there are a few issues with this plan. For one, Evans has a fight scheduled with Antonio Rogerio Nogueira at UFC 156. For another, Evans is not a middleweight and has never competed a single time in the division.
The first item is admittedly the more complicating factor of the two. For this plan to take shape, Evans needs to beat Nogueira. He should; he is a comfortable 4-to-1 favorite in the bout, which is the night's co-main event. And here's why the Silva fight should be attractive for Evans: Because after he beats Nogueira, then what? This will be his first fight back after losing to Jon Jones in a light-heavyweight championship match. Since 205 is historically one of MMA's deepest divisions -- and it remains so now, with Dan Henderson, Alexander Gustafsson, Glover Teixeira and Gegard Mousasi all angling to snag the next No. 1 contender spot -- it could be a long time until the 33-year-old Evans gets another chance at gold in his division. That could very well convince him to accept a marquee fight in a division which many believe is his true natural class.
There is reason to believe he will; last year, Evans admitted he would make the cut specifically to fight Silva, saying it would be worth the effort for the chance to fight the man many consider the sport's G.O.A.T.
Evans has resisted the move until now, but would he say no to a middleweight championship fight in favor of continuing the long road in the light-heavyweight division? I doubt it.
A Silva vs. Evans fight would certainly intrigue the masses. According to White, Evans is one of the promotion's top five pay-per-view draws, and he's one of only a handful of mixed martial artists in history to headline two events that sold over 1 million pay-per-view buys. His star power combined with Silva's resume would almost certainly equal a box-office bonanza.
There are purists who will dislike the idea because Evans has never competed as a middleweight. There are fans of middleweight contenders who will despise it because it means a longer wait. But we don't live in a fantasy land; we live in the real world where Silva has some real sway in his future, and he's not fighting anyone he doesn't want to fight. In the end, the fight's the thing, and Evans is a championship caliber athlete who can offer Silva some serious stylistic challenges.
There is no true clear-cut No. 1 contender, so Weidman, Rockhold and Lombard can figure that out among themselves. In the meantime, give Silva something big, because while he can't hold the division hostage, he's capable of slowing it down until he gets what he wants. Right now, he doesn't know what that is, but if Evans wins on Feb. 2, it might suddenly crystallize the idea that Silva-Evans is the fight that makes the most dollars and sense.