Remember when Anderson Silva was running out of challengers at middleweight?
It wasn't all that long ago that the fighter most regard as the best in the world had cleaned out the competition. Two wins over Rich Franklin, a successful defense against Nate Marquardt and a rally over Dan Henderson left the UFC's 185-pound champion with Patrick Cote and Thales Leites as his leading contenders at the three-year mark of his title reign.
You remember how that worked out: Silva-Cote at UFC 90 featured two rounds of non-action before the challenger tore his knee early in the third and had to stop; Leites basically spent five rounds trying to goad Silva to the ground at UFC 97 and Silva never took the bait.
In the wake of the Leites bout, Silva's status was called into question. But the middleweight champ redoubled his efforts and cemented his legacy. He went up to light heavyweight and knocked out Forrest Griffin with a jab. He forever demonstrated his toughness and tenacity in absorbing a beating from Chael Sonnen for nearly five full rounds before finding an opening and retaining his title via submission. He dropped Vitor Belfort with a highlight-reel front kick for the ages and he schooled Yushin Okami in his most recent fight. Sure, there was one more lackluster bout against Demian Maia thrown into the mix, but his body of work speaks for itself.
Going into a June rematch with Sonnen, the soon-to-be 37-year-old Silva's amazing streak continues, with a record 14 consecutive UFC victories and a title reign which as of this writing stands at five years, five months and a week, also a Zuffa record.
Which brings us to the UFC's featherweight kingpin, Jose Aldo. Jr. On Wednesday, the company announced the featherweight champion will headline the company's Calgary debut on July 21.
But Dana White and Co. don't yet have a challenger lined up. And that's because Aldo is in a similar point in his title reign as Silva was at the midpoint of his.
Aldo has won 11 straight Zuffa fights, beginning in World Extreme Cagefighting. He took the featherweight title from Mike Brown in Nov. 2009 as part of a tear similar to the one Silva went on when he joined the UFC.
Aldo's offense at its best is so fierce, and his knockouts so impressive, that fans are let down when he doesn't run right over his foe. Aldo faced criticism after back-to-back title defenses against Mark Hominick and Kenny Florian, both of which Aldo won handily, but both of which also went the distance.
On Jan. 14, Aldo eliminated the man considered his biggest threat, Chad Mendes, with a knockout knee. So where does the Brazilian standout go from here? It's expected that Aldo will meet the winner of the May 15 bout between Dustin Poirier and Chan Sung Jung. Of the current crop of 145-pound contenders, Poirier has the most upside, with slick submissions and knockout power. But Poirier himself has said he's young and doesn't want to be rushed into a title shot. Jung, if nothing else, is a fearless brawler and won't back down from an entertaining scrap. Whether such a bout would end well for Jung is another matter.
It could be that an elite contender will emerge in the next year, similar to how Sonnen popped up on Silva's radar. Perhaps former UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar, an undersized 155-pounder who has long resisted calls to drop to featherweight, will finally take the plunge and drop down. After all, for all the talk of Edgar's heart, he's only won one of his past three fights and he's absorbed the sort of punishment that takes years off fighters' careers. Though Edgar is likely to rematch new lightweight champion Ben Henderson, at some point he's going to have to consider fighting guys his own size.
Or maybe the time is drawing near for Aldo to jump to lightweight. Aldo will be 26 in September. He's already big for a featherweight and it's no secret making weight has been a challenge, most notably for the UFC 129 bout against Hominick, for which he looked as if he was going to collapse at the weigh-ins.
Aldo has the opportunity to create an Anderson Silva-like legacy. His choices over the next year or two—and those of the UFC—will determine whether he gets there.
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