Who should be next for Luke Rockhold after he captured the UFC Middleweight Championship on Saturday, and why? Does Yoel Romero deserve that shot? Should it be Vitor Belfort right away? Is there another option that stands out? What’s next for Chris Weidman?
MICHAEL BANE, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
Yoel Romero should be fighting Luke Rockhold next. Romero has been on about as impressive a run as any in his division, with his last two victories coming against some of the best 185 pounds has to offer in Lyoto Machida and and Jacare Souza. His fight against Souza was seen as a number one contender’s match, as they were the consensus #3 and #4 fighters at middleweight.
Romero’s win against Souza wasn’t particularly impressive, but it wasn’t a robbery. I had it scored 28-28, but I could see justifiable score cards with either fighter winning without too much argument. Romero almost finished Souza in the first round, but his lackluster effort in rounds two and three didn’t do anything to quell the notion that his cardio is an issue. Truth is, while Romero may be the number one contender currently, it’s more because there just really isn’t anyone else at the moment who has a decent win streak including wins over top competition. Romero really benefits because there just isn’t anyone else.
Or at least, there shouldn’t be anyone else. Enter Vitor Belfort. Belfort is the last man to beat the current champion, when he welcomed the former Strikeforce titleholder to the UFC with a vicious spinning heel kick knockout. The loss bugs Rockhold, as he called out the Phenom after taking the title at UFC 194. The revenge story is a decent one for the UFC to try to sell, and the highlight of Rockhold almost getting his head taken off will play well in promos. Add in Romero’s lack of general appeal, and the fear that the Soldier of God may go an another unintelligible, homophobic rant in the ring and maybe Belfort isn’t a bad choice.
I don’t know that I really care a ton which guy gets the shot here. Neither one of them have a realistic chance of beating Rockhold. I’d prefer to see Romero, just because it’s a new fight, but both of these two are really just placeholders until a real threat to Rockhold’s belt emerges. It’s really just a question of whether we want to see a guy gas out early and try not to fall over due to exhaustion ten minutes into the fight, or if we want to see Belfort lose his fourth title fight in the last five years. Barring a change in division by a current welterweight or light heavyweight contender (I actually think Alexander Gustaffson could make 185 lbs, despite his tall frame), there isn’t any other opponent that really stands out.
Choosing Weidman’s next opponent is a much easier easier proposition. There were many who thought Jacare Souza was going to face off against Weidman when he defeated Romero and Weidman retained his title. While neither of those things happened, we’re still left with this compelling bout for two guys each coming off of a loss. A win for either one might get them a title shot, depending on how the Rockhold vs. Belfort or Romero situation shakes out. Weidman vs. Souza is a lot more interesting fight than whomever fights Rockhold next. I’m already more excited about the winner of that fight taking on Rockhold than I am for Rockhold’s first title defense.
FRANK HYDEN, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
Belfort already had his title shot earlier this year and lost emphatically. A win over a 45 year old Dan Henderson does not put one back into a title shot. The talks are that Belfort is going to fight Anderson Silva next, and while I’m fine with that fight, we don’t know what type of fighter Silva is anymore. Even if Belfort wins that, he might need another win to earn another shot. If Rockhold remains champion after fighting Romero, Belfort could get the next shot, as Rockhold has made it known he wants that loss avenged.