According to MMA Junkie, UFC middleweight champ Anderson Silva and Thales Leites have verbally agreed to face each other at an April event (update: IntheGuard.tv says it’ll be UFC 97 on 4/18), though bout agreements have not been signed yet. As the story goes, the UFC is hoping to replicate the success of UFC 83 by returning to Montreal for the card, one year after "Serra vs. St. Pierre II."
This of course means that Silva won’t be headlining UFC 95 (February 21st, London), and it means that his next match won’t be one of those "superfights" that people love so much. Not taking anything away from Thales Leites, who’s obviously very talented, but does anybody believe that he’s truly the #1 contender in the UFC’s middleweight division? Though Leites is on a five-fight win streak — just like Patrick Cote was when he got his title shot — the only big name he’s beaten during his current run is Nate Marquardt, and he would have lost that fight if Marquardt didn’t have two points deducted for illegal strikes; one judge still scored the fight for Nate.
Now that Dan Henderson is (temporarily?) back at light-heavyweight, I see two guys ahead of Leites in the middleweight title picture…
The first is Yushin Okami, provided he defeats Dean Lister on Saturday. Okami has scored wins over Jason MacDonald and Evan Tanner since dropping a decision to Rich Franklin in June ’07, and has always been considered a top contender in the 185-pound division. There’s also the added hook that Okami holds a win over Anderson Silva, even if it was just by disqualification. It seems like Leites has leap-frogged him here, simply because his win-streak is greater.
The other guy is the undefeated Demian Maia, who has simply looked more impressive in his 4-0 UFC run, picking up three Submission of the Night bonuses along the way. With his submission prowess, Maia would be an actual threat to Silva; to me, it would feel less like a place-holder matchup.
If Michael Bisping can win his next fight, he’ll get a crack at Silva, due in large part to his marketability. Leites, an under-the-radar Brazilian, isn’t even particularly marketable. So what gives?