HOUSTON – While this weekend's UFC 136 event is headlined by a pair of title fights, the middleweight contest between Chael Sonnen (25-11-1 MMA, 5-4 UFC) and Brian Stann (11-3 MMA, 5-2 UFC) is also rife with championship implications.
However, the winner won't necessarily book a future date with 185-pound kingpin Anderson Silva (31-4 MMA, 14-0 UFC).
Recent Strikeforce import Dan Henderson (28-8 MMA, 5-2 UFC) meets Mauricio "Shogun" Rua (20-5 MMA, 4-3 UFC) in November, and UFC president Dana White said a win could rush him to the front of the line.
"Should Dan win, he's definitely one of the guys that could go take that fight," White said today following a UFC 136 pre-event press conference.
The move would seem a slight departure from White's August claims that the winner of the Sonnen-Stann matchup "should be" in line to meet Silva. But White said that his position hasn't necessarily changed. There are just more options available with Henderson's arrival.
"I'm not even thinking about [Silva's next opponent] yet," White told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com
). "We'll figure it out after. But I still feel that way."
Some MMA pundits have suggested that UFC brass is simply waiting on the results of Sonnen-Stann to make a decision. After all, if Sonnen should prove victorious, how could White not book the big-money rematch with Silva? But Stann, well he might just not be ready for "The Spider," even if he downs Sonnen.
Ludicrous, said White.
"How could you feel that if Sonnen wins, he deserves a shot at the title, but if not Stann doesn't?" White asked. "Stann's been on a tear. He beat some good guys and looked good doing it – (Chris) Leben, (Jorge) Santiago and now Chael? That would be tough to deny him."
Of course, one huge variable is Silva's health. Henderson revealed at a recent press conference that he had pined for a rematch with the Brazilian champ, but Silva's injuries prevented the UFC from pitting the two against each other.
Today, White admitted he had wanted to book Silva vs. Henderson II.
"If he was able to fight, I probably would have done him and Dan Henderson," White said.
But White said Silva fans need to become overly worried. The champ is simply partaking in a little doctor-ordered R&R.
"It's not that [Silva] has some serious injury," White said. "He has bursitis in his shoulder. The doctor told him he needs to rest it for eight weeks or whatever it was. He's doing physical therapy, so it's not like he has some injury that needs surgery or anything like that.
"As amazing as this guy is, we forget that he's 37 years old – 37. He's been involved in martial arts his whole life. Bursitis makes sense."
Henderson, who walked away from Strikeforce's 205-pound title in order to return to the UFC for the first time since 2009, has said the only way he's willing to move back down to the middleweight division is for a shot at Silva – a man who defeated him in March 2008 in the headlining bout of UFC 82.
But first comes Rua in the main event of November's UFC 139. And if all goes well, it could be Henderson who gets the next crack at Silva instead of Sonnen or Stann.
"It would be tough to say that if Henderson beats 'Shogun' that Henderson doesn't deserve the shot," White said.
So as Silva heals and waits for his next assignment, he'll have to be an interested spectator in a handful of upcoming matched rather than focusing his attention on just one. White said the possibilities are numerous, but the decisions have yet to be made.
"We don't know," White said. "We've got to see what happens."