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Super Seven: Who Will Emerge As The Next UFC Champion?

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MMA Nation's Thomas Myers takes a look at the UFC championships and who is the most likely challenger to take a title.

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1,825 days.

That's exactly how long UFC Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva has ruled the 185-pound division with his iron fists, feet, knees and elbows. Five years ago today, Oct. 14, 2006, "The Spider" re-arranged Rich Franklin's face and finished "Ace" at UFC 64.

He hasn't looked back since.

In fact, Silva has successfully defended his belt more than any other fighter in the history of the promotion (nine) and holds the record for most consecutive victories inside the Octagon (14) ... and counting.

His welterweight counterpart, Georges St. Pierre, isn't too far behind. "Rush" has defended his 170-pound strap on seven different occasions since stopping Matt Serra at UFC 83 back in 2008 to become the division's undisputed leader.

Utter dominance.

Jon Jones emerged earlier this year when he dismantled Mauricio "Shogun" Rua at UFC 128 to become the promotion's youngest champion ever at age 23 (now 24). It seems as though "Bones," too, has all the potential in the world to make another extended championship run of his own.

Winning a UFC title is hard, defending it is harder, but the hardest part of all is maintaining the championship success. Every fighter is gunning to be the next contender. Watching and imagining what he would do, how he would win, if he can just earn his shot.

These contenders have the benefit of film and previous experiences. What works? What doesn't? Holes are found, training is focused and gameplans are prepared, but more often than not, are thrown out the window moments into the championship class.

Every fighter thinks he has what it takes to beat the champion. Most of them are wrong. With several recent moves, the UFC contender pictures have seemingly become clear, which is rare, considering there are often scenarios and other factors that muddy the waters.

Let's take a look at the top contenders to see who has the best chance of becoming the next UFC champion:

Heavyweight (265 pounds)
Champion: Cain Velasquez
Since: Oct. 23, 2010
Title defenses: Zero
Number one contender: Junior dos Santos
Odds: +115
"Cigano" is on a tear, winning eight straight fights, including his first seven with UFC. The hard-hitting Brazilian is more than deserving of this opportunity, winning not one, but two number one contender eliminator matches while Velasquez recovered from major shoulder surgery. In fact, since defeating Brock Lesnar to win the heavyweight title more than a year ago, Velasquez has never had to defend his title. Ring rust could certainly play a major factor, and right into the hands of dos Santos, when the pair collide in the historic, first-ever UFC on FOX 1 main event on Nov. 12, 2011. So, too, can jitters, but that's an (dis)advantage that cuts both ways.

Light Heavyweight (205 pounds)
Champion: Jon Jones
Since: March 19, 2011
Title defenses: One
Number one contender: Lyoto Machida
Odds: +300
"The Dragon" is an unlikely selection to challenge "Bones" so soon, the beneficiary of being in the right place at the right time. Machida is stepping in for Rashad Evans, who underwent hand surgery and was unable to be ready in time to fight Jones at UFC 140 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, on Dec. 10, 2011. Branded the next 205-pound sensation after separating "Suga" -- who at the time was reigning champion -- from consciousness to win the strap back in 2009. But a controversial decision win over Shogun and back-to-back losses signaled a quick end to the Machida era that never really started. He has since returned to the win column over the aged Randy Couture; however, it certainly didn't seem like enough to get him back into another 25-minute fight. Nonetheless, Machida's number was called. And the fact that he is so patient and so precise, as well as that this is a five-round tilt, could be big advantages on fight night.

Middleweight (185 pounds)
Champion: Anderson Silva
Since: Oct. 14, 2006
Title defenses: Nine
Number one contender: Chael Sonnen (Unofficial)
Odds: N/A
The Sonnen-suggested "biggest rematch in the history of this business" is far from a done deal. It's clearly the big-money fight that the fans, and company president Dana White, want to see; however, there are two significant obstacles that could throw a wrench into the plans. First, Silva's health. The Brazilian recently had a surgical procedure on his elbow, which will keep him on the shelf for the remainder of the 2011 fight season. There's no telling when exactly he'll be ready, but his manager Ed Soares said that Silva will have to be completely healthy before returning to action. Second, Sonnen's fight license. He's currently not allowed to fight in Las Vegas, Nevada, after his Testosterone Replacement Therapy (TRT) fiasco. He still has to apply (anytime after Dec. 1, 2011) and then plead his case to Keith Kizer and the powers at Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC). Sure, Sonnen can still fight in other, less stringent states, but if the promotion is ever going to give him a shot at a title it will likely want to be damn certain that if he wins the belt, he can defend it in "Sin City" moving forward. And if Sonnen's most recent winning performance against Brian Stann at UFC 136, as well as the five round beatdown he already placed on Silva last year before losing via submission is any indication, Sonnen has a very good chance of pulling off the upset.

Welterweight (170 pounds)
Champion
: Georges St. Pierre
Since: April 19, 2008
Title defenses: Seven
Number one contender: Carlos Condit
Odds: +350
"The Natural Born Killer" was all set to stake his claim as the number one 170-pound contender with a win over B.J. Penn before Nick Diaz blew his opportunity and forced an unprecedented fight card shake up. Condit was promoted, Diaz demoted. Even though it came a little sooner than expected, Condit is still very deserving of this chance and will certainly make the most out of it. Upon hearing the surprise news, the former World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) reportedly wept, realizing that this moment is nearly a decade in the making. The timing couldn't have been better, either. He's finished three consecutive opponents, who also happen to all be very talented. Condit will have a very hard time keeping that streak alive against his outstanding Canadian counterpart, but you can bet he'll leave everything inside that Octagon or die trying.

Lightweight (155 pounds)
Champion
: Frankie Edgar
Since: April 10, 2010
Title defenses: 2.5
Number one contender: Clay Guida vs. Ben Henderson winner
Odds: N/A
With recent news that Strikeforce Lightweight Champion Gilbert Melendez will not transition to the UFC this year, as well as Melvin Guillard's quick loss to Joe Lauzon at UFC 136, the 155-pound title picture has become crystal clear. "The Carpenter" and "Smooth" will battle at UFC on FOX 1 next month to determine who deserves the next crack at "The Answer." Both men, especially Guida, have put in a ton of good work under the Zuffa umbrella for several years. Guida is on a four-fight win streak, three of which he has finished via submission. Henderson, meanwhile, has won his first two fights inside the Octagon, dominating the division's top championship candidate, Jim Miller, for three rounds in the process. Guida and Henderson are absolute cardiovascular carnivores, which means that this is likely going to be one ferociously fast fight. Don't blink.

Featherweight (145 pounds)
Champion
: Jose Aldo
Since: April 30, 2011
Title defenses: Two
Number one contender: Chad Mendes
Odds: N/A
Rather than sit idle, Mendes went after the "Money" and requested a fight even though he had earned the right to challenge "Scarface" next. The good news is Mendes earned a unanimous decision over the very dangerous Brazilian jiu-jitsu specialist, Rani Yahya, at UFC 133. The Team Alpha Male-trained fighter is an exceptional wrestler who has leveraged that strength to compile an undefeated professional mixed martial arts (MMA) record (11-0). In hindsight, that decision was probably wise beyond his 26 years, allowing him more time to refine his stand up skills to prepare for such a dynamic striker in Aldo. Mendes will likely do everything in his power to ensure that this turns into a ground war, but if he can't take down the stubborn Brazilian, he's in for a very long night. The more time Mendes has to hone his all around game, the better it is for him. No date and/or location is known at this time -- expect it to happen sometime in early 2012.

Bantamweight (135 pounds)
Champion: Dominick Cruz
Since: July 2, 2011
Title defenses: Two
Number one contender: Brian Bowles vs. Urijah Faber winner
Odds: N/A
It's not ideal, considering Cruz has recently bested them both, but Bowles and Faber are still marketable opponents. Both are former champions under the WEC banner who have the skills to return to the top in the UFC. The only thing standing in their way is each other, as well at the "Dominator." Bowles, winner of two straight, actually has some unfinished business with Cruz -- he lost his title to him in their fight last year because he could not continue with a badly broken hand. Faber, meanwhile, just lost to Cruz at UFC 132 in a very entertaining five-round match. He also holds a win over Cruz back in 2007, making a marketable rubbermatch very possible for sometime in 2012. While Bowles and Faber fight at UFC 139 on Nov. 19, 2011, Cruz will recover from (another) hand surgery. So even though we will likely have the next contender lined up before 2011 expires, don't expect the bantamweight belt to be up for grabs anytime soon.

Seven champions, seven contenders, seven fights.

As the days tick forward, and the events draw near, who will fall, who will rise ... if at all?

It's time to start thinking about the next 1,825 days and what the future holds.