Cagewriter - Mixed Martial Arts

Ultimate Fighting Championship officials continue to scramble to find a replacement to challenge middleweight champion Anderson Silva in the main event of UFC 112 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, on April 10, but newly minted No. 1 contender Chael Sonnen won't be the man.

Vitor Belfort pulled out of the bout on Thursday after having undergone surgery on his left shoulder. Sonnen had defeated Nate Marquardt on Saturday in the co-main event of UFC 109 in Las Vegas to win the right to challenge the Silva-Belfort winner. But Sonnen suffered a severe gash on his forehead, as well as on the bridge of his nose, during the fight and is under a medical suspension imposed by the Nevada Athletic Commission that prevents him from fighting until March 24 and, more importantly, from sparring until March 9.

Sonnen said Friday he had a discussion with UFC matchmaker Joe Silva and will not be offered the fight. UFC president Dana White said Friday that Silva will remain on the card, but said he still does not have an opponent. There aren't a lot of viable options, particularly if Silva defends his middleweight title rather than taking a non-title bout as a light heavyweight.

The UFC could choose to wait until after UFC 110 on Feb. 20 in Sydney, Australia (Feb. 21 in Australia) and select the winner of the middleweight fight between Michael Bisping and Wanderlei Silva. That would be a risky strategy, though, given that it would delay naming an opponent for another week and would create an issue if either or both were injured. Other potential middleweight opponents who could be available are Alan Belcher, who defeated Wilson Gouveia at UFC 107; Yoshihiro Akiyama and Yushin Okami. Okami is the last man to have defeated Silva, when he won by disqualification at Rumble on the Rock 8 on Jan. 20, 2006. That would create a storyline, but Okami is coming off a decisive loss to Sonnen.

The co-main event of UFC 112 is a lightweight championship bout between B.J. Penn and No. 1 contender Frankie Edgar. A welterweight fight between ex-champion Matt Hughes and Renzo Gracie is also on the card. The show will be the UFC's first in the Middle East. Abu Dhabi-based Flash Entertainment bought a 10 percent stake in the UFC last month and is constructing an outdoor stadium that will seat around 10,000 on Yas Island near the new Ferrari World to host the show.

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