MIDDLEWEIGHTS FINALLY OUTSHINE EVERY OTHER DIVISION
There was a time not so long ago that 185lbs was a wasteland of scattered talent, up-and-comers and limited superstars. Since then, the UFC has recruited some the best fighters available to add maturity to the landscape of the middleweight division. The post-TUF era has produced a number of standouts at the weight class, not the least of which is all-time great Anderson Silva, former champion Rich Franklin and now a host of new inductees into the burgeoning division. A number of the most compelling matchups have taken place or will soon take place, and a crop of skilled competitors look to be legitimate threats to Anderson Silva’s unbeaten streak within the organization. For the first time it appears that the weight class has a roster with skills comparable to any other division in Mixed Martial Arts.
Middleweight has finally come of age.
Middleweight has historically been considered a troubled division in regards to the level of the talent available. Dave Menne was the first Middleweight champion crowned in 2001 at UFC 33. Menne lost the belt to Murilo Bustamante at UFC 35 less than 4 months later. Bustamante held on to the title for almost a year but only defended it once against Team Quest’s Matt Lindland before leaving the UFC for financial reasons.
It would be more than 3 years later before the UFC would put the belt on the line again.
Evan Tanner defeated David Terrell at UFC 51 for the vacant title, but ironically, would lose it in less than 4 months to Rich Franklin. After winning the championship at UFC 53, Franklin defended against TUF standout Nate Quarry, and also defeated David Loiseau by decision at UFC 58. Unfortunately, a suitable challenger for Franklin would have to wait until Anderson Silva joined the UFC in the summer of 2006.
At UFC 64 Silva defeated Franklin by a first round KO, 10 title defenses later Anderson still holds the belt.
Silva successfully defended the title 3 times against Travis Lutter, Nate Marquardt, and a rematch with Rich Franklin at UFC 77. Again, competition for the reigning champion ran short before Light Heavyweight contender Dan Henderson moved down to challenge for the belt. At UFC 82 Henderson was defeated by rear naked choke in little over 2 rounds. Another apparent acknowledgement of the lack of competition at the weight class was a scheduled Light Heavyweight bout against James Irvin. This would prove to be another one-sided affair with Irvin never making it into the second round. 2 more title defenses against Patrick Cote and Thales Leites would see the champion in another Light Heavyweight bout, this time against former champion Forest Griffin. The fight would see only about a minute of action before Griffin was stopped by technical knockout.
Although Silva was making waves throughout the division and even against higher-weight opponents, similar to Franklin’s tenure as champion, a real threat had yet to emerge. Chael Sonnen would be the remedy to this problem. The drama between Silva and Sonnen is well-known so I won’t cover it here, albiet to say that UFC 117 and UFC 148 provided a pivotal role in the development and notoriety of the division. The UFC had also been active in bringing new blood into the weight class and up-and-coming talent was coming out of the woodwork almost as fast as Silva’s fights. The epic matches between Silva and Sonnen simply placed the focus on the level of talent that now exists at 185lbs.
There are now as many or more viable contenders at Middleweight than almost any other weight class.
In a division formerly devoid of recognizable faces, we now have name fighters such as Chael Sonnen, Vitor Belfort, Alan Belcher, Mark Munoz, Chris Weidman, Tim Boetsch and even former Bellator Champion Hector Lombard. The rumor mill has even suggested that Rashad Evans has considered dropping weight for a shot against Silva. After years of sporadic matchups and importing talent in order to create compelling fights, Middleweight has it’s own stars and easily ones as skilled as the top contenders at any other weight. An easy prediction is that fighters generally considered too small for 205lbs or too big for 170lbs will make the move to this weight class as notoriety increases.
Chael Sonnen has shown that Silva isn’t invincible, and a gameplan by a good wrestler could prove to be a winner in the future. Either way, the MMA world is paying attention to the rejuvenated Middleweight lineup.
The biggest fights have yet to come at this weight, and it looks like outshining the competition is going to be standard fare in the future.