In the UFC’s middleweight division, a bitter irony continues to play out as more dominant contenders rise from the ashes, since Anderson Silva lost the title to Chris Weidman at UFC 162. Before Silva’s reign ended, it was difficult for the UFC to even find contenders for their most dominant fighter of all time for years before.
Since Silva’s death clutch on the middleweights was relinquished in June, many of his former opponents who had fled to the light heavyweight division, promptly came back. Chael Sonnen infamously stated at the time that now Silva had lost, everything had changed. He announced his plans to move back to middleweight, even though he had a light heavyweight fight in front of him against Shogun Rua at UFN 26 in August.
Vitor Belfort never really left but definitely picked up where he left off among the middleweights after his light heavyweight title shot against Jon Jones didn’t work out at UFC 152.
Other light heavyweights have been dropping down to 185, vicariously shaking up the middleweight ranking system more thoroughly than ever before. Rashad Evans, Lyoto Machida, and Gegard Mousasi have all cut down to 185 to make their mark on the division, or simply get away from the new pound for pound king in Jon Jones of course.
If Mauricio Shogun Rua drops down to 185 like he’s reportedly considering, that will put 50% of the light heavyweight division’s elite according to the UFC’s official rankings, duking it out at 185!
Since the UFC purchased Strikeforce in March of 2011, things only became more crowded at the top with the arrival of Strikeforce Champion Luke Rockhold, Jacare Souza, and Tim Kennedy after the UFC folded the promotion that had lasted for 21 years up to this point.
This is a division that is so strong the UFC made a seemingly nonchalant decision recently when they cut their #6 middleweight contender in Yushin Okami, after he had suffered just a single loss.
~ Champion ~
With Weidman’s perfect 10-0 undefeated record, his All American appeal (nick name as well of course), and his well-rounded skill set, he seems like a more than capable replacement of Anderson Silva for the middleweight crown.
Of course he’s gonna have to prove it by beating the former p4p king again at UFC 168 on the Saturday after Christmas.
He’s been tested before, but since he’s never lost a fight, it’s difficult to gauge what potential he truly is capable of achieving within the middle weight division, especially with all the eye brow raising talent that graces the charts at 185 these days.
~ #1 ~
When Chris Weidman tells the story of how people would abruptly suck in air and shake their heads when they heard he would be fighting in what they considered, “Anderson Silva’s division,” it paints a fairly un-sensationalized portrayal of the death clutch The Spider had established over the hearts and minds of the mixed martial arts community.
Now Weidman holds some of this allure as well, but he’s stated since back before fighting for the middleweight crown, he’s going to have to do more than defeat the man once. It will take winning again in the rematch at UFC 168 on December 28th to defeat his legend.
~ #2 ~
In last night’s routing of Dan Henderson at UFN 32, Vitor established himself as the undisputed next man in line for a title shot. Even Dana White wasn’t deferring questions of Vitor’s requests for a title shot for once. In fact, he went on record saying Vitor will most likely face the winner of Chris Weidman vs Anderson Silva 2.
After starching the last five men he faced in his division with four KO/TKO finishes and one SUB, it’s clear he will be the biggest draw and strongest argument for the number one contender spot, once the main event at UFC 168 has concluded.
~ #3 ~
I know most will look at my placing of Lyoto and immediately question my journalistic integrity. Trust me, I know he hasn’t earned this spot at 185, but I also know I’m just saying what we all are thinking: He’s clearly the biggest threat after Vitor Belfort at 185.
The Dragon burst on to the middleweight scene at UFN 30 with a stunning walk off head kick KO of top ranked middleweight contender in Mark Munoz. Before that, he was ranked as the number one contender before and after holding the light heavyweight belt and losing a rematch to Shogun Rua at UFC 113, he battled his way back for shot against Jon Jones at UFC 140, in a losing but valiant effort.
Unfortunately he lost a highly contested controversial fight against Phil Davis at UFC 163. It felt like he should have easily walked away with the decision instead of Davis, but his style is sometimes very inactive and his fight against Dan Henderson and Rampage Jackson could have went either way as well, due to the lack of effective action on his part.
When he’s not losing or winning a close decision, he’s putting his opponents away with kicks and punches. Just watch his KO victories he scored against Randy Couture at UFC 129 and Ryan Bader at UFC on Fox 4, if you wonder what he is capable of inflicting on his opponents at his new and lighter weight class.
~ #4 ~
Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza
Jacare blasted through Chris Camozzi at UFC on FX 8 in May, and then Yushin Okami at UFN 28. Yet he’s been fighting top level talent for a long time with a successful career that has left bodies in his wake from time spent under the Strikeforce and Dream banners respectively.
His last fight in Strikeforce was against UFC fighter Ed Herman. He’s beaten Tim Kennedy, Robbie Lawler, Matt Lindland, Jason Miller, and Derek Brunson. He’s just as dangerous as anyone else on this list, and maybe more so.
~ #5 ~
Bisping can’t go that long without receiving a challenge from a competitor. Ironically it usually doesn’t end well for those who go down that path. The Count is way more talented than given credit for.
Flirting with one potential title shot after another, Bisping just can’t win a title eliminator shot to save his life.
Since his win against Alan Belcher at UFC 159, he remains a top five competitor in his division, even though he flipped flopped wins and losses in his last four fights, with a KO loss to Vitor Belfort at UFC on FX 7, and a controversial unanimous decision loss to Chael Sonnen at UFC on Fox 2, with a win against Brian Stann in-between.
He’s going to need a win over someone above him on this list to positively move forward towards a title shot at this point.
~ #6 ~
Even though he’s on a losing streak at 185, Sonnen is coming off of a first round submission of Shogun Rua at UFN 26 in August. He’s the first man to effectively steal a round from Anderson Silva, and has won every round in both their fights, only to lose by submission and TKO in the two rounds he lost.
If he plans on maintaining the precarious spot he holds on this list, he’s going to need a win against former light heavyweight champ Rashad Evans, of whom is officially ranked at #4 at 205. They will meet in a couple weeks at UFC 167.
~ #7 ~
Ok I know I keep giving middleweight rankings to light heavyweight fighters without a track record as of yet at 185, but what options are left at this point? Should Chris Leben be given a slot? I think it’s safe to say Evans will be able to at least round out everyone’s top ten 185 lists.
Evans is coming off a decision win against Dan Henderson at UFC 161 and has proven over the better part of the last decade that he is always a win or two away from earning a title shot, especially in the land of opportunity at 185.
~ #8 ~
Once again I’ll defend my choice here and point out that the rest of the legitimate competitors in the middleweight division, all have one thing in common, with Mousasi as the exception: They have all lost to someone above them, or simply haven’t faced legitimate competition up to this point in their careers.
What makes Mousasi the clear choice here is how he amassed his 34-3 record, even though he only recently joined the UFC. To name a few, he’s beaten Sokoudjou, Ronaldo Souza, Melvin Manhoef, Denis Kang, and even Mark Hunt.
Mousasi’s going to be fighting a very dangerous Lyoto Machida in February and will have the greatest opportunity of advancement in his career to date. Ironically he’s actually ranked ahead of Machida at 205. He sits at 8, while his next opponent rounds out the same list at 10.
The last two on the list are worthy contenders in their own right, but will have to prove they are capable of beating the men listed above them on this list to warrant any serious title talk implications in the near future. Of course this is MMA, I’ve been wrong before, and would appreciate any feedback in the comments section below, or on twitter @mmafreakout.
#9 Mark Munoz
#10 Luke Rockhold