Once again, some general criteria and notes:
- I place a heavy emphasis on success in UFC contests; I consider two straight in the UFC to be more valuable than ten straight with only one win in the UFC
- I place a heavy emphasis on success in your division; if you’re a top 10 light heavyweight and you drop down to middleweight and lose your first fight, you ARE NOT A TOP 10 MIDDLEWEIGHT
- To achieve top 10 status, you need to beat a top 10 opponent or dominate several top 20 opponents. A top 10 ranking is a huge achievement for any fighter and it must be earned properly
- Subjectivity is a necessary evil. When you get closer to the top of the rankings, it becomes much harder to separate individuals and this is where opinion and analysis can cause rankings to differ greatly
- Fighter’s records are listed as UFC record first (as well as post-Zuffa WEC record if applicable), overall record second (NC = No Contest), current overall winning/losing streak 3rd (W = winning streak, L = losing streak, D = draw)
Three top 20 middleweights will be featured on Saturday’s UFC 150 card. Let’s see where they’re at now and how much a big win could affect their careers.
The Middleweight Rankings
20. C.B. Dollaway (6-4 UFC, 12-4, W1) (Power MMA Team)
“The Doberman” is one of the last fighters to take that Ultimate Fighter push and really run with it. He became known for his brash attitude (and the introduction of the Peruvian necktie to the octagon) and backed it up with a solid 5-1 run. Two vicious knockout losses to Mark Muñoz and Jared Hamman seemed to have left him shell-shocked as he was criticized for utilizing a lay-and-pray strategy against Jason “Mayhem” Miller. Regardless, he won the fight but now faces the difficult task of winning back the fans. He’s currently recovering from a hand injury.
19. Jared Hamman (2-3 UFC, 13-4, L1) (Grudge Training Center)
That 2-3 (1-1 as a middleweight) record and recent loss might not look great, but Hamman owns a TKO victory over Dollaway who you might have noticed sits just one spot lower. When you beat someone definitively like that, you take their spot. See? Rankings are easy. Just for clarification, Tom Lawlor (21) actually choked out Dollaway, but that was three years ago and the impact of wins and losses can diminish over time so that’s why these three gentlemen are where they are. Injuries and family crises have kept Hamman from fighting with any regularity and a win over Michael Kuiper (40) will go a long way towards figuring out his proper place in the rankings.
18. Ronny Markes (2-0 UFC, 13-1, W6) (Nova União)
In the same boat as Hamman, I have Markes ranked this highly because he took Aaron Simpson’s spot when he beat him back in February via split decision. His last three pre-UFC opponents had a combined record of 30-8, including former top middleweight Paulo Filho. I’m probably giving him more credit than he deserves for the Simpson win and his association with Nova União, but I can’t be sure until he steps back into the cage. He’s been nursing a hand injury for some time now. I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt based on his gaudy record and the resilience he displayed in his last fight.
17. Francis Carmont (3-0 UFC, 19-7, W8) (Tristar Gym)
You’re going have some expectations training alongside GSP and Carmont has done well so far in his three UFC appearances. He’s shown an excellent ability to control fights with his takedowns, while constantly pressuring and looking for submissions. Five of the eight wins on his current streak have come via way of tap out (including his last two). At age 30, Carmont is in his prime but the matchmakers have chosen to bring him along slowly, which will undoubtedly pay off for both Carmont and the UFC in the future. Don’t be surprised to see him in the main event of a free TV card sooner rather than later.
16. Constantinos Philippou (4-1 UFC, 11-2 [1 NC], W4) (Serra-Longo Fight Team)
Philippou had an erratic start to his UFC career before settling into a convincing four fight win streak. When I heard “Costa” was going to be part of the TUF 11 cast I had him pegged as a potential favourite. He didn’t even make it into the house, falling to an arm bar by Joseph Henle in the elimination round. The UFC then asked him to replace Dan Miller to face Nick Catone, which he did losing by decision. His next opponent was shuffled again as Riki Fukuda turned into Rafael Natal who then turned into Jorge Rivera when Rivera’s original opponent, Alessio Sakara, suffered an injury. After all that, Costa got his first UFC victory with a split decision win over Rivera.
His boxing based style definitely reflects the Ray Longo portion of the Serra-Longo Fight Team more so than the grappling acumen of Matt Serra. So far Costa has chosen to stand and bang and none of his last four opponents have been able to keep up with him. Steady booking has allowed him to prepare better and have more productive training camps. His ground game is still in question and it will need to be tested before Philippou can move up in the rankings.
15. Ed Herman (7-5 UFC, 20-8, W3) (Trials MMA and Fitness/Team Quest)
It’s now or never for “Short Fuse” as he’s set for the biggest fight of his career against former Strikeforce Middleweight kingpin Jake Shields. It’s no secret that Herman is looking to wrestle, but that doesn’t mean he plays it safe. Of his 7 UFC victories, only one has gone to a decision. He’s finished his last three opponents including a 48 second TKO of Tim Credeur. His last loss was the result of a knee injury and he’s been outstanding since his return. Along with fellow middleweight Michael Bisping (and Matt Hamill who recently declared he’s coming out of retirement), Herman is the only contestant left from season 3 of The Ultimate Fighter, a season he was favoured to win. He might finally be moving towards bigger and better things.
14. Wanderlei Silva (4-7 UFC, 34-12-1 [1 NC], L1) (Wand Fight Team)
Always a tricky guy to rank as his only significant win at middleweight was against Michael Bisping. The Cung Le fight was thrilling, but Le is such an unknown property at this point that it’s difficult to evaluate the value of beating him. At the same time, Silva fights name opponents and only looked bad losing to Chris Leben. Then again, I consider Leben to be the greatest fighter of all time, so that’s not going to hurt Wandy a lot in my personal rankings.
His two losses to Rich Franklin compounded what everyone else already knew: the game has passed Silva by. His kamikaze PRIDE style has been lost in translation ever since he joined the UFC and it’s been a challenge for him to learn new tricks. I thoroughly enjoyed his second meeting with Franklin, a classy contest that was a fine study of two veterans proving that they still have what it takes to compete at this level, but Wandy was clearly out-pointed for the majority of that bout. His high position in my rankings is probably motivated by fondness, but I’m also waiting for someone to step up and take his spot. “The Axe Murderer” doesn’t do hand outs.
13. Rich Franklin (15-5 UFC, 29-6 [1 NC], W1) (Team Extreme)
With one main event win, Franklin finds himself in the thick of the division again. When you consider his previous achievements at middleweight, putting Franklin at number 13 makes sense. He was forced to vacate the division when it was clear he couldn’t topple Anderson Silva, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have the tools to beat any 185’er. He’s got top notch kickboxing, solid cardio and enough experience to compensate for any style. He only has two losses at middleweight (he fought Vitor Belfort at catchweight) and they’re both to the current champion. Silva has mentioned he’d be willing to give Franklin another shot someday, which I have absolutely no interest in. I appreciate everything he’s done though and look forward to his fight with Cung Le in Macau.
12. Chris Leben (12-7 UFC, 22-8, L1) (Icon Fitness MMA)
You may have noticed me referring to Leben as the greatest fighter of all time. This is not an exaggeration. We all know that Silva has been ducking Leben ever since they first met all the way back at UFC Ultimate Fight Night 5 in 2006. I’ve heard people use the words “dominated” and “embarrassed” and “knocked out in under a minute” to describe what happened to Leben that night but I would put it another way: “lucky”. Sure, Silva has gone on to obliterate just about everyone in his path but what does that really tell us? Leben has the most wins in the UFC without receiving a title shot (tied with Bisping) and he did the company a favour by taking that fight with Silva back then, so why no rematch? The Spider is scared!
I really like Chris Leben. I actually caught the Silva fight years after it happened. My first experience with Leben was at UFC 82 when he knocked out Alessio Sakara. I knew nothing about MMA at the time so when I saw Leben walking through punches while hurling haymakers like a mad man I was like, “This guy is unbeatable”. To this day I still feel like he’s got a puncher’s chance against anyone and I’ve even overlooked his two suspensions for banned substances including the one he’s on now. That’s love right there. The number 12 placement isn’t that strange when you consider his wins over Simpson and Wanderlei and his two losses against Brian Stann and Mark Muñoz who I both rank higher than him. I will begrudgingly concede that his best days might be behind him though.
11. Rousimar Palhares (7-3 UFC, 14-4, L1) (Brazilian Top Team)
“Toquinho” is such a frustrating fighter as he’s perpetually on the outside looking in. He’s failed twice to advance his career following the standard UFC formula of winning three or four fights and then stepping up. His first attempt ended with him getting knocked out by Nate Marquardt as he stopped defending himself to protest his opponent’s alleged greasing, an accusation that even he would later admit was wrong. He strung together three more one-sided wins before meeting up with Alan Belcher, who surprised everyone by knocking Palhares out in the first round. Toquinho has everything it takes to be a huge star for the UFC, with terrifying submission skills that harkens back to the days of Royce Gracie. Nobody finishes with leg locks as frequently as this guy. Sadly, his frequent mental lapses might prevent him from ever reaching the upper echelon of the division.
10. Brian Stann (6-3 UFC, 12-4, W1) (Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts/Warrior Legion MMA)
I can see the appeal of Stann: Handsome, well-spoken, ex-Navy, all around good guy. He also passes the eye test as far as his performances go. He’s finished all four of his middleweight opponents, including Chris Leben and former Sengoku Middleweight champ Jorge Santiago. He’s a good fighter, but I’ve seen a lot of talk about how he’s one win away from a title shot and that’s where I’m having trouble. All of the guys he’s beaten are brawlers and the one grappler he faced (Chael Sonnen) made him look like an amateur. I’m not blaming Stann. You can only fight who they match you up with and he’s obviously done well with that. What I fail to see is why he’s consistently ranked higher than this next fighter…
9. Alan Belcher (9-4 UFC, 18-6, W4) (Roufusport)
Since a disappointing loss to Jason Day, Belcher has gone 6-1 inside the octagon. His lone misstep was dropping a controversial split decision to Yoshihiro Akiyama. He submitted high priced import Denis Kang, knocked out Wilson Gouveia, delivered the first Pedigree in UFC history to Patrick Côté, forced Jason MacDonald to tap to strikes and went to the ground to pound out Rousimar Palhares. The Palhares win was stunning because everyone assumed Belcher’s only chance was to keep the action on the feet. Palhares pulled guard as soon as Belcher got close and rather than back away and reset, Belcher jumped right into deep waters. He was nearly submitted, but managed to get free and blasted Palhares with punches until the ref stopped the fight. He’s a legitimate threat to anybody in the division because he has no conscience and I actually love his chances against Anderson Silva should that fight ever materialize. It looks like the matchmakers feel the same way as he’s set to face Vitor Belfort in what should prove to be the most difficult test of his career. A win vaults him to the top of the contenders list.
8. Michael Bisping (12-4 UFC, 22-4, L1) (Wolfslair Academy)
Another fighter who seems like he’s always just short of the top 5, Bisping has performed so consistently over the last couple of years that it’s impossible to deny how far he’s developed as a fighter. He might never have one punch knockout power, but the volume of strikes he dishes out was more than enough to stop Jorge Rivera and Jason Miller. He followed those wins with a strong performance against Chael Sonnen, a fight many thought he won. Add in the fact that he’s one of the most recognizable fighters (reviled in the US, beloved in the UK) on the roster and you can see why it seems like “The Count” is perennially one win away from a shot at the title. His next bout with Brian Stann will undoubtedly be billed as “good vs. evil”, but since the fight is happening in Toronto we’ll probably end up booing both of them.
7. Vitor Belfort (10-5 UFC, 21-9, W2) (Xtreme Couture/TapouT Training Centre)
There was a period there where I couldn’t stand Belfort. I didn’t like that he was given a shot at the title after only one fight back in the UFC (at catchweight no less). Watching him get finished with a front kick to the face was both hilarious and vindicating as it proved (to me at least) that he wasn’t a deserving contender. Don’t get me wrong, when Belfort is on top of his game there’s not a more dangerous finisher in MMA. His last four victories have all come within the first round.
Still, you could make an argument that I’ve got Belfort too high as he’s never beaten a top 10 middleweight. Even if you want to count that Franklin catchweight fight, “Ace” had already lost his lofty ranking by then. The other names are Matt Lindland (out of the UFC), Yoshihiro Akiyama (his third loss in a row) and Anthony Johnson (who missed weight and was in no shape to fight). All three of those guys are no longer part of the UFC’s 185 pound division. His “strength of schedule” is really not that much better than Stann’s. I will make a subjective call here and give Belfort the 7-spot because even though his opponents haven’t been world class, he’s dispatched them in short order. At the very least, he’s taken care of business.
6. Mark Muñoz (7-3 UFC, 2-0 WEC, 12-3, L1) (Reign MMA)
Before getting crushed by Chris Weidman, Muñoz was on a remarkable win streak, defeating four top 20 opponents within the span of a year. Included in that run was a contentious decision victory over Demian Maia, who was top 3 at the time. Muñoz then brutalized Leben in the UFC’s first scheduled five round non-title fight (though it ended in the second). Were it not for the megabucks match-up between Silva and Sonnen, Muñoz might have found himself headlining a PPV alongside The Spider.
After Matt Hamill welcomed him to the UFC with a thunderous head kick KO, “The Filipino Wrecking Machine” made the decision to drop to middleweight. His only losses have been to Weidman and Yushin Okami (another close fight). Muñoz needs to work on his surprisingly poor takedown defence as both of his losses were set up by his opponents controlling the tempo of the fight with well timed shots. He’s blessed with heavy hands and has proven he can run with the big dogs. I wouldn’t be surprised if he one day fights for that belt, though it might be after Silva retires.
5. Yushin Okami (10-4 UFC, 26-7, L2) (Wajutsu Keishukai Tokyo)
It’s tempting to drop Okami down this list after two knockout losses (and I’ve seen many rankings do just that), but when one of those comes at the hands of the champ and the other in a fight he was winning until the last round, how much should that hurt his stock? The loss to Silva was predictable, but that’s a credit to Silva not an indictment of Okami. Tim Boetsch is a lot better than people think (as I will elaborate further on below), undefeated as a middleweight and as powerful as anyone in the division. He got caught by some unorthodox punches in the clinch and went down. It happens.
Before this slump, Okami had compiled an awesome 10-2 record with his only losses coming against Franklin (#2 at the time) and Sonnen (who was soon to be #2). Neither man was able to finish Okami. He holds wins over Belcher, Mike Swick, Evan Tanner, Muñoz and Marquardt. The problem with Okami is that he fails the eye test as there really isn’t one fight or moment in his career that jumps out at you. It wasn’t like the fans were calling for him to fight Silva. He just kept winning so there was really no other option. People even scoffed when Dana White said he was the best Japanese fighter ever in the UFC. The funny thing is he wasn’t wrong.
4. Chris Weidman (5-0 UFC, 9-0, W9) (Serra-Longo Fight Team)
I firmly believe that Weidman is the most intriguing challenger to Silva’s reign since Dan Henderson (UFC 82, March, 2008). I’m not counting Sonnen because he wasn’t viewed as having any chance the first time they met. From what we’ve seen so far, Weidman is a superb athlete with creative stand-up and unstoppable takedowns. By all accounts he’s a jiu-jitsu prodigy, having famously gone the distance with the esteemed André Galvão at the 2009 Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championship. He’s backed that up in the cage, outworking Maia and recording first round submissions of Jesse Bongfeldt and Tom Lawlor. His most recent win, a spine tingling standing elbow KO of Muñoz electrified the MMA world and prompted talks of an immediate title shot. Understandably, Silva’s management team has been reluctant to grant it.
As for why Weidman isn’t in the top three, it’s simple. His biggest wins came against Maia (on his way out of the division) and Muñoz. Muñoz beat Maia to take a top 3 slot, then lost that top 3 slot to Okami. Okami retained that position even after losing to Silva, but had to concede it when he was defeated by this man…
3. Tim Boetsch (7-3 UFC, 16-4, W4) (AMC Pankration)
…that’s right, the third best middleweight in the world: Tim “The Barbarian” Boetsch. I’m going to jump right into the positives before this whole thing derails completely. Boetsch dropped down to 185 last May and made an immediate impact tossing former TUF 3 winner Kendall Grove around the cage like a ragdoll. He followed that up with another solid performance against Nick Ring before being matched up with Okami in what many perceived would be a nice bounce back fight for “Thunder”. Okami won the first two rounds, but by the end of the night it was his head bouncing back from Boetsch’s uppercuts shortly before collapsing to the mat. With that, Boetsch earned himself top 10 status and his reward was a marquee match-up with Hector Lombard, who hadn’t lost a fight in forever. The ensuing match was unforgivably lifeless and from my perspective, Lombard eked out the decision. As it turns out, Boetsch’s aggression and seemingly ineffectual strikes were enough to earn him the split decision and just like that he beat the odds again.
Look, we all saw that fight. Neither man fought anywhere near their best and even though Boetsch got his hand raised, it would be absurd to say he’s suddenly deserving of a title shot. But this is where objectivity and wins and losses have to stand for something. Is he 4-0 at middleweight? Yes. Did he knock out the former number one contender? Yes. Did he end a 25 fight unbeaten streak? Yes. Just looking at the results, there’s nobody I’ve ranked lower than Boetsch who has had a more impressive run at 185 over the last 12 months. Nobody. This #3 ranking might be laughably high, but I don’t see how anyone could place him outside of the top 5 at this point.
2. Chael Sonnen (6-5 UFC, 27-12-1, L1) (Team Quest)
At the end of the movie, Batman totally murders Talia. He’s hovering in the air with the Batwing or whatever and he launches rockets straight at the cab of the vehicle. We clearly see the driver slump over forcing Talia to take the wheel and then she crashes and dies shortly after. Don’t tell me he was just trying to take out the truck. When you shoot rockets at a truck, you’re probably going to kill the people driving it! Now you might say it’s a fitting end to the series because he was also responsible for the death of her father, but one of the major points of the second film is that Batman doesn’t kill anymore. Ras’ death was regrettable, the kind of mistake a young, impulsive Batman would make. You want proof? He spares the Joker! The fact that he lets the Joker live tells you that he doesn’t consider any life to be expendable, even one dedicated to chaos and the misery of others. Not to mention him turning the line about “having my permission to die” on Bane. You can chalk it up to him just sounding like a total badass, but to me it was juvenile and petty.
When he goes to fly the bomb away at the end, the whole thing gets so maudlin. He’s got, like, minutes to spare and he has to take the time to get some sugar from Catwoman. Don’t get me wrong, if Anne Hathaway was standing in front of me dressed in that outfit I’d probably want to sneak in a kiss before getting blowed up, but since we know Bats fakes his death at the end wasn’t that entirely inappropriate? His final moments with Commisioner Gordon are just brutal. He has to give this unbelievably forced line about giving a coat to a boy so that he knows the world isn’t over or some garbage and then we’re given a flashback of the scene in question just in case we were too stupid to remember the events of the first film. Then Gordon has to say, “Bruce Wayne?” to drive the point home further. WE GET IT!
It’s a good movie, I’m just sayin’.
1. Anderson Silva (15-0 UFC, 30-4, W16) (Black House/Chute Box Academy/Team Nogueira)
The champ. The boss. Rick Ross. Numero uno. You would think because there’s nothing to say about Sonnen that I might give Silva the same treatment, but no; that’s the beauty of Anderson Silva. You can’t say enough about his success, his style, his dominance, his mystique. I’ve vacillated between calling him the best ever and someone who has taken advantage of a weak division. The truth is somewhere in between, as it always is.
From an objective viewpoint, Silva’s challengers have been less than spectacular:
- Travis Lutter – A good fighter, but he earned the shot by winning TUF 4. He also missed weight so this actually didn’t even turn out to be a title fight.
- Nate Marquardt – I’ll always wonder how Marquardt would have fared against Silva in a rematch. His biggest wins actually came after losing the title fight, as he took out Martin Kampmann, Gouveia and Maia. This was a fine win, but I think most people would agree that a more experienced Marquardt would have been a stiffer test.
- Rich Franklin – I actually think the second victory over Franklin was just as important as the first as it confirmed Silva’s abilities, but this was also the first indicator of the division’s lack of depth.
- Dan Henderson – The biggest win of Silva’s career. PRIDE was still viewed as the superior brand even after being purchased by Zuffa and Henderson was a respected champion. Silva had had some problems with Lutter’s wrestling and it was thought that if Henderson could implement a similar strategy, he might come out on top. Sure enough, he took the first round but Silva, as only Silva can, locked in on Hendo in the second and hurt him on the feet before securing a rear naked choke. In my opinion, this was the peak of Silva’s dominance. This was over four years ago.
- Patrick Côté and Thales Leites – If anyone can remember how either of these two got title shots you’re truly a more knowledgeable fan than I. I just looked at both of their records and I still have no idea what happened there. It was in these two contests that we saw the emergence of “Evil Anderson”, a man so unimpressed by his competition that he refused to engage them. I don’t entirely blame Silva here as Côté and Leites were totally unprepared for a fighter of his calibre and the onus was on them to make something happen. They never did and what we got were two of the worst title fights in UFC history.
- Demian Maia – Before his loss to Marquardt, there was a lot of buzz around Maia possibly dethroning the champ some day. His Brazilian jiu-jitsu mastery meant he had one skill that nobody, even Silva, could possibly match. Of course, he also had no way of getting Silva to the ground so it was a moot point. It didn’t help that he was replacing Belfort, so there was really no way to hype the fight properly. Evil Anderson reared his head again and Dana White threatened to fire him if he ever did anything like that again.
- Chael Sonnen – Again, Sonnen wasn’t viewed as much of a challenger and Silva was expected to walk through him, which is what made the resulting contest so thrilling. I’m willing to concede that Sonnen is a lot better than we gave him credit for, at least as far as having a style that could neutralize Silva so both victories are huge notches in the champion’s belt.
- Vitor Belfort – I’ve already discussed how I’ve felt Belfort was undeserving of this match, but none of that seemed to matter in the wake of Silva kicking his face off of his face.
- Yushin Okami – Okami was absolutely a worthy challenger, he just didn’t look like it after Silva was done with him.
So other than Franklin, Henderson and Sonnen, you’d be hard pressed to find an opponent who could realistically challenge Silva. On the flipside, that might be because he’s made them all look so bad. It’s the same problem that many superior athletes face. Michael Jordan…Tiger Woods…Roger Federer…is their excellence a result of inferior competition or is the competition inferior as a result of their excellence? I know I’m going to sound like a broken record, but the truth really does lie somewhere in between.
He has displayed a level of striking that is currently unmatched in MMA. His ground game has been the perfect foil for suffocating wrestlers. More than anything, he’s always got that mental edge, that confidence only found in elite athletes. A lot of fighters talk a good game, but you can see it when Silva starts to shuck and jive and target his “lasers” (as Joe Rogan puts it) that the thought of defeat is utterly remote; that anything other than the complete annihilation of the man standing across from him is an impossibility. More than anything that is why, for almost six years, Anderson Silva has been the UFC middleweight champion.
If you’d told me three months ago that I’d be looking forward to writing about the UFC middleweight division, I would have scoffed. Anderson Silva is the best, what else is there to say? Now, with the emergence of Boetsch and Weidman, Belcher and Bisping finally fulfilling their considerable promise and exciting prospects like Mutante, Craig, Carmont and Philippou starting to bloom it looks like the division has some life after all. Outside of Silva and Sonnen it might not have the box office appeal of the two heaviest divisions, but at the same time it also isn’t as top heavy. Whether Silva is finally beaten or simply retires, there’s the sense that division is ready for a changing of the guard and as a fan that is undeniably exciting.