The UFC’s Middleweight division is starting to get really interesting. . The next two years might actually see a shift from light heavyweight down to middleweight as the UFC’s marquee weight class. I personally can’t see how one would argue that light heavyweight is anywhere near as competitive at the moment. Including the as yet untested Daniel Cormier, I count exactly 3 men that could possibly where the crown. Nothing against Teixeira, but he’s looked far too vulnerable in his last 2 outings for me to think he can close the distance on Jones without getting seriously hurt. This is in very stark contrast to the middleweight division of today, which has just exploded from a competitive standpoint.
For the better part of a decade there has only been one truly intriguing name at middleweight. The only question on anyone’s mind was: who will Anderson Silva smash next? Now with the belt changing into the capable hands of Chris Weidman, along with the emergence of Vitor Belfort’s kicking game, and the weight cuts of two high profile light heavyweights in Lyoto Machida and Gegard Mousasi. An uncharacteristically competitive picture of the top five is beginning to emerge.
Let’s talk first about the bottom of this theoretical fab five.
Gegard Mousasi is a relative unknown compared to the rest of the fighters on my list. The former Dream and Strikeforce champ of multiple divisions has only had one fight in the octagon, and it wasn't exactly a barn-burner. He basically kept an over-matched Ilir Latifi at bay with superior positioning and a quick flicking jab. Not the most exciting performance, but a safe and smart debut. Especially considering he was fighting on a hurt knee, and that Latifi was a low-profile replacement for an injured Alexander Gustafsson.
Mousasi has been benched for the past six months due to that knee injury, but he’s been looking to finagle his way into a relevant match-up for the entirety of that time. He was campaigning for a shot at Vitor Belfort before the Phenom was matched against Dan Henderson. Now though, Machida has the heat and Mousasi is going for the jugular.
Personally, I would much rather see Mousasi cut his teeth on a surging up and comer rather than an established name. Both he and Machida are legitimate contenders and pose a significant threat to whoever might hold the title after Silva and Weidman compete in December. This being the case, and Francis Carmont having just bored me to death with his lackluster decision over Costa Philipou, it’d be nice to see if Mousasi has the grappling chops to survive and entertain when presented with a Tristar product. Tim Kennedy would be another good option here, assuming he gets past Raphael Natal next week.
I feel the same way about Machida. He’s an instant contender after his starching of Mark Munoz, and it’d be a shame to match him with anyone other than a former contender, such as Belfort or even Chael Sonnen should he decide to drop back down for another chance at a title tilt. I’d be happy with a Machida vs. Bisping match-up too. Give the count one more shot against a legit opponent, and I suspect it would prove that he is a gatekeeper once and for all.
With Anderson Silva having cleared out so many contenders it’s more fun for the fans to see some guys who haven’t had a shot get in there. Which brings us to Vitor, who is undoubtedly deserving of another title shot, but has to be kept at bay if Anderson wins again. If Belfort gets past Hendo at the next UFC fight night, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where he doesn't get a shot should Weidman retain ownership of the belt.
Though that’s a lot of what ifs that will need to fall into place. Should either Belfort or Weidman lose, this effectively puts Vitor back a couple of slots. Not too many, because he’s fighting at light heavyweight, but enough to where he might have to take a fight or two to get back into contention. And at least one would have to be with Machida… Or Mousasi. Really there are just a lot of terrific striking match-up options at middleweight right now.
Finally, you have the two guys at the top of the heap. The Spider and the All American. This is a tough call when it really shouldn't be. On paper, Weidman has this one in the bag. He’s a strategic and powerful striker, he throws punches and kicks in tactically sound attacks, if not always with the technical prowess that Silva is known for, and his grappling is top notch. It would be a shock to see him get submitted from Silva’s guard, and he’s already shown that he can take Silva down and hurt him while he’s got him there. Anderson’s best chance is therefore on the feet, but Weidman has already proven that he can knock the Spider unconscious with forward movement and variety in his combinations.
The only reason this is a tough call, is because I’m so used to seeing Anderson Silva do the impossible. His accuracy and technique on the feet are undoubtedly superior to Weidman’s. He’s been at it too long, and landing sniper like shots on unsuspecting chins the entire time. And while I won’t go as far as to say that Weidman got a lucky punch, (because he didn't, he aimed for Silva’s chin and that’s what he hit, there’s no luck involved there.) I will point out that Silva was out of position and made a tactical and technical error in his attempts to get inside Weidman’s head through his trademark clowning.
I still stand by the fact that Silva has the ability to knock any man on the planet unconscious if you let him find a rhythm. Weidman did a great job of keeping Silva under pressure during the first fight, but there were moments in the second round where he seemed to wilt a small amount under the weight of Silva’s intimidation tactics and sudden flurries. Even the best fighters in the world make mistakes, and in MMA all it takes is a small opening and you’re going out. This is never truer than in a title bout with Anderson Silva.
No matter who wins though, we've got a ton of exciting challengers to the throne all lined up and ready to go. Belfort vs. Weidman, Machida vs. Weidman, Mousasi vs. Silva, or (dare I hope?) Machida vs. Silva, and Sonnen is still in the mix if he ever decides to come back down. Middleweight is more competitive than it has been in a long time, with legit high-quality strikers from diverse backgrounds barking right up the champion’s heels