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Top 10 MMA Fighters of 2010s: Middleweight

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With Anderson Silva’s record setting title reign only covering a portion of the 2010’s, was it enough for him to be the dominant figure at 185 for the decade?

Over the course of the 2010’s, the middleweight division saw several figures reign over the division. The first name that comes to the mind of fans for middleweight dominance is Anderson Silva, the long-reigning kingpin of the UFC from 2006-2013. However, he largely floundered for the rest of the decade. The man who dethroned him, Chris Weidman, did the same thing after he dropped the belt to Luke Rockhold. Can you guess what happened to Rockhold? Yep, he floundered after dropping the belt too. Some may even argue the most dominant middleweight of the decade never held gold as Yoel Romero continues to strike the fear of God into mere mortals. Or could Israel Adesanya be considered the dominant figure of the decade despite coming into prominence late in the decade? All I can promise is major disagreement with my rankings due to the inability of anyone to distinguish themselves over the course of the decade.

1. Anderson Silva: Silva’s decline was rapid, only showing flashes of what made him so special during his record-setting title run. And only half of that run came during the 2010’s… but what a run it was! Even if the Demian Maia fight was miserable to watch, it was dominant. Then there’s the Hail Mary submission of Chael Sonnen, the front kick to the face of Vitor Belfort, the toying of Yushin Okami, and the deconstruction of Sonnen in their rematch. It’s difficult to name a similar run against a high level of competition that was so spectacular. Some would say his lone victory after he lost the title – over Derek Brunson — was undeserved, but just as strong of an argument could be made that he KO’d Michael Bisping in the middle of their contest that ultimately went in favor of the Brit. Regardless, what Silva lacks in terms of longevity – for the decade, not overall – he makes up for with a style and air of invincibility only he’s capable of.

2. Luke Rockhold: Like many others on the list, Rockhold had a steep decline, winning a single fight after dropping the belt to Bisping. However, his run over the decade is one of the most understated of the decade. He took the Strikeforce belt from Jacare Souza before successfully defended it against Keith Jardine and Tim Kennedy. After dropping his UFC debut to Belfort – the TRT version — Rockhold devoured his opposition in spectacular fashion on his way to the title. If you don’t remember his body kick to Costas Philippou or his kimura of Tim Boetsch, I highly recommend checking them out. Plus, the beating he put on Weidman to claim the title was one of the worst beatdowns in MMA history. For some reason, Rockhold couldn’t capture the MMA audience the way his talents would have indicated.

3. Jacare Souza: Because Jacare has never been the most vocal figure, he tends to get overlooked. Need proof? Despite an eight-fight win streak, the UFC failed to award him a well-deserved title shot at any point. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t a champion, claiming the Strikeforce middleweight title in 2010 over Kennedy and defending it against Robbie Lawler. Over the course of the decade, Jacare claimed wins over Okami, Belfort, and Weidman as well. Depending on how one would qualify Demian Maia, Jacare has a case as the best BJJ practitioner in the history of the division as well, securing seven of his fifteen wins over the decade via submission. It’s possible Jacare is amongst the most underrated fighters in the history of the sport.

4. Chris Weidman: Weidman ensured he’d have a prominent place in the annals of MMA when he not only ended the dominant reign of Silva, but successfully defended the belt in the rematch. Some may say it was a fluke as Silva broke his leg, but it was a Weidman kick check that did the job. Subsequent title defenses against Lyoto Machida and Belfort proved his legitimacy before the wheels came off following the brutal loss to Rockhold. Weidman’s chin went MIA, losing five of his last six to close the decade, all by KO/TKO. The skid ensured Weidman’s legacy wouldn’t approach the man he dethroned, but his run to open his career – including a horrific KO of Mark Munoz — was one of the best in history.

5. Michael Bisping: Bisping was never the most dominant figure in the division at any point of the decade, not even when he was the reigning UFC champion. His 12-7 record isn’t the stuff of legends. However, Bisping was always there. It could even be stated he was always the guy. Who was it everyone was always calling out? Bisping. He always made weight. He overcame the loss of an eye to become champion. It’s not like he was losing to unheralded talent either. All his losses came against title challengers of major organizations at some point in their careers, so long as we’re including interim titles. Plus, his win over Rockhold to claim the title was one of the greatest upsets in MMA history. Consistency has to count for something and Bisping was the most consistent middleweight competitor of the 2010’s.

6. Israel Adesanya: Without several skids amongst his competition, Adesanya probably wouldn’t have made it this high given the short amount of time he spent in the spotlight for the decade. However, it proved to be one of the most historic runs in MMA history, winning his first seven UFC contests in route to claiming the middleweight title from Robert Whittaker less than two years after Adesanya’s UFC debut. Along the way, he defeated Anderson Silva on a night the Brazilian managed to turn back the clock and had an all-time classic with Kelvin Gastelum. For now, Adesanya stands as the easy favorite to be the dominant middleweight for the 2020’s.

7. Robert Whittaker: Whittaker had a similar run to Adesanya to open up his middleweight career in the UFC, taking his first eight contests. The Aussie launched himself into the spotlight by being the first to stop Jacare Souza in nearly a decade, then claiming the interim title in a classic come-from-behind victory over Romero. Their second contest would have been Whittaker’s lone successful title defense, but Romero missed weight to take away that notch on Whittaker’s belt. Names like Brunson, Uriah Hall, Brad Tavares, and Rafael Natal aren’t quite on the same level as some of the other names Whittaker’s competition on this list have taken down, but it could also be stated they were all at their peaks when Whittaker beat each of them, most never to approach those levels again.

8. Yoel Romero: I feel like I’m committing a travesty by putting Romero this low. Despite being ranked at this spot, many would agree Romero may very well be the scariest fighter in the history of the middleweight division, regardless of the era. His flying knee KO of Weidman. The grounding out of Machida with his elbows. The vicious finish of Rockhold. It could even be argued the losses he suffered were arguably wins. The problem is Romero tainted his legacy with his inability to make weight towards the end of the decade, costing himself an opportunity to claim an interim title. Romero’s inability to unarguably claim to be the best middleweight at any point – being unable to win the title — during the decade hurts him too.

9. Gegard Mousasi: Had he spent the entirety of the decade at middleweight, Mousasi might have been able to climb higher. The move had a bit of a rocky start, dropping two of his first three contests at 185 to Machida and Jacare, only for the Dreamcatcher to rattle of ten wins in his next eleven appearances, claiming the Bellator middleweight championship along the way. The lone loss in that stretch, Uriah Hall, was avenged with other subsequent victories coming against Weidman, Belfort, and Rory MacDonald. Did I mention Mousasi also avenged his loss to Machida to close out the decade?

10. Vitor Belfort: A controversial figure ever since his UFC debut all the way back in 1996, the most controversial period of Belfort’s career was also his most dominant. Belfort’s 2013 may have been the single best year of any fighter, securing highlight reel finishes over Bisping, Rockhold, and Dan Henderson. It’s not like Belfort’s 2013 was the only good year either. Dominant wins over Yoshihiro Akiyama and Anthony Johnson came prior to that. Belfort faded hard after TRT was outlawed in the UFC, but TRT Vitor became the stuff of legend. Here’s how I look at it: Belfort did everything he could within the rules to win. What he was doing outside the rules, I can’t say, but without positive knowledge of illegal activity, I give all fighters – including Belfort – the benefit of the doubt. After all, I rated Silva #1 and he had two PED suspensions….

Honorable Mentions: Lyoto Machida, Chael Sonnen, Hector Lombard, Alexander Shlemenko, Tim Kennedy

Machida spent the first four years of the decade at light heavyweight before age and suspensions took their toll. Had he spent the entirety of the decade at 185, it’s an assurance he would have made the list. Sonnen came thisclose to dethroning Silva and is the greatest rival Silva ever had. Lombard was one of the scariest men in MMA during his reign as Bellator middleweight champion. The wheels fell off when he got to the UFC. Shlemenko was one of the busiest high profile competitors of the decade, winning 27 fights and defending the Bellator title three times, but lacked signature wins. Kennedy was a two-time Strikeforce title contender who was active military throughout his fighting career, but never got over the hump.