Following Israel Adesanya’s impressive second round TKO of number one contender Paulo Costa, much of the debate online centred around where the New Zealander ranked amongst the all time middleweight greats. Following the inception of the division in 2001, eleven men have held the belt over the course of the past nineteen years, but where does Adesanya fit amidst the other middleweight champions?
11. Dave Menne
Dave Menne became the inaugural UFC middleweight champion when he claimed a unanimous decision win over the previously undefeated Gil Castillo at UFC 33 on the 28th September 2001. Menne was making the walk to the cage for the 40th time when he won the belt, extraordinary when you consider he only made his professional debut four years earlier in 1997. His reign didn’t last long, as he was dethroned in his very first defence by Murilo Bustamante and never had his hand raised in a UFC Octagon again, overall going 2-4 in the promotion.
10. Evan Tanner
Having fought as high as heavyweight during his younger days, and initially making a name for himself in the UFC at light heavyweight, it was at 185 lbs that Evan Tanner enjoyed most success. Making the drop down to middleweight in 2003, Tanner put together two wins over Phil Baroni and a first round submission over future welterweight champion Robbie Lawler to earn a shot at the vacant belt. It took the Texas native little over four minutes to finish David Terrell, writing his name in the history books forever. However, this was to be the highlight of his career as he lost the belt to Rich Franklin in his first defence, and then went on to lose three of his last four before his tragic death in September of 2008.
9. Luke Rockhold
On talent and ability alone, Rockhold might find himself much higher on this list, as when he captured the belt after a fight of the night contest with Chris Weidman, it seemed the AKA star would enjoy a long reign afoot the division. However, just 175 days later Rockhold had been relieved of his title after late replacement Michael Bisping landed a big left hook in a huge upset win. Since then Rockhold hasn’t looked the same and through a string of injuries and flat performances, resulting in KO losses to Yoel Romero and Jan Blachowicz, questions have been asked over his future in the sport. But what can’t be denied is his run during 2014-2015 ranks amongst the most impressive title runs the sport has seen.
8. Murilo Bustamante
A world Jiu-Jitsu gold medalist in 1999, Murilo Bustamante only had a 1-1 record in the UFC when he was given the chance to challenge Dave Menne for the middleweight championship, and finished him in the second round to become only the second 185 lbs champion in the organisations history. The Brazilian returned four months later to make his first defence, submitting Matt Lindland to take his overall record to 9-1-1. Bustamante then decided to leave the UFC to sign with PRIDE, being stripped of his belt and embarking on a less than successful spell with the Japanese promotion, losing his first three and going 4-5 with the company.
7. Michael Bisping
Britain’s first and so far only UFC champion looked to have missed his chance as he approached his late 30’s, twice losing title eliminators and frequenting the top ten for much of his decade with the company. Then one summer night in 2016 that all changed as a 37 year old Bisping shocked the world in stopping the then invincible Luke Rockhold who had previously beat him two years prior. Bisping then gained some revenge in beating rival Dan Henderson in his first defence, a rematch of their 2009 clash which ended with Bisping being brutally KO’ed. Then came the glamour bout with welterweight legend Georges St-Pierre, who rolled back the years to stop Bisping in the third round, ending his unlikely title reign in November of 2017.
6. Georges St-Pierre
Georges St-Pierre is undoubtedly the welterweight GOAT and has a very real claim to be considered the greatest pound-for-pound fighter of all time. And its his exploits at middleweight that add serious validity to that claim, as after taking a four year break from competing, St-Pierre returned seamlessly to dethrone Michael Bisping of his 185 lbs belt with a third round rear naked choke. The Canadian vacated the belt shortly after, as he suffered from Ulcerative Colitis and didn’t want to hold the division up, and having recovered from his prior ailments, a now 39 year old St-Pierre has teased another comeback in another division, with Khabib’s lightweight title very much in his sights.
5. Robert Whittaker
While not officially recording a title defence after missed weight and injuries hindered his reign, Australia’s Robert Whittaker’s two wins over Yoel Romero cement him as one of the elite middleweight champions. Initially becoming interim champion as he waited for Michael Bisping and Georges St-Pierre to contest the full title, Whittaker beat Romero via unanimous decision in July 2017, and then repeated the feat the following year despite Romero missing weight. An injury just hours before his title defence against Kelvin Gastelum forced him out of his next defence, and then Whittaker looked flat in his unification with fellow Oceania middleweight Israel Adesanya, being stopped fairly comforatbly in round two. A return win over Darren Till breathed fresh life into his career, and a win over Jared Cannonier later this month could see him claw his way back to title contention.
4. Rich Franklin
Rich Franklin was the first great UFC middleweight champion, compiling a near perfect 22-1 (1NC) record and was the first man to rack up more than one title defence. The Ohio born southpaw was victorious in his first seven UFC contests, winning the belt against Evan Tanner and racking up defences against the likes of Nate Quarry and David Loiseau. His third defence came against a Brazilian with only one prior UFC fight to his name and four losses on his record, little did we know at the time that Brazilian was Anderson Silva who would go on to dominate the division for the next six years. Thereafter Franklin traded wins and losses, whilst fighting the elite of the middleweight and light heavyweight divisions.
3. Chris Weidman
Chris Weidman was given little chance when he stepped into the cage against the legendary Anderson Silva in 2013, Silva had made more successful defences than Weidman had had fights, so when ‘The All-American’ knocked the Brazilian out cold the whole MMA world went into meltdown. A rematch five months later ended in bizarre fashion as Silva snapped his left tibia and fibula after Weidman checked a kick. Further defences followed against Lyoto Machida and Vitor Belfort, before he finally came unstuck against fellow American Luke Rockhold. Since then he’s lost four of his last six and at 36 doesn’t seem likely to trouble the top five of the division any time soon.
2. Israel Adesanya
To put it simply Adesanya is the most sophisticated striker MMA has ever seen, with 100 wins in professional combat sports across three different codes (kickboxing, boxing and MMA). The New Zealander has won nine UFC fights in three years and is well on his way to cleaning out the division, already holding wins over the likes of Anderson Silva, Kelvin Gastelum, Robert Whittaker, Yoel Romero and Paulo Costa. The 31 year old has teased super fights with Jon Jones and has even not ruled out a move to heavyweight, a division he has competed in during his kickboxing career. Adesanya could well finish his career as the GOAT.
1. Anderson Silva
Anderson Silva’s legendary run atop the middleweight division is something we are unlikely to witness again, as it wasn’t just the wins that cemented him as an all time great, but the way in which he dispatched his contemporary’s with such ease and often in spectacular fashion that made that period so enjoyable to watch as a fan. The bizarre way his reign ended doesn’t sit right with some fans and his late career decline has been hard to watch at times, but it is undeniable ‘The Spider’ is the best middleweight of all time and its going to take someone extremely special to topple him from his throne.