UFC on Fuel TV 4: Chris Weidman and the UFC's Top 10 Middleweight Wrestlers
Though he came up short on two occasions against middleweight champion Anderson Silva, Chael Sonnen laid a blueprint for dethroning the most dominant champion in UFC history.
The fighter who finally beats Silva will need to be skilled in all areas, but a strong wrestling base is essential to take away the titleholder's elite striking.
At UFC on Fuel TV 4, Chris Weidman completely dominated NCAA champion Mark Munoz in the wrestling department before finishing the fight with a stepping elbow on his feet. Also developing some solid jiu-jitsu under Matt Serra, Weidman may be the one to finish what Sonnen started against Silva.
In college, Weidman was a two-time All-American, so it should come as no surprise that he's separated himself as one of the top wrestlers in the middleweight division.
Let's take a look at exactly where he currently stands among the 10 best 185-pound wrestlers.
10. Tim Boetsch
Tim Boetsch couldn't get his wrestling going in his most recent fight against Yushin Okami, but "The Barbarian" tossed Nick Ring and Kendall Grove around the cage at 185 pounds before scoring his come-from-behind win over the Japanese contender.
Ironically, being outwrestled by Phil Davis at light heavyweight led to Boetsch dropping to middleweight. However, Boetsch's newfound size advantage over most opponents has allowed him to take full advantage of his wrestling background.
In his three middleweight contests, Boetsch has already scored 11 takedowns, while only allowing his opponents to score a combined total of two takedowns. If Boetsch does continue his improbable run toward a title shot, his wrestling will play an important role.
9. C.B. Dollaway
C.B. Dollaway's UFC career has had its ups and downs, but his wrestling has never been an issue in any of his 10 appearances inside the Octagon.
During his four-year tenure with the world's premier MMA organization, Dollaway has only been taken down twice. One of those takedowns came in a bout against Goran Reljic, who Dollaway was able to ground on five occasions.
An underdeveloped striking game and suspect submission defense have led to Dollaway's four career losses, but "The Doberman" has never been outwrestled. Dollaway even scored a takedown against NCAA champion Mark Munoz before being knocked out in a March 2011 bout.
Most recently, Dollaway utilized his wrestling to pick up one of the biggest wins of his career against Jason "Mayhem" Miller. However, the victory was significantly overshadowed by a Miller knee injury and Dollaway's inability to mount any offense from the top position.
8. Nick Catone
After a long layoff due to injury, Nick Catone showed some ring rust in his recent appearance against Chris Camozzi, but the Ricardo Almeida-trained fighter remains one of the most skilled grapplers in the middleweight division.
In only six Octagon appearances, Catone has scored 17 takedowns, of which three came against NCAA champion Mark Munoz. Due to his recurring injury problems, it's easy to forget that Catone took Munoz to a narrow split decision and picked up a win over rising 185-pound fighter Costa Philippou.
With losses in three of his past five fights, the 30-year-old Catone needs to turn things around in a hurry if he wants to contend for a title before the end of his career. A renewed strategy focused more on his wrestling could be the key to a reversal of fortunes.
7. Ronny Markes
Despite coming from a Brazilian fight culture that is more focused on jiu-jitsu, Ronny Markes has entered the UFC with takedown ability more commonly associated with high-level wrestlers.
It hasn't been strikers who Markes has been taking to the ground either. Of a combined eight takedowns in two UFC fights, Markes scored six against Czech Republic national champion wrestler Karlos Vemola and two against two-time All-American Aaron Simpson.
With skills extending far beyond his wrestling, the 24-year-old Brazilian is already within striking distance of the middleweight division's contenders.
6. Rich Franklin
Rich Franklin is not the same middleweight fighter he used to be, but returning to 185 pounds will remove the significant size disadvantage the former champion had been facing at light heavyweight.
Toward the end of his first run at middleweight, Franklin scored takedowns against both Anderson Silva and Yushin Okami. Of course, it was a second loss to SIlva that ultimately sent Franklin packing for the 205-pound division, but Franklin's wrestling was never an issue for him at middleweight.
Several of the top middleweight contenders have strong wrestling backgrounds, so Franklin will need to validate his position on this list if he does hope to make a Cinderella title run at 37 years old.
5. Jake Shields
It's been two years since Jake Shields' last middleweight bout, but he's returning to the 185-pound division and will look to use his wrestling to make one more run at a title shot.
While Shields wasn't great during his most recent run as a welterweight, some of the best moments of his career have come at middleweight.
In November 2009, Shields won the Strikeforce middleweight title by taking Jason "Mayhem" Miller down nine times. Shields also defended that belt in his following fight by dragging Dan Henderson to the canvas four times despite being rocked badly in the opening round.
4. Mark Munoz
Mark Munoz did not look like an elite wrestler at UFC on Fuel TV 4, but that was more to Chris Weidman's credit than a true representation of Munoz's ability.
An NCAA champion at Oklahoma State University, Munoz used his wrestling to come within one win of a middleweight title shot, so he certainly isn't lacking on the ground.
Prior to his knockout loss against Weidman, Munoz had scored takedowns against the likes of Nick Catone, Yushin Okami, Aaron Simpson, Demian Maia and Chris Leben.
Beyond taking opponents to the ground, Munoz is lethal from the top position. "The Filipino Wrecking Machine" uses his wrestling to keep his opponents on their backs while he lands devastating ground and pound that has led him to knockout victories over Leben and Kendall Grove.
3. Yushin Okami
Yushin Okami may have some holes in his striking that have led to back-to-back losses, but only three of his 32 career opponents—Chael Sonnen, Rich Franklin and Jake Shields—can argue they have outwrestled the Japanese middleweight en route to victory.
Against Mark Munoz, Okami stuffed a whopping 14 takedown attempts on his way to a split-decision victory. In his first six UFC bouts, Okami was only taken down on one occasion, which came against a former champion in Franklin.
A judo black belt, Okami's wrestling is more clinch-based than the many folkstyle wrestlers on this list, but he's equally effective in taking opponents to the ground and preventing his adversaries from depositing him on his back.
2. Chris Weidman
At Wednesday's UFC on Fuel TV 4, Chris Weidman made one of the best wrestlers in the middleweight division, Mark Munoz, appear novice on the ground.
In a performance that separated him as one of the division's top contenders, Weidman took Munoz down in both the first and second round before scoring a knockout with a stepping elbow.
In five UFC appearances, Weidman has not been taken down and has secured 13 takedowns of his own. It's those type of results that have set the two-time All-American up as the leading candidate for the next shot at middleweight champion Anderson Silva.
1. Chael Sonnen
Until someone else can match what he did to Anderson Silva at UFC 117, Chael Sonnen deserves to be considered the best wrestler in the middleweight division.
Since rejoining the UFC in February 2009, Sonnen has only allowed three takedowns. In the meantime, the outspoken 185-pound fighter has outwrestled some of the division's elite, including the aforementioned Yushin Okami.
Sonnen is currently pondering a move to the light heavyweight division. While it would give him a fresh start, Sonnen would be at a size disadvantage against most of the top fighters in that division.
His usual advantage in the wrestling department could also suffer.
Statistics via FightMetric.com.