The middleweight division has always captivated audiences for being sort of a tweener division. Much like the light heavyweight division, the men fighting at 185-pounds possess impressive KO power but unlike their 205-pound cousins, possess the speed of the lighter weight classes as well.
The division has been one of the most stable in all of MMA due to Anderson Silva's dominance in recent memory but that doesn't mean there haven't been plenty of fan favorites to cheer. Some of these men became revered for their success both in and out of the cage but others obtained their popularity despite not achieving a great deal of success.
When MMA fans look back upon the division years from now these guys will have to be some of the first names out of their mouths as they're likely to go down as some of the most popular fighters in the middleweight division.
I know it may seem strange to find Michael Bisping on a list like this but fans forget that he was actually a fan favorite during his time on The Ultimate Fighter and for a short time after the show.
Bisping was one of the first international prospects to compete on the show and became a hit while on the show due to his brash personality as well as being an exciting fighter despite not having KO power or a high-level submission game.
That all changed for the Englishman however as his time in the UFC went on and the fans slowly turned against Bisping. The Englishman still enjoys a great deal of international support even if he isn't popular in the States.
Hector Lombard may have been chastised a bit for his dud at UFC 149 but prior to that he was one of the most popular fighters in the middleweight division.
Lombard became the face of any discussion involving a great fighter outside the UFC as he reigned supreme over Bellator's middleweight division. The original Bellator middleweight champion defended his belt only once but faced a number of MMA veterans during his time for the company.
Even though Lombard had his share of detractors for not facing "UFC-level" talent, there were just as many fans to back him as a very talented fighter that could make some noise in the UFC's middleweight division once he crossed over.
Evan Tanner was one of those rugged fighters that wasn't spectacular at any one area of MMA but was still a tough fight for anyone.
Tanner was involved in two of the division's most prominent rivalries in the "good ole days" when he took on Phil Baroni and Rich Franklin. His first fight against Baroni ended in a bit of controversy as Baroni refused to admit defeat. In the rematch, Tanner was the clear victor after controlling the action en route to a decision victory.
Tanner lost his first match up with Franklin at UFC 42 but still managed to work his way to a UFC title shot. The underdog to Cesar Gracie standout David Terrell, Tanner escaped a guillotine choke to win via TKO late in the first round.
It would be the high point of Tanner's MMA career as he lost the title in a rematch against Franklin at UFC 53. After the Franklin bout, Tanner would go just 1-3 in his last four fights.
Tanner was a decent enough fighter to be remembered fondly, but unfortunately he will be most remembered for the personal turmoil he went through. Tanner lived on the wild side out of the Octagon and ultimately it cost him his life as he rode into the desert on his bike, never to be seen from again.
Rich Franklin is commonly known as the ultimate company man but he's also one of the more popular fighters in the middleweight division.
He never let the success go to his head and took on any challenge that came his way throughout his UFC career.
Fans likely forget how good Franklin was due to the dominance displayed by Anderson Silva but "Ace" started his career off by going 22-1-1 prior to being dethroned by Silva.
What also helped Franklin's popularity level was his time on The Ultimate Fighter. Franklin served as a coach on Season two of TUF and also came in to coach opposite Chuck Liddell on Season 11.
Franklin has been showing signs of his age in recent fights but that won't stop fans from tuning in to see the former UFC middleweight champ step into the Octagon.
Chael Sonnen is among the most polarizing figures in MMA history. His very name ignites a reaction whether it be positive or negative from fans and don't even get started on what the man says.
He gets a lot of heat from MMA fans for the WWE-style persona he puts on but Sonnen also receives quite a bit of fan support as well.
Besides the trash talking, Sonnen also has a solid fanbase due to the fact he brings it in every single fight. He doesn't finish fights very often but that's not to say Sonnen is involved in boring battles either, which is shocking given his style.
Even Dana White knows Sonnen is among one of the most popular fighters in the game as the UFC President is on the edge of his seat in anticipation for the buy rates of a pay-per-view featuring Jon Jones vs. Sonnen.
Chris Leben became an instant star in the UFC following his stint on the original Ultimate Fighter season. Leben gained a fanbase after competing on the season but he kept them around by becoming one of the more exciting fighters in the division.
While on The Ultimate Fighter Leben gained fan support after he became the victim of Josh Koscheck and Bobby Southworth's teasing. Leben getting water poured on him while attempting to sleep outside the house and punching a hole through multiple doors remains one of the shows all time memorable moments.
Leben was one of the division's brightest stars prior to being destroyed by Anderson Silva and has certainly had his issues in and out of the Octagon but continues to be must-see TV for MMA fans.
Up until recently, Vitor Belfort was one of those "what if" kind of stories in MMA. As the nickname states, Belfort literally was a phenom in MMA during his early years.
He had arguably the quickest hands in all of MMA but also possessed huge punching power as well. When he punched Wanderlei Silva from one side of the Octagon to the other became an instant staple in any Ultimate Knockouts DVD.
After enduring the personal tragedy with his sister's disappearance, Belfort seemed to struggle with staying focused on his MMA career. When most fighters struggle with their performances, fans generally tend to abandon them, but that didn't happen with Belfort.
If anything it brought more fans to Belfort's side for his ability to continue on with a career that takes so much dedication while he struggled with the personal issues. Belfort eventually turned the corner and recently has shown the talent that earned him the nickname "The Phenom."
The Brazilian has become a very well respected elder statesmen in MMA by both fan and fighter alike. He's still going strong at his old age and remains in title contention.
Anderson Silva has not only been the most dominant champion in middleweight history, he may also go down as the best fighter in the history of MMA.
"The Spider" is an extremely talented fighter with unparalleled striking techniques paired with a slick submission game that can generate a tap out at any moment.
What Silva also has over any man he faces at 185-pounds is an advantage in natural talent. The way Silva can avoid his opponent's strikes is very reminiscent of Roy Jones Jr. in his prime as "The Spider" always seems to be one step ahead.
Silva hasn't enjoyed as much popularity as he probably should have due to his performances against Thales Leites and Demian Maia. His personality also has the tendency to rub fans and fighters the wrong way which hinders what easily should be the most popular fighter in today's world.
The master of "The H-Bomb," Dan Henderson has long heard the roar of the crowd when competing in MMA.
Henderson became a fan favorite due to his laid back personality and by knocking out nearly everyone in his path. He has perhaps the most deadly weapon in all of MMA with the ability to knock anyone out with a single punch.
Despite never winning an UFC title, Henderson will likely be remembered as one of the better fighters of his era and without a doubt one of the most popular. He's never been involved in a boring fight outside of his contest with Jake Shields (name the last time someone had an exciting fight with him though) and had some career defining moments against guys like Wanderlei Silva and Quinton "Rampage" Jackson.
His KO of British bad boy Michael Bisping at UFC 100 will also be Henderson's ultimate highlight.
Although primarily competing in Pride's middleweight division (205-pounds) Wanderlei Silva would be a fan favorite even if he ballooned up to the heavyweights.
He was involved in some of the most violent displays of MMA with Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and became notorious for his overly aggressive style.
It's that offense-minded style that earned "The Axe Murderer" so many fans from Pride and in the UFC. That and the fact that Silva seemingly cares more about entertaining fans than "fighting smart."
The wars he's been in likely could've been avoided if Silva had chosen to use his BJJ black belt more but as long as Silva doesn't regret it, I don't think any fans will be complaining anytime soon. Silva hasn't enjoyed a lot of success since joining the UFC but you wouldn't know that from all the cheers he gets when Darude plays over the PA system.