In 2000, the New Jersey Athletic Control Board started regulating mixed martial arts, instituting stricter rules and more weight classes. The UFC added the new divisions, including middleweight, starting with UFC 31 back in 2001.
For the better part of a decade, Anderson Silva has lorded over the UFC's middleweight division.
However, prior to "The Spider's" domination, there were four other men who had the distinct honor of holding the middleweight title.
These fighters have all made an indelible impression on the landscape of the middleweight division.
This is a list chronicling the defining moment of each champ's career. These are the moments that not only epitomize the fighters' determination, but also their warrior spirit.
Reign: Sept. 28, 2001 to Jan. 11, 2002 (105 days)
Dave Menne became the middleweight champ when he defeated Gil Castillo via unanimous decision at UFC 33 in 2001.
Defining moment: When Menne got the opportunity to fight for the inaugural middleweight belt, he had already competed in nearly 40 professional bouts.
The championship tilt was an uneventful and decidedly boring fight.
This bout and the entire UFC 33 card has been widely viewed as one of the worst in the promotion's history. UFC President Dana White has stated unequivocally that "UFC 33 is the only [card] I can remember where every fight sucked." (via tapology.com).
Regardless of this fact, Menne will always hold a place in UFC history as the organization's first middleweight champ.
Reign: Jan. 11, 2002 to Oct. 5, 2002 (267 days)
Murilo Bustamante snatched the strap from Menne at UFC 35. He clipped Menne early in the second round and followed up with series of unanswered punches, forcing the ref to stop the fight.
Bustamante defended his belt against the then-undefeated Matt Lindland, who was coming off a TKO victory over Pat Miletich. He won the fight via guillotine choke, but was stripped of the title when he left the UFC for Pride.
Defining moment: The most defining moment of Bustamante's career didn't come inside the Octagon, but rather within the confines of Pride's ring.
In his first bout with the organization, Bustamante stepped in for teammate Ricardo Arona to take on Quinton "Rampage" Jackson in the Pride Middleweight Grand Prix Quarterfinal. He accepted the fight on only five days notice.
"Rampage" should have destroyed Bustamante, but instead the two combatants battled for the full 20-minutes in a lively back-and-forth affair.
Bustamante ended up on the wrong side of a split decision, but the fight served to underline his legacy as a fearless competitor.
Reign: Feb. 5, 2005 to June 4, 2005 (119 days)
Evan Tanner knocked out David Terrell to capture the vacant middleweight belt at UFC 51.
Defining moment: This victory over Terrell was the defining moment of Tanner's career. It wasn't just that he became the middleweight champ, but that he had to battle through serious adversity.
Early on in the bout, Terrell caught him in a tight guillotine. It looked as if Tanner would be forced to tap or go to sleep. He escaped Terrell's grasp and wound up in his guard.
Tanner then put on a ground-and-pound clinic, finishing Terrell inside the first round.
After losing the belt to Rich Franklin in his first title defense, Tanner went on a skid, dropping three of his last four fights. He was in the process of mounting a comeback, but he tragically passed away during a desert camping trip. Tanner was only 37.
His death was a huge blow to the MMA community, though his legacy as a true gladiator in the cage will never be forgotten.
Reign: June 4, 2005 to Oct. 14, 2006 (497 days)
Rich Franklin defeated Evan Tanner at UFC 53 to claim the title. He then became the first champion to successfully defend the belt more than once. He handily beat Nate Quarry and David Loiseau before running headlong into the immovable force that is Anderson Silva.
Defining moment: Franklin is a fighter blessed enough to have a series of moments that have defined his illustrious career.
Many will remember Franklin for his highlight-reel knockouts of Quarry and former light heavyweight champ Chuck Liddell, but the most defining moment of his career has to be his rematch with Wanderlei Silva at UFC 147.
"The Axe Murderer" tagged Franklin with a hard right hand midway through the second round. Silva swarmed and unloaded with every power punch in his arsenal, but Franklin survived the onslaught.
He then proceeded to pick Silva apart for the next three rounds en route to an improbable unanimous-decision victory and another Fight of the Night bonus.
Franklin's heart and never-say-die attitude were on display in this epic fight for the ages.
Reign: Oct. 14, 2006 (incumbent)
Anderson Silva was granted a title shot in only his second fight with the UFC.
At UFC 64, he seized on the opportunity and knocked out Rich Franklin with vicious Muay Thai knees in the first round.
Since that bout, Silva has racked up innumerable accolades. He has the most consecutive wins (16), most finishes (14) and most successful title defenses (10) in UFC history. "The Spider" has essentially cleaned out the middleweight division.
Silva is set to put his belt on the line for a record 11th time against Division I wrestler Chris Weidman at UFC 162 in July.
Defining moment: Silva's whole career is comprised of defining moments. Every time he steps inside the cage, there is the possibility something amazing will happen.
"The Spider's" career-defining moment came in his first fight with Chael Sonnen at UFC 117.
Sonnen dominated the seemingly indestructible champ for four straight rounds. He utilized superior wrestling to drag Silva to the canvas and soften him up with old-fashioned ground-and-pound.
Going into the fifth round, Silva was way behind on the scorecards and would need a finish to hang onto the belt.
"The Spider" was able to pull off a miracle and submit Sonnen with a triangle armbar. This come-from-behind victory further cemented Silva's legacy as the greatest middleweight in UFC history.