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Predicting the UFC Year-End Rankings: Middleweight

Andrew SaundersCorrespondent IIJune 14, 2013

Predicting the UFC Year-End Rankings: Middleweight

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    The title picture for the UFC middleweight division must have a revolving door. Unlike other weight classes in the organization, very few fighters are able to maintain a top ranking.

    UFC 162 is less than one month away, and with three pivotal fights taking place at 185 pounds, it has the ability to reshape the face of the division.

    Those of you familiar with Bleacher Report MMA know that we love to whip out the crystal ball and gaze into the future.

    After considering everything on the books and several variables that aren't, here is a look at where the UFC middleweight rankings will stand at the end of 2013.

Current Standings

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    Official rankings courtesy of UFC.com.

    Champion: Anderson Silva

    1. Chris Weidman
    2. Vitor Belfort
    3. Yushin Okami
    4. Michael Bisping
    5. Ronaldo Souza
    6. Costa Philippou
    7. Luke Rockhold
    8. Mark Munoz
    9. Chael Sonnen
    10. Tim Boetsch

10. Roger Gracie

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    Current Standing: Not Ranked

    Upcoming Fight: vs. Tim Kennedy at UFC 162 

    While the Strikeforce heavyweight division was the talk of the MMA world in 2011, its crop of homegrown middleweight talent will take over the UFC in 2013. 

    At UFC 162, imports Roger Gracie and Tim Kennedy will square off on a card headlined by a divisional title fight.

    The matchup will be closely contested, which makes this prediction hard to bank on. It's unlikely that this fight will remain standing throughout, and the jiu-jitsu phenom has the skills to finish any fight in a single ground exchange. 

    This win will move Gracie to 3-0 as a middleweight.

    The grandson of Carlos Gracie will fight once again before the end of the year, although it will come against an unranked middleweight like Ronny Markes or Tom Watson. Winning that fight will slide Gracie into the bottom of the Top 10. 

9. Cung Le

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    Current Standing: Not Ranked

    Upcoming Fight: None

    Currently, Le is rehabbing an elbow injury and has expressed the desire to fight Michael Bisping upon his return. However, I don't think that matchup is as likely as one with Chris "The Crippler" Leben.

    Leben is currently scheduled to fight Andrew Craig at UFC 162. Should The Ultimate Fighter bad boy come out victorious, fans will be clamoring for a matchup with Le.

    While a victory over Leben wouldn't earn Le a place in the rankings, it would be his third consecutive win over a quality name. In his last two appearances, the tae kwon do master defeated title challenger Patrick Cote and former UFC champion Rich Franklin.

8. Costa Philippou

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    Current Standing: No. 6

    Upcoming Fight: None

    Costa Philippou has a flawless record of 5-0 as a UFC middleweight. In December, the Serra-Longo fighter picked up the biggest victory of his career when he scored a TKO over Tim Boetsch.

    Philippou was scheduled to fight Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza in May, but a back injury suffered during training pulled him from the contest.

    Later this year, Philippou will return and face Mark Munoz. He will lose an entertaining fight via ground-and-pound. 

7. Luke Rockhold

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    Current Standing: No. 7

    Upcoming Fight: None

    For those of you wondering why I don't think Cung Le vs. Michael Bisping is in the cards, it is because I think a fight between "The Count" and former Strikeforce champion Luke Rockhold is more likely.

    In late May, Rockhold and Bisping traded verbal jabs on Twitter. Although Bisping seemed dismissive of the AKA fighter, this is a marketable matchup between two guys on similar rungs of the UFC middleweight ladder.

    In fact, both men were expected to receive title shots had they defeated Vitor Belfort, but both of them were knocked out via head kick.

    While Bisping vs. Rockhold promises to be a close fight, I have to lean slightly on the side of Bisping. The scrap will be close enough that Rockhold will not drop lower in the rankings.

6. Mark Munoz

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    Current Standing: No. 8

    Upcoming Fight: vs. Tim Boetsch at UFC 162 

    "The Filipino Wrecking Machine" returns to action for the first time in nearly a year when he takes on Tim Boetsch at UFC 162. Boetsch is currently ranked No. 10 in the division.

    Munoz has outstanding wrestling and even better ground-and-pound. Considering that neither man has a definitive advantage in the stand-up, the floor work from Munoz will make all the difference in their fight.

    After the summer win, Munoz will fight again later in the year. A matchup with Costa Philippou is a likely bet. It's also one that I see Munoz taking home.

    Two wins in 2013 will bump Munoz two spots in the divisional rankings.

5. Yushin Okami

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    Current Standing: No. 3

    Upcoming Fight: vs. Ronaldo Souza at date TBD

    Although a date has yet to be announced, Dana White has already confirmed that Yushin Okami vs Ronaldo Souza is in the works. Many believe that the middleweights will do battle when Zuffa returns to Brazil at UFC on Fox Sports 1: 3.

    While Okami has smothered his way into contention and even competed for the UFC championship, a fight with Souza does not favor him. His Brazilian opponent has world-class submission skills and crisp striking that will give "Thunder" fits everywhere that the action goes.

4. Michael Bisping

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    Current Standing: No. 4

    Upcoming Fight: None

    Michael Bisping just can't seem to do enough to get the UFC title shot that he has long sought. Despite being put in three title eliminators, "The Count" has come up short in fights with Dan Henderson, Chael Sonnen and Vitor Belfort.

    Currently, Bisping is recovering from surgery to repair a detached retina. He hopes to return to the Octagon in October.

    As mentioned on previous slides, Bisping wants to fight Cung Le. However, that doesn't seem as likely as a pairing against Luke Rockhold.

    Rockhold will prove to be a formidable adversary; however, Bisping will get back onto the winning side of things in a hard-fought battle.

3. Ronaldo 'Jacare' Souza

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    Current Standing: No. 5

    Upcoming Fight: vs. Yushin Okami at date TBD

    Question: Who do you put in the cage to take on a guy who uses a smothering top game to win all of his fights?

    Answer: A world-class grappler capable of submitting any middleweight on the planet.

    Later this year, "Jacare" Souza will pick up his fifth consecutive win when he defeats No. 3 Yushin Okami at an event to be determined. Considering that the Brazilian will have more momentum than most in the division, he will take over Okami's current spot with this victory.

2. Vitor Belfort

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    Current Standing: No. 2

    Upcoming Fight: None

    What exactly does Vitor Belfort need to do to secure another title fight? After all, the Phenom has spent the first half of 2013 knocking out top contenders Michael Bisping and Luke Rockhold but to no avail.

    Currently, Belfort is hoping for Anderson Silva to dispatch of Chris Weidman at UFC 162. That is the most likely scenario that leads to a championship rematch with "The Spider."

    However, a return to light heavyweight isn't out of the picture either. After a season of coaching TUF: Brasil, a rematch between Belfort and Wanderlei Silva would be well received by Brazilian fans and could headline any non-pay-per-view card later this year.

1. Anderson Silva

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    Current Standing: Champion

    Upcoming Fight: vs. Chris Weidman at UFC 162

    Put down your laptop. Do not throw it at your wall. That will not solve anything.

    While Anderson Silva has been flawless inside the Octagon throughout his 16-fight tenure, the longtime middleweight champion is about to hit a major road bump. 

    At UFC 162, "The Spider" takes on undefeated prospect Chris Weidman, who has standout skills in wrestling, jiu-jitsu and kickboxing. Although Silva would win a pure striking matchup, Weidman will be able to score quick takedowns in each round.

    Weidman will win a decision, and the UFC will look to pit the two in a rematch somewhere around Super Bowl weekend of next year.

Champion: Chris Weidman

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    Current Standing: No. 1

    Upcoming Fight: vs. Anderson Silva at UFC 162

    Let's be clear: I do not take to this sort of prediction lightly. Anderson Silva is one of the top stars on the planet, and I do not think that his skills are deteriorating, despite the fact that the 38-year-old has seen the wear and tear of 37 professional MMA bouts over the course of 16 years.

    For those of you currently calling me a moron, that is OK. I expect backlash for predicting the downfall of The Spider. However,  you cannot deny that Silva has been susceptible to takedowns from standout wrestlers. 

    While you will likely point to Silva's ability to shut down Chael Sonnen twice, I do not see Silva being able to keep this fight standing. In addition, Weidman is a quality grappler who will not be caught in a foolish submission.

     

    How do you see the middleweight division at the end of the year? Let us know in the comment section below.

    Feel free to check out the other articles in this series:

    Predicting the UFC Year-End Rankings: Heavyweight

    Predicting the UFC Year-End Rankings: Light Heavyweight

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    Andrew Saunders is a Featured Columnist with Bleacher Report. He will mail you a package full of warm chocolate chip cookies if you follow him on Twitter.

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