State of the UFC: Middleweights
With the year half over, and the next UFC card still a few weeks away, now is the perfect time to take a look at what is going on in the five different divisions.
This article will attempt to give a good impression of how the divisional title pictures look, and how different fighters factor into the equation.
The Champ : Anderson Silva has ruled the division since October of 2006. The moments of vulnerability during this time have been few and far between.
When Travis Lutter had Silva mounted and was raining down punches, he gave many in the division hope that while his standup was impregnable, his defense from his back could be exploited.
Many people favored Nate Marquart to take Silva's title.
The switch that Silva pulled off against Marquardt showed that Silva cannot be taken lightly in the grappling department either, and since then, Silva hasn't really shown much weakness.
Recently, though, he's been dominant, but not in the way that the fans have wanted.
He embarrassed Demian Maia, and stole Thales Leites's soul, but never really unleashed the ballet of violent that people had been expecting.
Still, he's shown that he's leagues above the rest of the competition, and it would take an upset of Werdumesque proportions to unseat the champ.
Because of that, the list of contenders in the division is almost best sorted into those who have already lost to Silva, and those who are probably going to get beaten down in the near future.
Those Who Have Yet To Receive A Beating From Anderson Silva
The No.1 Contender: Chael Sonnen has talked his way into a title fight as much as he has fought his way there. But make no mistake: he's earned his title shot.
Wins over Nate Marquardt, Dan Miller, and Yushin Okami more than qualify him as a true title contender. The only question is if he actually poses any threat to the champ.
Sonnen isn't really known for his finishing skills, or his submission skills, and he's not going to be able to stand with Silva for any length of time, so in order to win, he's basically going to need to get takedowns and work his ground-and-pound for five straight rounds.
Dan Henderson did it for one round, but I find it slightly hard to imagine Sonnen being able to pull it off five times without absorbing a flying knee, or some other concussive incident.
The Best Of Those Who Haven't Yet Lost To Silva: Silva has laid waste to the competition at middleweight, but he's yet to defeat Rousimar Palhares, Yushin Okami, and Vitor Belfort.
Vitor Belfort is a threat with his standup, but even then, he should be no match for Silva on the feet. Most likely, the fight would be exciting, but would end with Silva's hand raised.
Palhares is a significant submission threat to Silva on the mat, but in order to be successful, he'd need to be able to get the fight there. He does seem a bit more athletic than Demian Maia, so perhaps he could drag Silva to the mat. In order to get the chance, Palhares would need to defeat Nate Marquardt first, at the very least.
Okami has already beaten Silva — by getting knocked out by an unexpected illegal upkick. You can't count this as a loss for Okami, because it's not his fault that he wasn't defending against attacks that he knew would be illegal. Nevertheless, he was a long way from victory in the fight at the moment the illegal blow occurred, so his victory still has an asterisk beside it.
Okami does have the wrestling to possibly take Silva down, and he has the the guard passing skills that might allow him to gain a dominant position where he can really work his ground and pound. But Silva would still be heavily favored, of course. Mark Munoz is next for Okami.
The Rest Of Those Who Have Yet To Lose To Silva: Alan Belcher, Mark Munoz, Wanderlei Silva, Kendall Grove, and Yoshihiro Akiyama, and Michael Bisping have also not yet fought the champ.
Belcher has talked a big game recently, but he's leagues below Silva in terms of striking. If Belcher gets by Demian Maia, and whoever else he'd need to beat for a title shot, he's only going to get his face melted by Silva.
If Mark Munoz fought Silva, chances are likely that Silva would knock him out in the first round. That said, Munoz probably has the hardest ground-and-pound in the division, and superior wrestling, so if he can somehow manage to get a dominant position on Silva, it would probably be a shocking end to Silva's UFC reign.
Wanderlei Silva doesn't have the technical ability to hang with Anderson Silva. His only chance would be to swarm the champ and hope to land a big shot quickly.
Kendall Grove is in the same boat as Belcher here. Da Spyder would get rightly owned by the Spider on the feet. On the floor, Grove has submission skills, but Silva would have absolutely no motivation to take the fight there when a knockout is so readily available on the feet.
We recently saw that while Akiyama has a hell of a chin, he's incredibly hittable, which doesn't bode well for his chances if he's able to claw his way back into contention. Still, he might be able to make things interesting for Michael Bisping.
Like seemingly everybody else in the division, Bisping is a good striker, but just not on the same level as Silva. He can still win fights against most of the division, but Silva is simply out of reach.
The Already Vanquished: Among those Silva has vanquished, Rich Franklin, Nate Marquardt, Demian Maia, Patrick Cote, Chris Leben, Forrest Griffin, and James Irvin remain in the UFC.
Forrest Griffin and James Irvin aren't middleweights, and Chris Leben was never any sort of threat to Silva.
Rich Franklin is basically the Andy Roddick of the middleweight division. If it wasn't for one supernaturally talented guy living in the same era, he might have been considered the best in the world for quite a while longer. Instead, Rich Franklin will fight "superfights" at 205, but would likely still be considered a top five guy or better at 185 if it wasn't for Anderson Silva.
Nate Marquardt remains an interesting test for Silva, but he still probably needs to put together a couple more big wins to get back in the mix.
Despite what people may think, Patrick Cote was a threat to Silva because of his punching power, and a chin that would allow him to stick around. Still, it's a long way back for Cote now, since his submission loss to Belcher.
Demian Maia likewise had a chance against Silva if he could only get the fight to the floor. He'll need to really work on setting up his takedowns if he's going to have another chance at Silva.
The Wild Cards: Two fighters who could possibly fight Silva at 185 at some point in time.
Georges St. Pierre stands as one man many see as capable of defeating Silva. He's got the takedowns and the guard passing skills, and if he can just sharpen his submission finishes, he has a chance to put Silva away quickly... if he ever decides to move up to middleweight.
Jake Shields also has a blend of wrestling and submission skills, and should be signing with the UFC soon... we hope. The differences between him and St. Pierre are that while Shields is a better submission finisher, Shields's wrestling and ground striking may not be powerful enough to move Silva. He'd probably have a much tougher time getting Silva down, and on the ground he's probably not going to be able to pound out Silva if the submission doesn't come.
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