I’m about to say something many of you will find ridiculous: the UCF middleweight division is, without question, the most compelling in the promotion. I’m dead serious.
I don’t have any hard data to support this, but I get the feeling most fans would rank middleweight as the division they like the least. Even among pundits, you catch some snide remarks now and again. The biggest fights are at heavyweight, the biggest stars are at light heavyweight, welterweight is the deepest, and lightweight has been re-energized thanks to the WEC merger and the shockingly amazing Edgar/Maynard I. Middleweight? The division under the complete ownership of one of the UFC’s least popular champions of all time. No legitimate challengers left, the UFC brass has been forced to look outside the division for a title fight people will pay to see. And yet, my statement remains. As far as I’m concerned, the middleweight division is king.
Gather round children, as I tell the bard’s tale. And if at the end of this story to ye, unconvinced be ye by me, a schilling and three go to ye from me.
Let me start off by apologizing for that last sentence. I realize it probably started my argument off on the wrong foot. And I know writing like a character from the renaissance fair is not a very cool move. It was in my head, and then before long it was on the page. Screen. And that’s alllllz I know! Jesus.
Let’s talk about the UFC middleweight division. And no, I’m not going to turn this into an Anderson Silva fanboy ramble. Silva is amazing, truly amazing, but he’s just one man. He can’t carry an entire division on his back. And to be honest, I’m like a lot of fans in that for whatever reason Silva isn’t one of my favorite fighters. I know how great he is, but his fights don’t excite me nearly as much as most other main events. At UFC 126 I had bigger butterflies before Jones vs Bader. I’m not trying to downplay the Spider here, but he isn’t why I love the division.
Question: Who is the one UFC fighter guaranteed to put on a great fight every time in the cage?
There are many potential answers to his question, but if this was family feud I’m guessing three of the four names the survey says would be Chris Leben, Wanderlei Silva, and Yoshihiro Akiyama. There are plenty of exciting fighters. Those guys are exciting every single time. No matter how overmatched they are, they fear no man. They are willing to stand in front of literally anyone and let that person work their game unmolested. All they ask is a chance to fire back. A lot of fighters talk about fighting that way. Very few consistently do it.
The division is absolutely overflowing with fights for these three guys. They can move up, and provide a better, but less popular fighter a much needed exciting win. They can move down, sell a match with a lesser fighter, and pick up a career-rejuvenating win. Or they can fight one of the many other talented strikers struggling to crack the top 10. Brian Stann, Jorge Rivera and Alan Belcher are all opponents I’d love to see fight any of the aforementioned big three. Fireworks would be absolutely, 100% guaranteed. Some of these guys have already fought each other. Every one of those fights was awesome. No other division has this many exciting, mid-level fighters. Leben, Akiyama, Wandy, Rivera, Belcher, Stann. None of those guys are even in the top 10 and I’m interested in seeing them fight literally anyone.
Let’s see, what else. Well, there’s MMAs best trash-talker (Chael Sonnen), best jiu-jitsu practitioner (Demian Maia), and best villain (Michael Bisping). There’s Vitor Belfort, who is likely headed for a tour with the aforementioned knockout squad in the middle of the division. There’s Nate Marquardt, with his Jesus-thanking and his never-ending talk of how much he loves his team. Add that to the “he’s never fought this Nate Marquardt” routine and the “I’m better than the guy who just beat me” routine and Marquardt has got to be on the short list for biggest tool in MMA, right? At his best, he’s one of the most impressive fighters in the world. A match for any man. At his worst, there is nobody more fun to root against. A boon to any division.
And, of course, there’s Yushin Okami, the division’s Jon Fitch. Most of you probably aren’t into Okami, and I can’t blame you for that. His style isn’t the most fan friendly. But if used correctly, Okami can be a boon to the division. He’ll beat the pretenders and lose to the cream of the crop. And if he happens to beat the cream of the crop you can deny him a deserved title shot and nobody will care! If you can look the other way on a snoozer or two, Okami is a valuable guy.
I don’t even know where Jorge Santiago fits in. But I’m definitely excited about it. If they could somehow swipe Jacare and Hector Lombard the UFC would have every relevant middleweight fighter in the world. and if any of them fall asleep for even a second Rousimar Palhares will rip their leg off.
I’m all for the GSP superfight. But I’m also all for the UFCs current crop of middleweights. There might not be a credible challenger for Anderson Silva amongst them, but there are dozens of fights I want to see. All of them imminent possibilities. Everyone seems like a great matchup for everyone else. Our cup runneth over. Our purse overfloweth. Our fanny-pack bursteth forth.
Middleweight, bitches. Get on the bandwagon. I’m takin’ this one to the streets.