Happy Friday fight fans! I decided to change things up a bit this week and post this today instead of waiting until Sunday. As we still await the UFC’s much-anticipated return to action, I’ve had some time to watch quite a few outstanding fights lately. Today I’d like to focus on the Middleweight division and share my top 5 title fights in the history of the weight class. The 185lb division was ruled for 7 years by the most successful champion in the history of the sport, Anderson Silva. Before Silva, it was Rich Franklin, who dominated every middleweight in the UFC. There have also been great fighters such as Michael Bisping, Georges St. Pierre, Robert Whitaker, and currently Israel Adesanya. Each has had the great opportunity of calling themselves the champion of this exceptional division. It was nearly impossible narrowing this down to 5, but without further delay here is my list:
#5. Chris Weidman vs. Anderson Silva UFC 162
I’ll never forget this fight. I found myself sitting in a bar amongst other great UFC fans and actually guaranteed who the victor in this matchup would be. I vividly remember telling the gentleman sitting next to me that there was no possible way Anderson Silva could lose this fight. I’d seen Weidman fight once or twice but felt he didn’t belong in the same octagon with a fighter like The Spider. The friendly fellow gave a smile and said he’d be willing to bet money on Weidman.
Chris Weidman carried an undefeated record into this fight. He had tremendous confidence and even told Anderson Silva that he wasn’t afraid of him during an intense stare down at the weigh-ins. Anderson Silva was coming into this fight the longest-reigning champion in the history of the UFC; 2457 days, including 10 title defenses. He entered the octagon with no respect for Chris Weidman’s striking abilities. Weidman was a wrestler, and the only way he was gonna beat Anderson was by utilizing takedowns. At least that’s how Anderson and the rest of the world (except the friendly fellow sitting next to me) saw it. Weidman did come out and take Anderson down right away. Not a big surprise, nothing to worry about here. Silva would eventually spin and spider his way out of a few submission attempts and get back to his feet. Weidman was in Anderson’s world now. Silva would proceed to taunt Weidman by putting his hands down and placing his hands on his hips in an attempt to get the challenger to recklessly attack him. Weidman maintained his composure and began to exchange with Anderson on the feet. When the 2nd round started, you could hear Ray Longo (one of Weidman’s trainers) screaming for Weidman to punch a hole in his chest. Anderson continued to taunt Weidman, which proved to be a colossal mistake. Weidman landed the perfect shot and shocked the world. Anderson Silva showed no respect for Chris Weidman’s punching power, and it ended up costing him the title. I watched in total disbelief as the friendly fellow sort of began bragging about his prediction. I love MMA! This is one of my favorite middleweight title fights due to the upset factor alone. Anderson Silva had been knocked out after a 7-year title run.
#4. Rich Franklin vs. Evan Tanner UFC 53
Evan Tanner captured the middleweight title by overwhelming David Terrell at UFC 51 and was enjoying a 4 fight win streak coming into this matchup. It just so happens that the last fight he’d lost was against none other than Rich Franklin. Their first fight took place at UFC 42 in the 205lb weight division, and Tanner felt it was an early stoppage. Franklin was coming off the most significant victory of his career. He’d just knocked out UFC legend Ken Shamrock in under 3 minutes and was poised to take Evan Tanner’s belt away. Tanner had proven to be a beat at 185lbs, while many questioned Franklin’s ability to make the weight and perform a high level. Tanner was known as a grappler but decided to show off some of his newfound striking skills as this fight got underway. Tanner had success early on. He landed a tremendous right hand that dropped Franklin near the end of the first round and had the challenger in big trouble. Franklin weathered the storm and survived the round but realized this was not the same fighter he had beaten at UFC 42. Tanner had a great deal of confidence in his hands and was able to land a takedown in the early stages of the 2nd round. However, Franklin managed to get back to his feet and began busting the champion up near the end of the 2nd. Franklin did a great job of mixing up his striking in the 3rd round and took control of this fight. Tanner fought hard, but his face was a bloody mess by the end of the 3rd round. Franklin continued to batter the champ and continued to land shots to Tanner’s face. Referee Herb Dean was forced to stop this fight in the 4th round due to a nasty gash on Tanner’s forehead. Franklin had finally realized his dream by becoming a UFC Champion. This was an awesome fight between 2 legends and pioneers of the sport.
#3. Luke Rockhold vs. Chris Weidman UFC 194
Chris Weidman had fully established himself as the king of the middleweight division when he entered the octagon to defend his title at UFC 194. He’d proven all the doubters wrong by beating Anderson Silva for a second time. He added 2 more title defenses to his resume with impressive victories over Lyoto Machida and Vitor Belfort. Luke Rockhold was full of an almost cocky arrogance during the lead up to this fight. He came out and said Weidman’s skills just weren’t on his level, and it was hard to argue with him given his lastest victory over Machida. Rockhold was able to finish Lyoto in the 2nd round, while Weidman needed a decision to gain a win over the Karate Master. Weidman came out looking to control Rockhold with his wrestling in the opening round. Weidman continued to pressure Rockhold throughout the first round with his wrestling. Referee Herb Dean actually stood the fighters up as Rockhold was attempting a guillotine choke allowing Rockhold to land some damaging kicks to the body and finish the round strong. Rockhold came out with aggression in the 2nd round and rocked the champion with a right hook early. Rockhold proved to be the superior standup fighter throughout the 2nd round. After landing some devastating kicks to the body, he beautifully mixed in head and leg kicks throughout the round. Weidman’s strikes didn’t seem to land with the same type of impact. However, he pulled off a kick to the body that hurt Rockhold as the 2nd round came to a close. Weidman came out looking like the fresher fighter in round 3 as he landed some solid body kicks and got a takedown. Rockhold managed to get to his feet, where Weidman started landing more kicks to the challenger’s body. Weidman then attempted to mix things up by going for a wheel kick and got taken down late in the 3rd round. Rockhold was able to get to full mount and unleash a flurry of punches and elbows that left Weidman’s face a bloody mess.
Herb Dean could’ve easily stopped this in the final moments of round 3, but the fight headed into the championship rounds. Luke Rockhold opened up the 4th round with a few more considerable kicks to the battered body of Chris Weidman. He managed to get top position on The All American, where he continued to beat the champion to a bloody pulp until Herb Dean was finally forced to step in and save Weidman from sustaining more damage. This fight showed how dangerous a focused Luke Rockhold was. His title reign was shortlived, and his arrogance led to his ultimate downfall. Still, Luke Rockhold put on one of the most exceptional performances in the history of the middleweight division and achieved his dream of becoming a UFC champion. There was also a remarkable moment at the end of this fight where Chris Weidman’s father proudly shouted, “and that’s still my boy,” as he pointed as his defeated son in the octagon.
#2. Rich Franklin vs. Anderson Silva UFC 82
Anderson Silva had a massively impressive UFC debut as he knocked out Chris Leben inside of the first minute at UFC Fight Night 5. Rich Franklin was coming off his 2nd consecutive title defense with a dominant victory over David Loiseau and had proven to be the best middleweight in the world. Silva had made a splash on the Japanese MMA scene but was unknown to the UFC fans making Franklin a clear favorite in this contest. Both fighters came out with caution as they took about 45 seconds to feel each other out before attempting any kind of an attack. They exchanged a few legs kicks and punches before Silva caught Franklin in a devastating Muy Tai Clinch. Franklin was unable to break the clinch, and Silva began going to work on the body with some brutal knees. Franklin did his best to battle through, but Silva was relentless with the clinch and absolutely manhandled Rich Franklin. Silva continued to work the body with knees as Franklin’s midsection developed bright pink welts. Franklin was forced to drop his hands in an attempt to protect his body, and Silva took full advantage of this opportunity. Anderson landed a knee to Franklin’s face, which led to the fight-ending flurry of kicks and clinch strikes that turned Franklin’s nose entirely sideways. All of this action happened within the first round after a slow start. Anderson Silva captured UFC gold in just his 2nd fight with the promotion in spectacular fashion. His legendary championship run had begun. Rich Franklin had to have facial reconstruction surgery after the match as a result of his facial injuries.
#1. Chael Sonnen vs. Anderson Silva UFC 117
This is my all-time favorite middleweight title fight for multiple reasons. I just love some good old fashioned trash talking, and not many people do that as well as good old Uncle Chael. Chael Sonnen was in rare form during the pre-fight press conference while he boasted about how he was the best fighter in the world and made tons of entertaining comments. Anderson Silva was in the prime of his career and was defending his title for the 7th time when he faced off against Sonnen. Silva laughed at many of Sonnen’s pre-fight comments and antics yet looked uncharacteristically nervous as Bruce Buffer announced his name before the fight. Sonnen came out and got right in Silva’s face. Chael landed some good punches to start this fight before wrestling Silva to the ground then proceeded to maul the champion for the remainder of the opening round. Sonnen continued to implement heavy pressure throughout the next 3 rounds. He took Silva down every round and proceeded to control the champion while landing solid ground and pound. Chael did everything in his power to wear Anderson Silva out during the first 4 rounds of this fight. Anderson Silva did manage to land some elbows during the 4th round that opened up a cut over Sonnen’s left eye. Sonnen was able to rock Silva as the 5th round started and managed to get the top position within the first 30 seconds. Sonnen wasn’t landing heavy blows but was staying busy enough to avoid a potential standup. Silva displayed an active guard and managed to lock Sonnen in a body triangle mid-way through the round. Silva remained active in his guard and tried to establish wrist control as Sonnen rained down blows. Silva was able to catch Sonnen in a triangle with about 2 minutes to go in the fight. Sonnen ended up tapping out and then actually tried denying that he tapped. You just gotta love the antics of the Bad Guy! In my opinion, this is the greatest title defense in Anderson Silva’s career. He showed real championship resolve by continuing to look for ways to finish the fight despite being dominated throughout the first 4 plus rounds. Chael Sonnen would end up failing a post-fight drug test, which would have cost him the title had he won. Being a UFC champion simply wasn’t meant to be for the bad guy.
That’s my list. The 5 best fights in the history of the 185lb division. I feel like I should mention that I strongly considered putting the Israel Adesanya vs. Kelvin Gastelum fight on this list. But since it was an interim title fight, I decided it couldn’t be included. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Do you agree? If not, which fights would you add? I can’t thank you enough for reading. Stay safe and have a great weekend!
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