From MMATorch.com |
ENNIS: Lay of the Land - The Middleweight Division - September 2011 (part one)
Sep 1, 2011 - 3:30:28 PM
By: Shawn Ennis, MMATorch Senior Columnist
This will be the first of two parts breaking down the UFC's middleweight division. This week will focus on the top of the division, while next week looks at the rest of the middleweights and what those outside the UFC have to offer.
Anderson Silva solidified his spot at the top of the MMA world with his destruction of Yushin Okami this past Saturday. It's hard to see who could even give Silva a fight, let alone defeat him. But despite the champion's historic dominance, there still remains a division that we need to have a look at. Let's get down to it with the middleweights.
Anderson Silva (31-4): The problem here is that there are no more superlatives. Anything I say here is a rerun. You've heard it all, you've seen it all. I ran down his accomplishments and made the case for his being the best ever in the last Middleweight Lay of the Land. You saw what he did to Okami. No one can touch him. There's simply nothing left to say about Anderson Silva. He is the best MMA fighter ever. End of story. As for what lies ahead, Luke Thomas and Jonathan Snowden, two guys who are smarter than I am, make the case respectively to move to another division or stay at 185 pounds and let someone come to him. I think I'm more interested in a Jon Jones fight should Jones remain dominant (or a fight with Jones right now should Silva decide to make a permanent move to 205) than I am in a GSP fight, but time will tell the story on that one. For now, the Middleweight king looks out over his kingdom and finds every challenger wanting.
You could put Chael Sonnen here I suppose, but he's got to make it through Brian Stann before getting Contender status (despite his ludicrous assertion that he wants Silva regardless of whether he beats Stann). Other than that, the field is wide open for someone to step up and get his face kicked off.
A STEP OR TWO AWAY
If I were to write this after two more events, without even looking at those cards, this list could change dramatically. I have no idea who's going to emerge from the pack of would-be contenders to Silva's title, but let's have a look at the most likely suspects.
Brian Stann (10-3): After smashing the returning Jorge Santiago in his last outing, Stann looks to continue his ascent to contendership when he faces Chael Sonnen at UFC 136. It will be hard to deny that Stann is deserving of a title shot with a convincing win over Sonnen, but the question becomes whether the UFC would pull the trigger on that fight with the foreknowledge of what would befall the extremely marketable ex-military man. Stann could become a huge star if he continues to win, and putting him in with Anderson Silva would deliver a big blow to that marketability. Stann doesn't have as long a resume as Vitor Belfort or Yushin Okami, and whereas those two can withstand getting smashed and continue to be held in somewhat high regard, Stann might not emerge so lucky. So while he may indeed deserve a title shot, I think the UFC may just wait and see what they're going to do with Silva (superfight, move to another division) before sacrificing Stann at the altar of Silva's greatness.
Chael Sonnen (25-11-1): Not much to say here – Sonnen has come the closest of any man at 185 pounds to dethroning Anderson Silva. After winning four and a half rounds against the champ, Sonnen fell victim to his own lackluster submission defense with his seventh submission loss via triangle or armbar (Silva tapped him with a combination of the two). Details surfaced after the fight that Silva had severely injured ribs. Though most post-fight reports of injury are met with jeers and a roll of the eyes, this one seems to make sense. Should Sonnen get past Stann, he's the most likely option for number one contender.
Mark Munoz (11-2): Since his embarrassing UFC debut a weight class above his fighting weight (he was knocked out cold by Matt Hamill), Munoz has looked better in each fight. He's beaten mostly grapplers, though his striking has looked solid against fighters who can hold their own on the feet. Most recently he had an impressive showing against Demian Maia, taking home a unanimous decision victory and handing Maia only his third loss (Anderson Silva and Nate Marquardt gave him the other two; not bad company). Munoz will oppose Chris Leben in the main event of UFC 138 in the UFC's very first non-title five-round fight. Leben is experiencing a bit of a resurgence as of late, his TKO loss to Brian Stann notwithstanding, and a win over "The Crippler" would certainly help Munoz's cause to move further into the upper echelon of the division.
Michael Bisping (21-3): Bisping has gone 7-2 as a middleweight since moving to 185 in 2008 following a loss to Rashad Evans. And when you consider that his losses came against Dan Henderson (we all remember that knockout) and Wanderlei Silva in a fight that, if I'm honest with myself, Bisping was probably on his way to winning until the last part of the third round, that's pretty impressive. Bisping will probably need at least two more wins to move into the top spot in the division, but if he's able to beat the oft-overlooked-but-extremely-durable Jason Miller when they square off after their coaching stints on TUF, I will certainly be impressed. What remains to be seen is how impressed Joe Silva and Dana White will be.
Rousimar Palhares (13-3): Call him a dirty fighter if you want, and you may even be right, but you can't deny that "Toquinho" is an impressive fighter. After laying waste to Dan Miller at UFC Rio, Palhares needs a stiff challenge in the form of someone who can strike. I would love to see him take on Vitor Belfort. Less compelling but still a good fight would be Palhares against the winner of Munoz-Leben. If he could get past one of those opponents, he'd start to really open some eyes.
UP AND COMERS
Chris Weidman (6-0): Weidman may not have been all that exciting in his late-replacement UFC debut against Alessio Sakara, but he made up for it with a first round thrashing of Jesse Bongfeldt at UFC 131. Weidman is a Serra-Longo product with what looks to be outstanding grappling, but he's still pretty green and not extremely well-rounded just yet. On the bright side for Weidman, grappling is certainly a good base to have in MMA, and if he can improve his overall game at a steady pace, the UFC should be able to give him opponents that he can handle in the paper-thin lower-tier of the middleweight division.
Court McGee (13-1): This is McGee's second appearance in this section, but he hasn’t fought since the last time I evaluated the division. His fight with Dongi Yang at the UFC's next Fight Night should be quite informative. Yang is a beast at 185, so McGee will have his hands full. Should he be able to pull out the win, it will speak volumes to the progress he's made since his stint on TUF.
Jared Hamman (13-3): It's strange to put a guy with a 2-2 UFC record in this category, but it makes more sense when you figure that Hamman went 1-2 as a light heavyweight before dropping to 185 and putting on a great fight with CB Dollaway on the last Versus show. Dollaway smoked Hamman in the first round, but Hamman came out firing in the second, blasting Dollaway on the feet before finishing the fight with ground and pound. Hamman may or may not pan out as a top tier middleweight (signs don't necessarily point in that direction), but if he keeps fighting like that, he'll be around for a long time.
Nick Ring (12-0): Though bum knees may ultimately prove to be Nick Ring's downfall, he has looked pretty good in his UFC run thus far. After taking a hotly disputed decision win over DEEP champion Riki Fukuda in his Octagon debut, Ring came back and beat newcomer James Head definitively at UFC 131. Ring weathered a first round that saw him take some punishment only to wear Head down, give him a nasty cut, and choke him out in the third. Ring faces Tim Boetsch next month at UFC 135, which could be a telling bout for both fighters. Boetsch may find his niche at 185, and Ring will look to prove that he can take out a UFC veteran in what could be his toughest matchup to date.
I'll be back next week with a rundown of the rest of the division.
© Copyright by MMATorch.com