Sherdog’s 2018 “Breakthrough Fighter of the Year” has taken the UFC by storm, winning seven straight fights in under two years while rising to superstardom in an industry starved for marketable champions. Adesanya’s defeat of Whittaker at UFC 243 also put an end to one of the most snake-bitten title reigns in UFC history, but then again the middleweight division has always been a frustrating one.
The incomparable Anderson Silva so thoroughly embodied the 185-pound division during his seven-year-plus reign that it’s easy to forget what a mess it had been before his arrival. In fact, like its fellow unloved stepchild, the lightweight division, the UFC middleweight division had a long period during which there was no champ at all, in this case the two-and-a-half year gap between October 2002, when Murilo Bustamante defected to Pride Fighting Championships, until February 2005.
Silva’s run of 10 title defenses -- which would have been 11 had Travis Lutter made weight at UFC 67 -- came to a crashing halt at the end of a sweet left hook from Chris Weidman. Since Weidman upset Silva at UFC 162, the middleweight title picture has been pure chaos, defined by stunning upsets, a couple of very iffy title shots, challengers missing weight and above all, a shocking litany of injuries and illnesses. Of the five men to wear the belt since “The Spider,” Georges St. Pierre and Michael Bisping are out of the sport for reasons related at least partly to their health, Luke Rockhold and Chris Weidman have moved up to light heavyweight and Whittaker withdrew from more title bouts than he fought.
For now, though, the middleweight division has a new champ and perhaps a new lease on life. “The Last Stylebender” is an undefeated, exciting and thus far very active fighter who has a host of deserving contenders on the horizon, with the red-hot Paulo Henrique Costa apparently first in line. Meanwhile, for all his injury woes and his resounding loss on Saturday, Whittaker is only 28 -- younger than Adesanya, incidentally -- and still sports a blend of well-rounded skill and indomitable competitive fire that is almost unmatched in the sport. We probably haven’t heard the last of “Bobby Knuckles” as a title contender.
Here is the history of the UFC middleweight title and the times it was won, lost or defended. Interim title fights are omitted with the exception of Whittaker vs. Romero at UFC 213, since the winner of that fight was promoted to undisputed champion without a unification bout. It tells the story of a talented but mercurial division, a competitive maelstrom that only one man has truly managed to tame so far.
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