It’s hard to look at the history of the Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight title and not think, on some level: Wow, what a mess.
The incomparable Anderson Silva so thoroughly embodied the 185-pound division during his seven-year-plus reign that it’s easy to forget how flimsy and unstable 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 Evan Tanner’s unforgettable comeback win over David Terrell to claim the vacant throne in February 2005.
The UFC sought to bring stability and a charismatic new face to the division by all but anointing Rich Franklin champ -- at the time of his win over fellow “The Ultimate Fighter” coach Ken Shamrock in his last fight at light heavyweight, it was already public knowledge that Franklin would be dropping to 185 to challenge Tanner, whom he had already beaten once in convincing fashion. However, Franklin would defend the belt only twice before along came “The Spider,” who thrashed him in two of the most lopsided championship fights of all-time.
Silva’s run of 10 successful title defenses -- which almost certainly 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, and then everything fell to pieces. 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 has moved up to light heavyweight and Whittaker and Weidman have each had at least one major surgery.
There is hope on the horizon, though. While Whittaker convalesced from emergency hernia surgery, relative newcomer Israel Adesanya edged out Kelvin Gastelum for the interim title in one of the best fights of 2019. “The Last Stylebender” now looks to unify that belt against a recovered Whittaker later this year in the UFC’s first all-Oceanic title fight. Knock on wood.
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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