In the main event of UFC 253 in Abu Dhabi, “The Last Stylebender” blew away Paulo Costa in the second round with a barrage of unanswered punches and elbows. In so doing, the flamboyant New Zealander became just the fourth man to defend the Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight title more than once. Adesanya is now tied with Rich Franklin for the third most title defenses in divisional history, behind only Chris Weidman (3) and Anderson Silva (10). Moreover, given the level of opponents he has faced, many fans are asking whether Adesanya is already the second greatest UFC middleweight champion ever.
However, the speculation stops at “second greatest,” because the gap between Silva and the second-best middleweight of all time is easily the widest of any division—at least any with comparable tenure. The incomparable “Spider” so thoroughly dominated the 185-pound division during his long reign that it’s easy to forget what a mess it had been before his arrival.
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 Weidman at UFC 162. For the next five years, the title picture was a mess, 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 next five men to wear the belt after “The Spider,” Georges St. Pierre and Michael Bisping are out of the sport for reasons related at least partly to their health, Weidman and Luke Rockhold moved up to light heavyweight and Robert Whittaker withdrew from more title bouts than he fought.
Here is the nearly two-decade 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. Yoel 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 chaotic division, a competitive maelstrom that only one man has truly managed to tame so far.
Ben Duffy/Sherdog.com illustration