“The Last Stylebender,” who lost to light heavyweight champ Jan Blachowicz by unanimous decision in March, will take on Marvin Vettori in the main event of UFC 263 this Saturday. The two tangled a little over three years ago, early in their respective UFC careers, with Adesanya prevailing by split decision. While Vettori’s insistence that he won the fight is questionable, he gave the future champ a tougher fight than anyone at middleweight other than possibly Kelvin Gastelum, and both men are demonstrably improved since then.
The stakes are substantial for both men, as befits a title fight. Vettori seeks to become the first Italian UFC champion, while Adesanya stands to move one step closer to eclipsing Anderson Silva as the greatest champion in the division’s history. He might have a way to go yet, because the gap between Silva and the second-best middleweight of all time is possibly the widest of any division 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 Robert 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