Since its inception, the UFC’s middleweight division has been one of the elite divisions in the promotion, both in talent depth and the pedigree of its champions. That being said, the title had only changed hands a few times in its history, much less than any other division.
Very few men can claim to have fought for a UFC title. Even fewer still can claim to have hoisted gold, and an even lesser number in the Middleweight division, with only eleven champions in eighteen years. The truly shocking thing is that the belt passed hands four times in four years after its inaugural belt was won by David Menne after a five-round decision over Gil Castillo, all the way back at UFC 33.
Murilo Bustamante would knock Menne out 0:44 into R2 of their bout at UFC 33. Bustamante would have one defense before vacating. The vacant title would be won by Evan Tanner as he knocked out David Terrell at UFC 51. He would be defeated by Rich Franklin at UFC 53 via TKO. He would defend the belt twice: against Nate Quarry and David Loiseau.
Reign of The Spider
Franklin would be stopped by none other than Anderson Silva, who would hold the belt until July 2013, successfully defending against absolutely none but the best in Nate Marquardt, Franklin, Dan Henderson, Patrick Cote, Thales Leites, Demian Maia, Chael Sonnen (twice), Vitor Belfort, and Yushin Okami in what can only be described as the most dominant title run in UFC history, Jon Jones aside.
His reign would come to an end at the hands of Chris Weidman, who defeated an overconfident Silva before winning the immediate rematch when Silva infamously broke his leg, as well as defenses against Lyoto Machida and Vitor Belfort.
GSP Makes History
Luke Rockhold would be the next to dethrone the Middleweight king, winning the belt at UFC 194 before subsequently being knocked out cold by Michael Bisping at UFC 199, who had stepped in as a late replacement for Weidman after an injury. He would defend the belt at UFC 204 against Dan Henderson, setting up a megafight with GSP that kept ‘The Count’ out of the Octagon for thirteen months, until that fateful night in The Garden finally came, and GSP made history, cementing his legacy as one of the greatest of all time as he choked Michael Bisping unconscious, winning the Middleweight Strap and entering an EVEN MORE exclusive club of seven two-division Champions… before immediately vacating the title due to colitis.
Because of the magnitude of GSP vs Bisping and the need for the main event, it was decided that Robert Whittaker would face Yoel Romero at UFC 213 for the Interim Championship, nine months after Bisping’s previous title defense against Dan Henderson. Therefore, whenever GSP vacated, Bobby Knuckles was promoted to undisputed Champion, but would not successfully defend the belt for a variety of reasons, including Yoel Romero being unable to make weight for their rematch, as well as Robert himself facing illness and injury.
The Modern Era
Enter: Israel Adesanya. Having not even been signed by the UFC until after Robert Whittaker had been declared undisputed champion, in the year that Whittaker spent recovering and training for the rematch with Romero, Israel Adesanya would win three fights, one of which a five-round headliner against Brad Tavares. Between November 2018 and April 2019, Stylebender would earn a Performance of the Night KO against Derrick Brunson, a UD against a past prime Anderson Silva in what can only be described as one of the most technical striking chess matches ever, and ESPN’s 2019 Fight of the Year against Kelvin Gastelum for the Interim Belt. Just as Whittaker won his belt whenever the reigning champ was otherwise occupied, so too did Adesanya.
But here’s the kicker: when the two met back in October 2019, we were treated to an absolute masterclass by Israel Adesanya. Whittaker tried to simply walk the Kiwi down, lunging in with swinging right hands that proved easy work for Adesanya, who looked like he was filming an audition for a Matrix spinoff, knocking Whittaker down right at the end of the first round, causing the eruption from the crowd to drown out the buzzer on the broadcast, before finishing the job in the second. In the time since, Whittaker has contemplated retirement, built a new gym, and practically crawled through Hell to get back into title contention, sixty-five minutes with Darren Till, Jared Cannonier, and a Fight of the Night against Kelvin Gastelum. Having been cast down from Mount Olympus, The Reaper now stands at the gates, a new fighter, convinced that he reclaims his Throne Saturday night. On the other hand, Izzy stands on the cusp of defining his entire career. Having lost to Jan Blachowicz last March, Izzy intends to prove that he is still the man at Middleweight by lapping the division, having beaten almost everybody in the Top 15, including Marvin Vettori twice, and aims to continue his lap with Whittaker.
Featured Image Credits to Embed from Getty Images