Solving the: UFC Middleweight Division


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On November 4, 2017 George St. Pierre, the greatest Welterweight of all-time returned the octagon at UFC 217. It would be four years since St. Pierre last competed, as he made the jump up to the Middleweight division to take on UFC Middleweight Champion Michael Bisping. In a fight in which their were many unknowns about St. Pierre, many had picked the Middleweight Champion Bisping to retain his belt. However, they were wrong. St. Pierre shook off the rust, outpointed Bisping on the feet, eventually dropping him and then locking in the rear-naked-choke to become the New Middleweight Champion. 

In what turned out to be a successful return to the octagon by St. Pierre, behind the scenes had been been a burden on the Middleweight division. Not only did George St. Pierre cut the line in a division filled with worthy title contenders, but originally the plan was for him to fight Bisping in the beginning of 2017. However, both fighters got injured and delayed the fight until November. This caused unrest, as contenders Luke Rockhold and Gegard Mousasi called for clarity in a division already congested at the top. While Rockhold eventually took another fight, it was free-agent Mousasi who instead parted with the UFC for Bellator. With five consecutive victories, Mousasi was no closer to a UFC title shot than ever due to this fight, perhaps causing him to head elsewhere.

In the meantime, to keep the division moving, the UFC had to create an Interim Middleweight title fight. Easily enough, there were an assortment of contenders, but Robert Whittaker and Yoel Romero were clearly the top of the bunch. In a close fight, ultimately, Whittaker would come out victorious via unanimous decision to become the Interim Middleweight Champion. 

With a newly minted Interim Middleweight Champion in Robert Whittaker and newly minted Middleweight Champion in George St. Pierre, it should be a given that they would fight to unify the title’s. However, on December 2, 2017 St. Pierre revealed he had Colitis, a colon disease which could lead to life-threatening complications. So with St. Pierre now shelved, it’s time for the Middleweight division to move on, as Robert Whittaker will need to defend his belt. Against who? (George St. Pierre has vacated the UFC Middleweight Championship, Luke Rockhold will challenge Robert Whittaker at UFC 221 for the title). Well, let’s first see what upcoming fights are already booked, along with their significance. 

 

Robert Whittaker vs. Luke Rockhold (February 11, 2018 – UFC 221)

– After UFC 217, George St. Pierre admitted his struggles and reluctance to fight again at Middleweight. Stemming from these comments, it was safely assumed that with St. Pierre noncommittal, the most logical fight would pit former Middleweight Champion Luke Rockhold against Interim Middleweight Champion Robert Whittaker. However, St. Pierre’s battle with Colitis was unexpected. That’s a serious condition that will definitely force St. Pierre out of the picture. So much that, St. Pierre has officially vacated his Middleweight title.

With St. Pierre relinquishing his belt, Interim UFC Middleweight Champion Robert Whittaker effectively has been promoted to Undisputed UFC Middleweight Champion. Even sweeter than that for Whittaker’s, his first title defense will take place in his home country Australia at UFC 221. Oh, and the fight itself is as good as it gets!

 

Ronaldo Souza vs. Derek Brunson (January 27, 2018 – UFC on Fox 27)

– In 2012, back when Strikeforce was around, a very inexperienced Derek Brunson took on Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza. The fight would last a mere 41 seconds, as Brunson aggressively charged in and was dropped in accordance. Brunson would try to recover, but Souza was all over him and knocked him out. Six years later, they are pitted against each other again. Relatively in the same boat in the division, this fight makes perfect sense. However trajectory-wise, Brunson is on the rise, as he’s reeled off two straight first-round knockouts. Meanwhile, Souza is coming off a devastating knockout loss to the current Interim Middleweight Champion Robert Whittaker. It would be the first time in over eight years Souza had been finished. 

As for this fight, I’m very interested to see if Brunson continues with his newfound patience inside the octagon. It’s led to two first-round finishes and it’s clearly safer than his aggressive charging in style previously. I mean, I would of thought after losing to Souza in 41 seconds that he’d abandon that style. However, Brunson continued with the style and it worked until the aforementioned Robert Whittaker dealt with him.

Anyways, with St. Pierre vacating the UFC Middleweight Championship, the implication’s for the winner just got more enticing. Although both are fairly recent victims of current Interim Middlweight Champion Robert Whittaker, it is possible the winner could fight for the belt next. It’s even more possible that if Luke Rockhold were to defeat Robert Whittaker, then the winner of this fight is more likely to be next in line. 

 

Vitor Belfort vs. Uriah Hall (January 14, 2018 – UFC Fight Night 124)

This is an excellent fight in terms of style and where both men are in the Middleweight division. Belfort, is coming off a narrow decision victory Nate Marquardt. Before that, the former Light Heavyweight Champion had lost three consecutive fights via stoppage. Luckily though, one of them was overturned, as Kelvin Gastelum tested positive for Marijuana. As for Hall, he’s been pretty much on the same path as Belfort. Previous to his last fight in which he won by knockout, Hall had suffered three consecutive defeats. Two of them came via finish and his career had certainly looked bleak. It’s almost crazy to fathom how the talent of Hall hasn’t translated in the UFC.

This fight will be important career-wise for both men. It gives them an opportunity to build off their respective victories and for the winner, perhaps into a big fight. 

 

Thiago Santos vs. Anthony Smith (February 3, 2018 – UFC Fight Night 125)

Great matchmaking! This fight has all the ingredients to be fireworks for as long as it last. Santos is one the most feared strikers in the division, as he’s won seven of his eight UFC victories by knockout. His patented body and head kicks have been absolutely devastating. If you haven’t seen his head kick victory over Steve Bosse, I’d advise you to check it out. As for Smith, he has certainly not failed in his second UFC stint. He’s gone 4-1, with three consecutive victories via finish. It’s almost crazy to think that at one point in Smith’s career, his record stood at 5-6. However since that, Smith’s gone 23-6, as well as 11-1 in the last four years. 

As for the fight, both men are coming into this with three consecutive victories via finish. In other words, the judges won’t be needed. For the winner, he should undoubtedly not only crack the UFC’s ranking’s , but be in line for a big fight.

 

Lyoto Machida vs. Eryk Anders (February 3, 2018 – UFC Fight Night 125)

After Anders dominated short-notice opponent Markus Perez at UFC Fight Night 123, he called out Lyoto Machida. The following day, he got his wish. At UFC Fight Night 125, not only will Anders fight a legend, but he will headline a UFC event. Given that the former Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker has only ten professional mixed martial arts fights, two of which have come inside the octagon, it’s clear the UFC see’s a potential star. As for Machida, this fight will determine whether or not he can still can compete at a high level. With three consecutive defeats, all via finish, it’s do or die time for the “Dragon”.

With the Middleweight division stacked, I guess I can’t really complain about garnering new talent. However, I really want to see Mamed Khalidov in the UFC.  The man is on a 14-fight win streak and hasn’t lost in over seven years. Even crazier, Khalidov has only lost once in twelve years. And back in 2005, at one point he had a 3-3 record. His current record stands at 34-4-2, so that means he’s 31-1-2 in the last twelve years. At 37 years of age, can we please offer him whatever he wants! Also, I’d like to see Michel Materla (Who almost joined the UFC this year) and Vyacheslav Vasilevsky in the UFC.

Anyways, there’s fights to make in the UFC Middleweight division. So let’s get to it!

 

Yoel Romero vs. Kelvin Gastelum

– Apparently the word is that Gastelum turned down a fight with Romero, which I don’t blame him, as Romero is a nightmare stylistically. However, if Gastelum seeks a title shot, it’s through Romero. The Cuban carries an impressive 8-1 UFC record, with his only defeat coming in his most recent fight. At UFC 213, Romero locked horns against Robert Whittaker for the Interim Middleweight Championship. After a back-and-forth five rounds, Whittaker earned the decision and captured UFC gold. With St. Pierre vacating the Middleweight Championship, Whittaker has been elevated to undisputed Champion. He also will make his first title defense at UFC 221 against Luke Rockhold. 

As far as I’m concerned, Romero is the number one contender. However, with the recent lost to the Whittaker, he definitely needs to solidify his case with another victory. The perfect opponent would be Gastelum, which would be a fresh opponent. Gastelum is coming off a knockout victory over Michael Bisping, which is by far his best win to date. His clamoring of a title shot after the victory is premature, especially given that he was submitted by Chris Weidman in his previous fight. Just because Bisping was ranked number two at the time, doesn’t leap over Romero’s body of work. While I mention Gastelum being stylistically outmatched, that means very little in a sport that is often unpredictable. If Gastelum wants a title shot, a fight against Romero would instantly become a title eliminator over the Souza vs. Brunson fight. 

Chris Weidman vs. Loser of Whittaker vs. Rockhold

– In a span of two years, Weidman went from an undefeated Champion to a loser of three consecutive fights. Even with the losing streak, Weidman refused to take on an opponent of lower status. Instead he fought another contender in Kelvin Gastelum, in which saw him as an underdog. Weidman would overwhelm Gastelum with a heavy dose of wrestling, eventually submitting the undersized Middleweight. Now sidelined by a thumb injury, it’s not clear exactly when Weidman will return. However, a perfect fight upon return would be against the loser of the Middleweight title fight between Whittaker vs. Rockhold. Given that fight is taking place in February, it gives Weidman ample time to recover and fight the loser on the UFC’s big July card. 

Michael Bisping vs. Vitor Belfort

– Belfort is scheduled to fight against Uriah Hall at UFC Fight Night 124 on January 14, 2018. Win or lose, Michael Bisping should be his next opponent. The history stemming from their fight back in 2013, gives it plenty of legs. 

  • Belfort was on TRT (Testosterone replacement therapy) when they fought, which at the time was legal.
  • Said TRT was clearly advantageous for Belfort, as he looked extremely fast and spry at the age of 36. 
  • Belfort landed a vicious head kick, which detached Bisping’s retina. The damage would be permanent, as Bisping needs to have oil in his eye to hold his retina in place.
  • Bisping’s next fight will be his last

With that said, Bisping should be paired up with Belfort in his retirement fight. It would be a chance for Bisping to get revenge and fight Belfort on a fair playing ground.

Brad Tavares vs. Dave Branch 

– As crazy at this may sound, Tavares has an 11-4 UFC record. Two of those four defeats come to Yoel Romero and current Middleweight Champion Robert Whittaker. Often overlooked, Tavares has been one of the more consistent fighters in the UFC. With three consecutive victories, it’s time for the veteran to get another opportunity at cracking the UFC’s rankings. A perfect opponent would be in Dave Branch. A loser of his last fight against Luke Rockhold, the former WSOF Light Heavyweight and Middleweight Champion will need to take a step back in competition. Despite clamoring for the toughest fight, it would be in his and the UFC’s best interest to build him back up. A fight against Tavares would be perfect and stylistically interesting.

Tim Boetsch vs. Ramazan Emeev 

Despite Emeev’s lackluster debut against Sam Alvey, he still got nod via decision. The win extended Emeev’s win-streak to five, as well as was his thirteenth victory in his last fourteen fights. The next step, another veteran with fight ending power in Tim Boetsch. The dubbed “Barbarian” has remarkably fought twenty two times in the UFC, winning twelve of those fights. Arguably Boetsch’s best work has come of late, as he’s won his three of his last four fights. He’s finished all three opponents too, including most recently former Welterweight Champion Johny Hendricks. And although Boetsch probably deserves a top fifteen ranked fighter, at the same time, it’s unlikely.

Paulo Costa vs. Cezar Ferreira

– After Ferreira edged out Nate Marquardt by decision at UFC Fight Night 120, he then proceeded to call out fellow Brazilian Paulo Costa. Ferreira claimed that Costa disrespected his mentor Vitor Belfort and vows to “Break Costa into pieces“. Given that Costa has claimed difficulty in getting someone to sign the dotted line against him, I’d say this is a perfect opportunity to well, fight. 

Uriah Hall* vs. Winner of Santos vs. Smith

Pending Uriah Hall can get by Vitor Belfort, then stylistically a fight against the winner of Thiago Santos and Anthony Smith would be pure fireworks. Given that Hall currently sits at #11 in the UFC’s rankings, an opportunity for either Santos or Smith to fight a top fifteen opponent would be more than warranted after their fight. On the other hand, Hall still needs to prove he’s worthy of his placement rankings. Currently Hall has a 5-6 UFC record, with his win over Gegard Mousasi in 2015 keeping him afloat in the rankings. 

 

Antonio Carlos Jr. vs. Gerald Meerschaert

– The former Ultimate Fighter: Brazil 3 winner has quietly reeled off four consecutive victories. Carlos Jr. initially started his UFC career with little success, going 2-2 with 1 no contest in his first five fights. However, as I mentioned, Carlos Jr. has now won four straight fights and is quickly climbing the Middleweight ranks. Another Middleweight on the rise and stylistically would make for a fun fight, comes in the form of Gerald Meershaert. Debuting in December of 2016, Meershaert has already fought four times. He’s won three fights, all by finish and most recently defeated Eric Spicely by knockout. Perhaps a break might be in order for Meershaert, but if not, a fight against Antonio Carlos Jr. would be fun. 

Elias Theodorou vs. Winner of Vettori vs. Akhmedov

– Theodorou is being overlooked. He began his mixed martial arts career in 2011, made it to the UFC in three years and now has built up an impressive 6-2 record inside the octagon. He’s still green, but with time, I could see a potential contender. So with that said, continue to build him up. A fight that would do just that would be against the winner of Marvin Vettori and Omari Akhmedov. 

Krzysztof Jotko vs. Sam Alvey

From 2014-2016, Jotko had stringed together a five-fight win streak that included an impressive victory over Thales Leites. Fast forward to 2017, Jotko has lost two consecutive fights. The first was split decision defeat to David Branch, while the second fight was a knockout defeat to Uriah Hall. 

As for Alvey, 2017 was an up-and-down year. Fighting four times, Alvey was only able to capture two victories over the likes of Nate Marquardt and Rashad Evans. Most recently, Alvey stepped in on short notice to take on promotional newcomer Ramazan Emeev. Not only did Alvey miss weight, he also looked like a fighter who wasn’t ready to fight. In a lackluster performance, Alvey lost by decision.

Considering both men are right around the same rankings and are coming off defeats, this fight would make sense to turnaround one’s fortune for 2018. 

Johny Hendricks vs. Dan Kelly

– Pretty Simple here. Two aging and declining fighters on two-fight losing streaks. One a former a Welterweight Champion, the other held a 6-1 UFC record before the losing streak. The winner sticks around, while the loser contemplates retirement.

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