There was a time when the UFC’s middleweight division was considered to be shallow and without any real meritorious challengers to Anderson Silva’s throne.

This is by no means the case at present. Long gone are the days whereby a fighter can rise to the position of No. 1 contender without ever really being tested in all facets of mixed martial arts in the same way that the likes of Travis Lutter and Thales Leites did. Both of those fighters rose to the top of the division by beating some credible competition, but none of their opponents could be considered to be destructive strikers, world-class wrestlers or championship-level grapplers. Instead, their opposition was solid without ever being truly world-class.

Over the last two or three years, the middleweight division has slowly taken shape. Contenders have become battle-hardened. They’ve worked their way towards a shot at the once formidable champion that was Anderson Silva.

This progression towards a new breed of 185-pounder was showcased by the fact that Chris Weidman, who at the time had only nine professional contests on his record, displaced the great champion back at UFC 162. Now, as we approach the rematch in December, we are faced with a wealth of challengers, all vying for the first shot at the title once the score has been settled between the new and old champions.

This surge in middleweight contenders has crept up on us all. It has been achieved through a mixture of talent from other weight divisions gravitating to the weight class and the emergence of a new breed of fighters with a true mix of the various martial arts in their arsenal.

In the UFC’s own pound-for-pound rankings, the middleweight division has two fighters recognized. The only other division that can make a similar claim are the lightweights.

Outside of the top two men in the division, it is difficult to really establish who the true next No. 1 contender would be. Given that the title shot will only become available in the new year, there is still room for movement to allow one of these fighters to make their name known as the man to watch out for in 2014.

This past weekend, we saw a new name added to the list of potential contenders. That name belongs to former UFC light heavyweight kingpin Lyoto Machida, who faced off against Mark Munoz in Manchester, England. This was an interesting match-up of styles, and Machida duly dispatched of the “Filipino Wrecking Machine” while showing true class in the process. There is no doubt that the rest of the names in the division’s top 10 have sat up and taken notice of Machida’s arrival. They will be wary of the unique threat he poses as he looks set to begin his assault towards becoming a two-division UFC champion.

Whilst the UFC tends to steer clear of official tournaments to determine the next in line, it could easily do so with the middleweight division, given that those towards the top of the rankings are all either looking for opponents or will be as we head into the early part of 2014.

We could well see Michael Bisping return from his unfortunate eye injury to face Machida, the very man who took his place in Manchester. We could also see former Strikeforce champion Luke Rockhold rematch with fellow Strikeforce standout Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza.

If all of these hypothetical match-ups were to materialize, that then begs the question of what can be done with Vitor Belfort, who has become well-known for whimsically calling UFC President Dana White before, during or after a UFC event. Belfort is set to fight Dan Henderson on Nov. 9, but is doing so at light heavyweight, which in his eyes protects his No. 1 contender status in the middleweight division come what may against “Hendo.”

In reality, with the landscape of the division rapidly changing, Belfort’s decision to move up to 205 pounds on the premise that he can retain control of the next title opportunity at 185 pounds seems naïve to say the least. Should he lose to Henderson, there can be no doubt that it harms his chances of strolling back down to middleweight and straight into a title shot against the winner of Weidman’s upcoming defense against Silva.

Truth be told, there are so many options for the UFC right now when it comes to the middleweights that there are a number of different scenarios that may play out towards the back end of 2013 and into 2014. In fact, that number could be set to increase as we approach UFC Fight for the Troops 3 in Kentucky next week, where middleweights Tim Kennedy and Rafael Natal are set to square off. A big win for either could see them catapulted into the reckoning at 185 pounds.

Additionally, there is always the unthinkable possibility of an injury derailing the big-money rematch set for Dec. 28 in Las Vegas. Should the worst occur and either Silva or Weidman need to be replaced due to injury, then at least the UFC and matchmaker Joe Silva can sleep safe in the knowledge that there are a handful of fighters who would be only too willing—and able—to step up on short notice.

Should the fight go ahead as planned, it seems that even the odds makers are not sure what the future holds for the middleweight division. They have set narrow odds for the Weidman/Silva rematch, indicating that there’s no longer one man who sites head and shoulders above the rest of the division. This serves as yet another indication that the division that was once considered one of the weakest the UFC had to offer is now anything but.

One thing is for sure: the future is definitely bright in the 185-pound division as we head into 2014. That is a far cry from the position the division was in only a few years ago. As with any division, there have been peaks and troughs for the 185-pound weight class, but right now it seems to be experiencing a golden period.

Photo: Lyoto Machida (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

About The Author

Greg Byron
Staff Writer

Greg Byron started training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu after his brother introduced him to a local MMA fighter/coach when he was just 16 years old. Greg has trained for nearly a decade in both BJJ and MMA, competing in several grappling events within the UK. In addition to MMA, Greg possesses a law degree and works for a firm in northern part of England.