The middleweight division has been one of the more popular weight classes in UFC history. From its beginnings back in 2001, we have seen eight champions in the belts history.
Notable people have held the belt through those years are names such as Rich Franklin, Murilo Bustamante, and Evan Tanner.
Then came the rise of Anderson ” The Spider” Silva who ruled the middleweight division for seven years, defending the title ten consecutive times.
But as is with all reigns it had to come to an end and so began the new generation of middleweight champions with Chris Weidman becoming the sixth man to hold the belt when he defeated Silva.
Next in line was Luke Rockhold who captured the gold in an imposing victory over the then-undefeated Weidman.
The current champion
It was in 2016 that our current champion Michael Bisping finally got his hands on UFC gold after more than a decade fighting in the promotion. A tough journey but a testament to Bisping, his belief in himself and his never give up attitude finally got him what he had always dreamed of. In an almost perfect scenario, he knocked out then champion Rockhold in the first round to become our UFC middleweight champion. Many people knock Bisping saying he is not a true champion, but I pay no credence because he won fair and square against Rockhold, and also nobody deserved it more than him as he has sacrificed so much of himself for the sport.
His next title defense is coming early next month, on November 4, against the returning legend Georges St-Pierre. Can Bisping retain or will GSP be a champ in two weight classes? Whatever the outcome of the fight there is the possibility they retire therefore leaving the slot open to other contenders. Bisping has stated that if he wins, he will face interim champion, Robert Whittaker. GSP claims it is in his contract that he has to defend the belt to Whittaker. This will hopefully add clarity back to the division which has been a mess as of late.
The interim champion
By far the most impressive middleweight in recent years, Robert Whittaker has been taking the division by storm stacking up impressive victories over the who is who in the division. He is on an eight-fight win streak since moving up to middleweight in 2014. Names he has beaten include Yoel Romero, Derek Brunson, Brad Tavares and Jacare Souza.
At just 26-years-old Whittaker is a very skilled martial artist, his striking is next level, and his defensive wrestling and takedown defense are second to none making him a real problem for everyone in the division. His interim championship fight was against Yoel Romero, a tough matchup but not for Whittaker who got the unanimous decision even while he had an injured leg which caused him problems in the fight.
A testament to his heart and toughness this man is a future UFC champion and I would wager he will reign sooner rather than later. I see him beating the winner of Bisping vs GSP and becoming the undisputed champion by June of next year.
Other notable contenders
The middleweight division has quite a few contenders, and there are numerous other sharks circling the champion looking to get their shot at his gold. I think these four fighters could face each other and try to get clarity on who should be next in line after Robert Whittaker gets his title fight.
There are faces that have been to the mountaintop before and others who are trying to get there for the first time. Even though they are not in immediate contention for the title, here are my other picks for who could be champion by next year.
1. Luke Rockhold – The former champion had a layoff after his title loss but since made his return to the cage and picked up an impressive victory versus a very dangerous David Branch. Rockhold has been consistently one of the very best middleweight for many years now with his only upset in recent memory being to our current champion Michael Bisping. He is a real threat to anybody in the division with his length and striking skills (most notably his kicks), but he is not just a good striker he is also an amazing grappler, as we seen in his impressive title victory over Chris Weidman. I expect Rockhold to get a few more fights in before he gets a shot at the title but he is a definite top contender for years to come.
2. Yoel Romero – “The Soldier of God” is no stranger to fans as he has been at the forefront of the middleweight division for years now. With wins over such names as Lyoto Machida, Derek Brunson, Chris Weidman and Jacare Souza it is no surprise he is still relevant in the title picture at 185 pounds. He was also on an eight-fight win streak before his last fight. His last matchup was for the interim championship so I don’t see him getting another shot soon as he may need to get a few wins back before he fights for gold again and at his age, the chance may have come and gone. But whatever the case may be, he is still a real threat for anybody in the top ten, and I expect to see him add more wins to his record in his pursuit for championship gold.
3. Chris Weidman – Another former champion, Chris Weidman has had a tough time since losing his strap back in 2016. Formerly undefeated, he lost three straight in what had become a nightmarish situation for him, but as is with all good comeback stories he finally got the win he was chasing against Kelvin Gastelum earlier this year. An All American wrestler, Weidman is a very dangerous opponent as is shown by his record with notable victories over the likes of Anderson Silva, Demian Maia, and Vitor Belfort. It will be a long journey back to the top so I don’t see him challenging for gold soon, but in the whacky world of MMA who knows what could happen between now and next year.
4. Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza – Jacare is one of the very best to do it at 185 pounds. He has been a top five fighter in the division since joining the UFC from Strikeforce in 2013. The only man on the list to not have gotten a shot at gold in the UFC, it is unfortunate as he has all the potential to be a great champion. One of the best, if not the best submission artist, in MMA he is lethal when a fight goes to the ground, but he can also knock people out which makes him dangerous wherever a fight ends up. He has notable victories over the likes of Gegard Mousasi, Robbie Lawler, Derek Brunson and Vitor Belfort. Coming off a loss to interim champion Robert Whittaker I don’t see him holding a belt by this time next year, but if he gets his opportunity, you best believe he will take it by the horns.
Who will it be?
In conclusion, I see only three names possibly being champion by June of next year and those names are that of our current champion Michael Bisping. The next title contender, the legendary Georges St-Pierre, and last but not least, Robert Whittaker. Whittaker is my pick for who will be champion by June of next year. Interim champion Robert Whittaker is a fighter with lots of momentum behind him, and I don’t see him being stopped by anybody on this list. A lot can happen in a few months though and with retirement looming for Bisping who knows what happens after this next fight.
Who do you think will be champion by next year? Let us know in the comments below.
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