The 185 lb division of MMA has seen all roads lead to one man over the past five years: Anderson Silva. He is the world's greatest fighter and has ruled the UFC's middleweight division since arriving there in 2006. With the champion dropping challenger after challenger, it doesn't seem like anyone inside or outside MMA's top promotion will threaten Silva's supremacy until the "Spider" decides to call it a career.
That doesn't mean there aren't any interesting competitors around the globe, however. No, it is actually quite possible that middleweight is the most interesting division outside of the UFC, and the fighters discussed here are the reason why.
The Known Commodities:
Jason "Mayhem" Miller, Robbie Lawler, and Tim Kennedy all populate a relatively deep Strikeforce middleweight division currently championed by Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza. Jacare has among the very best of grappling pedigrees in all of MMA, but is also a top notch athlete who has showcased improved kickboxing and a vicious ground-and-pound assault. Souza's only defeat since his first professional fight was in the finals of DREAM's 2008 Middleweight Grand Prix to violent upkick by Gegard Mousasi. Since then, we've seen him showcase a developing attack less dependant on seeking the submission and more capable of dishing out punishment, never more so than in his championship victory over Tim Kennedy.
Robbie Lawler is a stalwart and the same fighter he's always been: tough as hell with good wrestling and a dynamite left hand. Mayhem and Kennedy are both well-rounded fighters who can beat anyone in the division except for those at the very top. A third bout with Jacare is highly likely in the coming year for Mayhem. Also in the division for relative spice is Cung Le, who will likely only ever appear to showcase his dynamic San Shou kicks rather than challenge for the title he vacated last year. As to Dan Henderson, the former two-division PRIDE champion's aging body probably won't allow him to cut down and be as effective as he once was (so indicated the Jake Shields fight).
Bellator champion Hector Lombard is like a small tank, with good wrestling from his judo background and a stocky, clubbing attack that can turn off anyone's lights if he connects. There's no finesse to Lombard's game, however, and a fearless, precise striker could have his way with him. Jorge Santiago, WVR's Sengoku Middleweight Champion, has come along way since washing out of the UFC. His year consisted of a pair of epic victories over the solid Mahmed Khalidov and former PRIDE Grand Prix champion Kazuo Misaki, the latter being a contender for fight of the year.
The Fresh Faces:
Strikeforce has a few exciting buzz saws in Karl Amoussou and Siyar Bahadurzada (current Shooto 83kg champion), both of whom should be showcasing their skills stateside in 2011, not to mention Luke Rockhold and Zak Cummings. Alexander Shlemenko made a valiant effort to wrest away Lombard's Bellator title after winning this year's middleweight tournament, but proved unable to overcome the champion's size and strength. We can still look forward to more of his flashy, whirlwind attack in the coming year, however, as Bellator will stage another tournament during the spring that will surely inject a little fresh blood into the division.
In our next installment, we look at the welterweight division.