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Opinion: The UFC Middleweight Division Needs a Kick in the Ass

The UFC Middleweight Division has been scrutinized lately due to the upcoming UFC 77 main event, Anderson Silva vs. Rich Franklin. If you look down the list of middleweights trying to work their way up the ranks to get a shot at Anderson Silva, you cannot find a single fighter who deserves a chance. Many have began their runs, but fell short in recent fights. Rich Franklin and Anderson Silva are the only fighters at the top of one of the weakest divisions in MMA, if not the weakest. Let’s take an inside look at the UFC’s middleweight division and really see if there is any potential for it to improve any time soon.

Current situation in the division

Currently, Anderson Silva is dominating the division. His recent wins over Nathan Marquardt and Travis Lutter were a bit different, but wins regardless. Marquardt proved to be no match for Silva, even though many fans felt Marquardt may have had a potential shot at beating the Brazilian. Lutter had some fairly decent attempts at ending the fight, but was unable to catch Silva in a submission. Both fighters are far from being back in the picture for a title run. Franklin fought Silva at UFC 64 in a title defense matchup. Silva came in and completely destroyed Franklin with his signature knee strikes in a Muay Thai clench. The result of that bout has been driving fans to pick Franklin in their upcoming rematch in Franklin’s hometown. Should Silva be that big of a favorite?

Yes, he should. Silva’s striking is the best the Middleweight Division has to offer. His lanky physique may fool the casual fan, but when he lands strikes, his opponents seem to crumple to the mat as if they were shot. The great thing about Anderson Silva’s unbelievable striking is that he can concentrate more on his ground game because his standup is so good. Reports from his camp confirm that he has been working on his ju-jistu game extensively and will be very tough to take on the ground. It remains to be seen if he can handle the ground game, but his long legs and height definitely help him in that area of MMA.

Let’s get into hypothetical mode here. What if Franklin beats Anderson Silva at UFC 77? Silva drops down to beat up on two unsuspecting opponents and most likely regains the rematch while Franklin possibly takes on MacDonakd or Okami… again. I’m not too keen on MacDonald actually beating Franklin, but Okami could edge out Franklin in a bout. He nearly submitted him in their last bout. Okami vs. Silva, in my opinion, is not a very interesting fight. Silva wins, regains a shot at the title again against Franklin, and the cycle repeats itself. What I’m getting at here is that no matter how you want to move around the players in the Middleweight Division, Silva and Franklin seem to be running toward an endless cycle. MacDonald and Okami don’t seem to have the skills to move up into the top, although Okami could potentially beat Franklin. We have come to a crossroads in the discussion. Who the hell does the UFC bring in to make this division worth a damn?

Bring in the ringers

Who can the UFC actually bring in to give this division a much needed kick in the ass? The obvious choice is Paulo Filho. Filho is currently the middleweight champion in the WEC, a promotion owned by Zuffa. Since he is likely under a Zuffa contract, bring him over to the UFC to give Silva a challenge on the ground. Filho is known for his amazing ground tactics and is currently ranked in the top 5 of middleweights in the world. He could prove to be a significant test for Silva. Although he wasn’t very impressive in his title win over Joe Doerkson in his lone WEC bout, he was able to also use some decent standup. When I say decent, I mean ok standup. He managed to loop some punches and catch Doerkson. I feel that it wasn’t impressive technique, and Filho certainly doesn’t have the reach that Silva has. Filho’s main strength and overall gameplan is taking you down and submitting you.That’s exactly why he’d be a great fit for a title run against Silva.

The reported rumor according to George Garcia of TAGGRadio is that Frank Trigg may be making an appearance against Paulo Filho in the WEC. As of today, a deal hasn’t been struck and Trigg remains adamant in stating he wouldn’t fight if it wasn’t for the title. What if Trigg manages to take out Filho? Trigg has much better standup in my opinion. He also has some fairly good wrestling, but would probably need to work on it extensively to really counter Filho’s ground tactics. If he can manage to stay away from Filho’s submissions and gain the upper hand in the standup war, he may be able to irk out a victory over Filho. Will he make a run at the UFC title at Middleweight? I’m not completely sure. If the WEC signs him, it’ll end a small beef that Zuffa had with Trigg over comments he made as a PRIDE commentator about the UFC. They may keep him as the WEC champ since he is 35 and nearly the end of a career. Or they could send him on his way to the UFC to make an impact on the division. Anything is possible with such a weak division. In my opinion, Trigg won’t be hitting the UFC ever again.

The most interesting addition would be Matt Lindland. Although Dana White has a real problem with Matt Lindland and vice versa, it’s possible that Lindland’s skill alone may get him another chance in the UFC. A powerful wrestler with some great ground tactics along with some knockout power, Lindland has had only 2 losses in the last 2 years, one to Quinton Jackson and another to Fedor Emelianenko, both guys being outside of his base weight division. Lindland would be a fantastic addition, but he is rather old as well, although hasn’t shown much in diminishing skill. Can Dana White get past his issues with Lindland and bury the hatchet to improve the division? Doubtful, but I would love to see it happen.

We could make a case for Joe “Diesel” Riggs. He fought Eugene Jackson in their Strikeforce bout and demolished him with a brutal ground and pound. But is Riggs better at Middleweight? He looked like he was, but he was taking on an older Eugene Jackson who could not handle Riggs’s power. Riggs is also locked in with Strikeforce for a bit, and participating in the Middleweight Tournament that Strikeforce will be putting on. If he can manage to demolish the competition the same way, could he earn a shot at Cung Le and Frank Shamrock? Cung Le is a possibility, but Shamrock would probably run from the prospect of fighting a very tough “Diesel” Riggs.

Big names

Dan Henderson is the most talked about light heavyweight who has the title for the welterweight division in PRIDE. Welterweight in PRIDE was around 185. Should Henderson drop down? YES!! Please! Henderson dropping down could potentially begin a cycle that will see Silva being beaten and having Franklin, Henderson, and Silva in the running instead of two fighters. Add in Filho and maybe Lindland, we could see a surge in the fights and talent in the division. Henderson’s wrestling and awesome power would be a problem for Silva, along with Hendo’s granite chin. It’s beyond me why Henderson doesn’t drop down.

Michael Bisping, you say? I’m not completely convinced he would do much in the Middleweight division. Simply put, he’s a striker who doesn’t have awesome knockout power, but he can throw the leather on the ground. He doesn’t have great takedown defense, as was evident in the Matt Hamill fight, and his ground game, although improving, wasn’t the finishing type. I think he’d be a mid-tier to upper-tier Middleweight who would feel the pain of the 3 big names if Henderson decided to drop.

Ryo Chonan is another name being thrown around. Honestly, Chonan had the most insane flying scissor kick to heel hook submission I’ve ever seen. He has apparently decided to fight at Welterweight in the UFC for the time being. Could he make an impact at the Middleweight level? Most likely, he couldn’t. Although he has a tough chin and can take a beating, he’d have to pull off some amazing wins in order to get to Silva, in which case he’d probably get beaten into a pulp.

As far fetched as this sounds, Robbie Lawler is always a name that should come up. Currently fighting at middleweight, could he make a run toward the UFC? It’s always a possibility. He has heavy hands and has matured his game a bit. In his win over “Ninja” Rua in EliteXC’s Uprising event on September 15th of this year, he showed a patience in his bout as was able to coast through the bout without ever really gassing himself as he has in the past. Lawler could prove to be a force with his unbelievable power.

Final thoughts

Henderson should drop to Middleweight and give Silva a run for his money. Imagine the matchups then. If Silva beats Franklin, line up a Hendo vs. Silva fight. If Franklin ends up beating Silva, Henderson can take on Franklin. Either way, it puts another huge name in the division who can take out either fighter and set up a number of matchups to get back to the title. Add in a very good Matt Lindland and possibly Filho or Riggs, the division could actually become interesting. A lot of the ideas I expressed here are long shots, but White needs to man up and sign Lindland. He’s a free agent and a very good fighter. Henderson needs to realize that owning the Middleweight division could potentially get him a pay day that he wants. Make it happen.

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