Current champ: Anderson “The Spider” Silva
With his most recent re-destruction of former champ Rich Franklin, Anderson Silva is now being touted by many as the best pound for pound fighter in the world. Certainly within the wide open middleweight division, Silva is the undisputed king, and might stay that way for a long, long time.
The long and lanky Brazilian fights a style of martial arts that can best be described as beautiful. I always thought it was funny when people used the word “beautiful” to describe brutal physical violence, but when you watch Silva fight, you can’t help but be amazed.
Silva exploded onto the UFC scene by winning quickly over Chris Leben, and then being thrown against popular champ Rich Franklin. Franklin is a tremendous fighter, and Silva annihilated him in a bad way in October of 2006. Silva threw some wicked knees from the Muay Thai clinch, dropping Franklin and smashing his nose into his face. It was hard to watch, and Franklin needed reconstructive surgery after that one. Silva looked downright scary, and many people used that fight as proof that UFC’s fighters were inferior to foreign talent (that argument would later prove to be ridiculous in 2007).
Despite the brutal victory, Silva is a totally classy guy, and something of a jokester in real life. He shows his opponents and American fans the utmost respect, sometimes when they didn’t deserve it. Silva doesn’t speak English (aside from basic phrases), and his win over the popular Franklin led to lots of boos from the crowd. Having defended his title twice now, fans have finally started to accept him for his awesome skills. Nevertheless, he is not yet a top draw, and probably never will be. If UFC had their way, Franklin would be champ. But it’s not likely to happen.
After Silva’s dismantling of Franklin in October, he faced Travis Lutter earlier this year. Unfortunately, Lutter didn’t make weight, so it was a non-title fight. People were upset over that one, but I laughed it off, figuring it didn’t matter because it wouldn’t change the outcome. The fight was interesting, as it was probably the least successful PPV of the year, and that was expected. Still, it was coming off the record setting Ortiz-Liddell show, and with all the momentum in place, it did okay. Lutter did well for himself, but Silva wrapped him up in the 2nd round, elbowing his head into oblivion and the fight was stopped.
Next up was Nate Marquardt, whom Silva also disposed of impressively. There seemed to be no end in sight to Silva’s title reign.
Finally, this past October, UFC got to promote its long-awaited Silva-Franklin rematch. It was also UFC’s debut in Cincinatti, which is Franklin’s hometown. Franklin got the expected hero’s reaction, and no one will ever doubt his ability, heart, and tenacity. But none of that was enough to stop the Spider, who came out and gave perhaps his best performance to date. Franklin came out strong and confident, and did better for himself, but the fight ended just like the last one, with brutal knees to the face. And once again, Franklin needed surgery.
The fight cemented Silva’s spot as one of the best in the world. He and Franklin showed so much respect for each other after the fight that they were practically making out. It was the perfect showing for Silva, and the next time he fights, people might open their wallets to see it. It has come to the point where people are searching for names who might be able to give him a good fight, with the most common names being Paulo Filho (who fights for WEC, which is owned by UFC), Dan Henderson (who fights at 205 and wants to stay there), and Matt Hughes (who fights at 170, but may step up if he can’t beat Serra next month). There’s also Yushin Okami (see below) and Lyoto Machida. Machida doesn’t always fight at middleweight, and he fights too boring a style for UFC’s tastes.
Until Anderson Silva reared his talented head, Franklin reigned supreme over the middleweight division. In UFC’s eyes, he was the perfect champion. He’s incredibly smart (Master’s degree in math, former math teacher), very well spoken (he has defended the sport of MMA on Bill O’Reilly, and is a great representative for UFC), good looking (women love him, if they can get past the receding hairline), a nice guy demeanor, and a bad-ass fighter.
On the other hand, he has not yet proven to be a big draw. You’d think he would be, but he isn’t. He was over huge in Cincinnati, but on a national scale, his personality lacks the killer instinct needed to draw on top. Fans know him and respect him, but there seems to be something missing.
Franklin became an instant star when he beat Ken Shamrock on the finals of the Ultimate Fighter show (the same show that had the legendary Griffin-Bonnar fight). He later coached on Ultimate Fighter, and he might have a role in the 7th season of the show next year, since that season will focus on middleweights.
Franklin’s skills are world class. It’s not that “he sucks” and that’s why he lost to Silva twice in devastating fashion; that happened because Silva is just that damn good (sorry, HHH). I don’t think anyone lost respect for Franklin from those fights; instead, their respect for Silva grew.
Franklin did fight back from the first Silva loss, having beaten Jason MacDonald convincingly. He later squeaked by Yushin Okami in a dull fight that saw Okami ruin his stock with UFC by fighting a very tentative fight.
Where does Rich go from here? Hard to say. I just can’t see how he’d ever be able to beat Silva. He has toyed with the idea of retirement, by my gut says he’ll stick around, wait for someone to beat Silva, and then work his way back up the ranks. Franklin can be champion again, but not by beating Silva. That man just seems to have Franklin’s number every single time.
As of this writing, it still isn’t clear if Okami is still with UFC. He has been offered a contract, but as of last word, has not signed it. He does have offers from other groups, but there are rumors his days in UFC will continue.
Okami is a “winning” fighter in the Tim Sylvia mold; not spectacular or terribly exciting, but he wins fights. It was his boring fight with Franklin that really opened UFC’s eyes (or rather, shut those eyes and put them to sleep). It was so bad that at his next fight, against Jason MacDonald, UFC didn’t even put it on the air. Turns out it was the right move, as the fight was reportedly another snooze-fest.
There have been arguments back and forth as to whether or not UFC should re-sign Okami. On the positive side, he’s a great fighter. On the negative side, he’s boring as Hell. UFC decided to offer him a contract, but didn’t do so with enthusiasm. If it were me, I’d let him go.
Yes, he’s very talented. But ultimately, UFC is in the business of entertaining fans, and Okami will make people run for the hills if they have to watch him fight again. He is also a nice guy, and as anyone reading this who is nice and has ever tried to ask a woman out knows, nice = boring. Nice doesn’t sell tickets, and frankly, neither does skilled fighting. Strong personalities and well promoted grudge matches sell tickets.
But don’t feel sorry for Okami. If he leaves, everyone wins. UFC wins by losing a boring fighter. Okami wins because he’ll get tons more money from an oppositon group. The opposition group wins because they’ll be getting a talented, decent name fighter, and most opposition groups lack those. And UFC wins again because if fans ever do buy the competition’s PPVs and watch Okami fight, they’ll never buy their PPVs again.
That’s pretty much it for the middleweights. There’s also Jason MacDonald from Tough Enough, but otherwise, this division is wide open for the taking. I wish Dan Henderson would move down and give Silva a great fight, but right now it isn’t happening. In other words, expect a very long title reign by Anderson Silva. And that’s okay with us.