After Anderson Silva, the talent in the middleweight division is, for lack of a better word, middling.
That’s not to say that the likes of Michael Bisping, Brian Stan, Chris Weidman, Tim Boetsch and Alan Belcher aren’t talented guys. In fact, the division – which historically has been one of the weakest in the UFC – might be the most stacked it’s ever been. It’s just that when look at those five names and there’s not much separating them. At this point, the most effective way of picking the top contender is drawing names out of a hat.
I get that Weidman, the 9-0 All-American wrestler who demolished “top contender” Mark Munoz (I use that term extremely loosely for a guy who’s best win is a decision over division defector Demian Maia), is on a roll and looks like a challenge to Silva, but I’m not buying that fight yet. MMA shouldn’t have a lot of politics involved, but if anyone has earned the right to choose who they fight it’s Silva. And yeah, Weidman might be technically ready to challenge him, but when he says he’s not a big enough yet you can’t deny the logic. Silva just fought walking catchphrase Chael Sonnen in the biggest fight in UFC history, and he’s also a 37 year old legend at the pinnacle of his fame, yet probably nearing the end of his physical prime who wants to take huge money fights. Any way you slice it, the Weidman fight doesn’t make a whole lot of sense right now.
So where does that leave Weidman and the other four misfits? The realistic answer to that question is who knows? Because it certainly doesn’t seem like Dana White or Joe Silva have the slightest clue on how to sort this mess out. Let’s try to make sense of it:
Bisping and Stann fight in a couple weeks at UFC 152, in a clash that seems like it has title implications on the surface, but does it? Stann is coming off a dominant win over the unspectacular Alessio Sakara and has never really beaten a top-5 middleweight. I can’t see a win over Bisping, who has been bordering on contender status for what seems like millennia but doesn’t really have a signature win himself, vault him into a title shot – presumably after the Silva vs. Georges St-Pierre superfight that’s shaping up? I say no. He’d be at least another big win away.
As for Bisping, he at least has name recognition and bona fide superstardom in Britain going for him. He’s beaten a laundry list of good fighters, but has lost every important fight he’s even been in. Would beating Stann finally get him that elusive title shot? Again, I’d say no, especially with Weidman out there. So perhaps the Bisping/Stann winner gets Weidman in a number one contender battle with Silva as the prize. OK, that wasn’t so complicated.
Wait a second. Where does that leave Boetsch and Belcher?
Oh yes, those two. The wrench in the plan. As much as the UFC probably wants to forget the generic and totally unmarketable Boetsch doesn’t exist, the bottom line is he’s 4-0 at middleweight and has defeated Yushin Okami (a former title contender himself) and Hector Lombard (one of the most hyped fighters ever) in back-to-back fights. Yes, he’s doughy and boring and most people can’t spell his name right, but generally speaking, his record says he has just as much right as Weidman does to fight Silva.
Belcher is in nearly the same place as Boetsch, except he’s younger and more exciting to watch and has been calling out Weidman, Vitor Belfort and pretty much anyone else that weighs 185. He’s also riding a four fight win streak, defeating the dangerous and irrational Rousimar Palhares in his last bout. Belcher was actually supposed to take on Belfort next, in a fight of undetermined importance, but Belfort was pulled to take on Jon Jones later in the month.
OK, so what’s next for everyone? If my math is correct, it looks like there’s one too many fighters to hold a little mini-tournament for number one contender-ship, which means someone is getting screwed.
If I know the UFC, and White is usually sort of predictable (money talks after all), the winner of Bisping and Stann will take on Weidman for a shot at Silva. Weidman has been hyped up too much at this point to be anything more than one fight away from a title shot, and if Bisping wins (and I think he will), he won’t shut up until he gets Silva or Weidman next. Which means Boetsch and Belcher –two guys who, in an unbiased world where image and hype don’t exist, are on nearly equal footing with the rest – are probably going to face each other in a fight that is important but also means little in the grand scheme of things.
Then again, who knows really? This division is impossibly middlesome. I mean meddlesome
About the Author
Written by Erik Schmidt
I was born into a rich sports tradition in Chicago and graduated with a degree in super fandom from Marquette University. As the sports editor and columnist for the award-winning student newspaper the Marquette Tribune, I interviewed current NBA players Wes Matthews, Lazar Hayward, Jimmy Butler, Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder, and talked LeBron and the lockout with ESPN's Chris Broussard during a televised roundtable discussion. I firmly believe that Derrick Rose is the best player in the NBA, the Cubs are honest to God cursed and that Jay Cutler has never smiled. The world's greatest sport is MMA, and though I don't have any real fighting experience, I once received 10 stitches in a bar fight. Enjoy my work, and best wishes.