(“I am on a drug. It’s called Charlie Sheen.” Pic: ESPN)
During the four years, four months and 16 days that Anderson Silva has had the middleweight title on lockdown, the UFC’s light heavyweight and heavyweight divisions have combined to produce 10 different champions. Think of it this way: Silva won the title by pulverizing Rich Franklin at freakin’ UFC 64, the same event where Sean Sherk defeated Kenny Florian to become the first lightweight champion since 2003. It was also just a few months after Michael Bisping defeated Josh Haynes to win season three of “The Ultimate Fighter.” Kinda seems like a lot has happened since then, huh?
Well, not at middleweight. Middleweight has been a rock – an unchanging, unshakable rock that sometimes seems so maddeningly bored with its own immovability that it just sits there and stares at its opponents for five tedious rounds. Silva’s dominance has been so thorough that it alone kind of makes ranking MMA’s top five 185-pounders an exercise in futility. Half the guys in the Top 10 have already been defeated by the current champ and lot of the other guys either don’t seem worthy or fight in other organizations. Still, we ranked ’em. Why? Because they were there, son, because they were there …
1. Anderson Silva: Goes without saying. Not only has Silva racked up an unprecedented 13-fight win streak in the Octagon, but his last two victories — the front-kick KO of Vitor Belfort, and the Hail Mary triangle choke of Chael Sonnen — have gone a long way in restoring his reputation as a thrilling fighter who can produce savant-like brilliance at any moment.
2. Chael Sonnen: He came within two minutes of defeating the greatest middleweight of all time, which is a lot more than you can say for Rich Franklin, Dan Henderson, Forrest Griffin, Nate Marquardt, and every other opponent that Silva has rubbed out in the last five years. Plus, Sonnen was already coming off big wins over Marquardt and Yushin Okami. His six-month suspension for testosterone shadiness casts a bit of a pall over his last performance, but he still has all the tools to give the Spider — or any 185-pounder — a very bad night.
3. Yushin Okami: The UFC’s perennial “next in line” middleweight contender, Okami has all but clinched a title shot thanks to his latest win streak against Lucio Linhares, Mark Munoz, and Nate Marquardt. Still, if circumstances decide that Silva’s next opponent will be Georges St. Pierre, he could be waiting in line for even longer.
4. Ronaldo Souza: Here’s where it gets tricky. There are about a half-dozen guys jockeying for the No. 4 and No. 5 spots; you can make a case for any one of them, but not a strong case. After careful consideration, I gotta give the Strikeforce middleweight champ some love here. In his last appearance, he showed off his fearsome grappling skills at the expense of former top-10′er Robbie Lawler. Before that, he went up against tough veteran Tim Kennedy and didn’t even need his jitz, routing Kennedy in a fight contested mostly on the feet. If he can keep bringing up his standup to the level of his ground game, look out.
5. Michael Bisping: His three-fight win streak in the UFC is actually a pretty rare feat these days, and all three of those wins have come against solid, mid-level competition (Dan Miller, Yoshihiro Akiyama, Jorge Rivera). Is that more impressive than Hector Lombard‘s 20-0-1 killing spree over the last four years? Does Nate Marquardt really deserve to drop out of the top five after his anemic performance against Yushin Okami? That’s for me to suggest and you to argue about.
1. Anderson Silva: If anyone disagrees that Silva is the best middleweight, hand in your membership to the Potato Nation, because you don’t belong here. Maybe you stumbled upon the joint while looking up RuneScape cheats and figured you’d stick around for the witty banter. Trust us; you should just go.
2. Chael Sonnen: Sonnen is the only man to make Silva look outmatched in the Octagon. Sure he may have done it with higher levels of testosterone than normal, but he had a prescription. Bad rib or no bad rib, I don’t think their second bout (if it ever happens) would go much differently, except for the way it ended. If Chael can disguise himself as a Mexican and make a trip to Brazil to learn better submission defense, the sky’s the limit for the outspoken Republican … unless of course we’re talking about his future in the real estate market.
3. Yushin Okami: Okami is the opponent that Sonnen says he had the hardest time beating and who he says gives him the toughest go in the gym — so much so that he flew him in from Japan and made him his own room in his house in West Linn, Oregon to train for his fight with Nate Marquardt. He’s the baddest middleweight contender the UFC has who isn’t on a forced hiatus from fighting due to real estate fraud and he has a win over Silva, albeit a cheap one.
4. Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza: I can’t believe I’m agreeing with Ben, but Souza has shown a steadily improving stand-up game and is unbeatable on the ground — two traits that, if they ever even out will make him hard to handle for any of the fighters on this list.
5. Jorge Santiago: I know what everyone is going to say: “Dude got knocked out by Alan Belcher and Chris Leben.” That was five years ago and Leben just got put on queer street by Brian Stann and Belcher got triangled by Jason Day. The point is, this is MMA and anything can happen in this sport. Santiago is a stud and he has the ability to knock out or choke out anyone in the division. His last fight with Misaki was one of the best I’ve seen in years. Feed him Bisping, Belfort or Okami and see if they can KO Santiago V.2.0.
1. Anderson Silva: No doubt about it. But at 35 years old, how long can Silva continue to look like a robot from the future sent here to teach the rest of humankind a new way of fighting?
2. Chael Sonnen: Like it or not, 2010 was indisputably the Year of Mr. Chael. 2011? Not so much, so far. As far as we know, Sonnen is currently working as a witness for the federal government as part of the plea agreement he struck to keep himself out of prison after admitting to all that fraud. That must be so bittersweet for a hardcore, states’ rights-preaching conservative. He emerged from hiding this week long enough to send an email to UFC matchmaker Joe Silva requesting a cherry-picked comeback fight against Michael “Spitsping,” so at least we know he’s kept his sense of humor through all of this.
3. Yushin Okami: Quick quiz: Who would you least rather see as a UFC champ? Okami? Or Jon Fitch? Good thing for you, if the UFC’s master plan works out, you won’t have to worry about it for a good long time.
4. Hector Lombard: Not much love for Shango from the “Senior Editors,” huh? Don’t worry, I got this: Lombard hasn’t lost since 2005 (that’s 21 straight fights, as BG pointed out) and while, yes, there are a lot of cans padding that list there are a few decent fighters, too. Admittedly, I have no idea how good Lombard really is, but he’s pretty high on my wish list of guys I’d like to see UFC-bound. Besides, putting him here is at least more interesting than ranking Marquardt, Maia or Belfort, who all had their chances at Silva and came up wanting.
5. Jacare Souza: I was all ready to author a treatise on why I refuse to put Jacare in my top five, but then I looked at his record and realized I can’t really argue with his current two year, four-fight wins streak over Lawler, Tim Kennedy, Joey Villasenor and Matt Lindland. I’m still not 100 percent convinced he’d stand up to a stiff test from UFC-level talent (or, for that matter, somebody like Lombard) but as long as he can keep putting people on their backs like he did Lawler in January, he has a chance to win every fight he takes on.