The UFC Middleweight Title: A Visual History

By Ben Duffy Sep 22, 2020
At UFC 253 this Saturday, Israel Adesanya will attempt to restore order to the Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight division, as he faces Paulo Henrique Costa in his second title defense. Two defenses may not sound like much, but if “The Last Stylebender” succeeds, he will become only the fourth man in the 19-year history of the division to defend the belt more than once, and move into a tie with Rich Franklin for the third most title defenses in divisional history, behind only Chris Weidman (3) and Anderson Silva (10).

The incomparable Silva so thoroughly dominated the 185-pound division during his long reign that it’s easy to forget what a mess it had been before his arrival. In fact, like its fellow unloved stepchild, the lightweight division, the UFC had a long period during which there was no middleweight champ at all, in this case the two-and-a-half year gap between October 2002, when Murilo Bustamante defected to Pride Fighting Championships, and February 2005.

Silva’s run of 10 title defenses—which would have been 11 had Travis Lutter made weight at UFC 67—came to a crashing halt at the end of a sweet left hook from Weidman at UFC 162. For the next five years, the title picture was a mess, defined by stunning upsets, a couple of very iffy title shots, challengers missing weight and above all, a shocking litany of injuries and illnesses. Of the next five men to wear the belt after “The Spider,” Georges St. Pierre and Michael Bisping are out of the sport for reasons related at least partly to their health, Weidman and Luke Rockhold moved up to light heavyweight and Robert Whittaker withdrew from more title bouts than he fought.

Here is the history of the UFC middleweight title and the times it was won, lost or defended. Interim title fights are omitted with the exception of Whittaker vs. Romero at UFC 213, since the winner of that fight was promoted to undisputed champion without a unification bout. It tells the story of a talented but chaotic division, a competitive maelstrom that only one man has truly managed to tame so far.

Ben Duffy/ illustration

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