For years, Anderson Silva was so far ahead of the middleweight pack that the divisional top 10 often seemed a matter of filler.
But times, as they say, are a-changing.
After an action-packed eight days, the sands have shifted. Silva asserted his top spot with a win over Chael Sonnen. Chris Weidman put on the sort of performance in his dominant victory over Mark Munoz that makes one wonder if we're watching the rise of a future champion. And Strikeforce champ Luke Rockhold stated his case with a win over Tim Kennedy.
There's still a clear-cut top two. Silva, needless to say, is atop the list. Sonnen owns wins over Brian Stann, Michael Bisping, and Yushin Okami. His only losses in the past three years are to Silva, and he won five of seven rounds against the champ over the course of those two fights. So Sonnen won't be dropped below No. 2 until 1. Someone beneath him at 185 pounds defeats him; 2. He announces his retirement; or 3. He announces officially he is moving to 205.
Beyond Silva and Sonnen, there are 10 fighters who can make feasible claims to the remaining eight spots. In alphabetical order, they are Alan Belcher, Vitor Belfort, Bisping, Tim Boetsch, Hector Lombard, Munoz, Okami, Rockhold, Stann, and Weidman.
With bouts like Lombard vs. Boetsch and Stann vs. Bisping on deck, the pack will sort itself out soon enough. Until then, the division is an MMA Math troll's fantasy, with most fighters having enough wins and losses against varied levels of competition to argue for making their favorite fighter No. 3 or for leaving someone they dislike off the list entirely.
As for the two guys who ultimately didn't make the cut: First up is Lombard. The former Bellator champ enters the UFC on a 20-fight win streak. But it's one of the boxing-type runs in which the most noteworthy names are the likes of Kalib Starnes and Joe Doerksen. That said, an impressive win over Boetsch on Saturday puts Lombard onto the list next time around.
The toughest cut of all came down to who should be dropped out of the list to make room for Belcher on the heels of his May 5 win over Rousimar Palhares. Okami is 3-3 in his past six, but those losses were to Silva, Sonnen and Boetsch. Munoz is 6-2 at middleweight, but has fewer impressive wins at 185 and was on the wrong end of that horrible beating against Weidman. Munoz's other middleweight loss was a split decision against Okami, the deciding factor in keeping Okami and dropping Munoz for now.
(Official MMAFighting.com ranking policy: Fighters who are under commission suspensions are ineligible to be ranked during the duration of their penalty).
1. Anderson Silva (32-4): Do I even need to explain why?
2. Chael Sonnen (27-12-1): Second-best until someone proves otherwise.
3. Chris Weidman (9-0): Has the look of a future champion.
4. Vitor Belfort (21-9): Will need an impressive win next time out to maintain his lofty ranking, but the bottom line for now is his loss to Silva is still his only defeat since dropping to 185 more than three years ago (catchweight fights included).
5. Michael Bisping (22-4): Winner of his UFC 152 bout with Brian Stann will justify his spot.
6. Brian Stann (12-4): See Bisping.
7. Alan Belcher (18-6): The most underrated fighter on most middleweight lists. This is a guy who overcame an injury feared to be career-ending, and many felt he was robbed against Yoshihiro Akiyama at UFC 100, his only loss in four years.
8. Tim Boetsch (15-4): Undefeated at middleweight heading into showdown with Lombard.
9. Yushin Okami (26-7): Has more to lose than win against Rousimar Palhares at UFC 150.
10. Luke Rockhold (11-1): Undeniable skills have earned him a Top 10 spot; lack of competition will keep him from moving much higher as long as he's in Strikeforce.