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MMA Top 10 Middleweights: Jake Shields Is No. 2

When Jake Shields, the reigning EliteXC welterweight champion, moved up to 182 pounds to fight Robbie Lawler in Strikeforce last year, I thought he was too small to handle a middleweight striker with Lawler's power. It took Shields two minutes to prove me wrong and force Lawler to tap with a guillotine choke.

But even though I had Shields as the fourth-best middleweight in MMA the last time I did these rankings, I guess I still wasn't completely sold on him as anything more than a beefed-up welterweight fighting above his natural weight class because middleweight is Strikeforce's marquee division.

Now that he has dominated Dan Henderson, however, I'm done underestimating Jake Shields, who takes a big step up the middleweight ladder. My latest rankings are below.

(Editor's note: The individual fighter's ranking the last time we did middleweights are in parentheses.)

Top 10 Middleweights in MMA

1. Anderson Silva (1): I know Dana White and plenty of fans and members of the MMA media are angry at Silva over his performance at UFC 112, but the reason I can't get too worked up about Silva is that his real problem is he's just too good. He's so much better than the rest of the middleweight division that he's bored fighting in it. I personally believe it's time for him to move up in weight class and give up his middleweight belt, but as long as he's fighting at 185, I'll keep him at the top of these rankings.

2. Jake Shields (4): The thing I like best about Shields is that he moved up to 185 pounds the right way, taking his strength and conditioning very seriously and adding powerful, explosive muscle. No, he wouldn't stand much of a chance against Silva, but I would absolutely pick him to beat either Chael Sonnen or Vitor Belfort, who are likely to be Silva's next two middleweight opponents. If Shields signs with the UFC, it will be interesting to see whetherhe moves back down to welterweight or stays at middleweight. He's an elite fighter in either class.

3. Vitor Belfort (4): He's still recuperating from an injury and it's not clear when we'll see him again. I think he'd be a more interesting opponent for Silva than Silva has had at middleweight for the last couple of years, and if Silva is going to stay at 185 pounds, I'd like to see Belfort get his shot at the belt.

4. Chael Sonnen (5): White says Sonnen is next for Silva, and he says Sonnen is the kind of opponent to take the fight to Silva. I'm not so sure I agree, although I do know Sonnen will engage in plenty of trash talk to hype the fight, and maybe get under Silva's skin just enough to make Silva knock him out in the first round.

5. Demian Maia (6): He has a submission victory over Sonnen on his record and is still the best grappler in the division, but he's never going to be able to hang with the best middleweight strikers.

6. Nate Marquardt (7): I probably have Marquardt ranked a little too high, but he does have that first-round knockout of Maia on his record. Maybe the two of them should have a rematch.

7. Dan Henderson (2): Strikeforce thought Hendo would be its big star, but after Shields manhandled him it's hard to see where he goes next. Maybe a move up to light heavyweight and a fight with Gegard Mousasi would be in order. Come to think of it, that's the fight Strikeforce should have done all along.

8. Robbie Lawler (8): He's supposed to fight Jason "Mayhem" Miller next, although Miller's part in the ugly post-fight brawl at the end of the Strikeforce Nashville show calls that into question.

9. Yushin Okami (9): The UFC just keeps burying Okami, who beat Lucio Linares last month in a fight no one saw. It'd be nice to see this guy fight on TV some time.

10. Jorge Santiago (NR): No word yet on when we'll see the Sengoku champ again. I'd love to see him return to the UFC; he's a far better fighter now than he was in 2006 when the UFC cut him after back-to-back losses against Chris Leben and Alan Belcher.