When it comes to the UFC middleweight division, are underdogs currently in control? An examination of the achievements of Dricus du Plessis and Sean Strickland in comparison to the conventional favorites

A rollercoaster of changes has occurred in the middleweight division of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) in recent memory. Because Israel Adesanya has been able to string together title defense after title defense, he is no longer the dominant champion of this sport. Instead, he was dethroned by Sean Strickland, a person who was never considered capable of posing a threat to the position.

In the views of everyone other than Strickland himself and his inner circle, the concept that Strickland could defeat a fighter of Adesanya’s caliber, especially on short notice, was inconceivable. Strickland was the only person who believed this to be possible. However, ‘Tarzan’ went on to pull off the most amazing upset in the history of the UFC middleweight division by defeating the title in five rounds by going from pillar to post.

After that, he defended his championship for the first time against Dricus du Plessis, a fighter whose entire accomplishments in the Ultimate Fighting Championship were disregarded and underestimated. The question of whether or not du Plessis has ever faced up against anyone, other than Strickland, who did not underestimate him is quite reasonable. Now, however, he holds the title of middleweight champion.

What exactly took place? When it comes to 185 pounds, is there a rush of underdogs and those who are not remarkable?

The UFC middleweight division then vs. now

It is generally agreed upon that fighters who were widely recognized as the best 185-pounders of the time, or at the very least, fighters whose legacies dwarf those of today, dominated the middleweight division of the Ultimate Fighting Championship for a significant portion of its history. People considered Rich Franklin to be the best boxer in the world when he was at the top of the middleweight division.

After Anderson Silva dethroned him and penned one of the greatest title streaks in the history of the sport, ‘The Spider’ was unanimously recognized to be the sport’s greatest fighter of all time. His position was eventually dethroned by Chris Weidman, a phenom who had not yet suffered a loss and whose wrestling was the most impressive the division had ever witnessed up until that moment.

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After that, Weidman successfully defended his title three times, initially against Silva in a rematch that was considered to be historic, and then twice more against the legendary Brazilian fighters Lyoto Machida and Vítor Belfort. After that, the reign of the All-American was brought to an end by Luke Rockhold, who was breaking records at the time and appeared to have all he needed for a lengthy reign as champion.

Rockhold was a powerful and slick kicker, had strong wrestling, was enormous for the division, and had the most devastating combination of Brazilian jiu-jitsu and ground-and-pound in the history of middleweight. He was also a massive fighter. However, he was ultimately defeated by Michael Bisping, a boxer who was courageous, well-rounded, and ultimately unremarkable. Bisping was the last person to win the title.

“The Count” successfully defended his championship against Dan Henderson, which resulted in a momentary disruption in the hierarchy of supremacy within the division. That order was restored when he was defeated by the all-time great Georges St-Pierre, whose decision to leave the belt allowed the incredibly competent Robert Whittaker to take over.

In a short period of time following that, Israel Adesanya defeated “The Reaper” to establish himself as the champion of the middleweight division. The combination of his exceptional striking and flair generated parallels to Silva, particularly as he started successfully defending his title. In the division, “The Last Stylebender” was the dominant force and appeared to be unstoppable.

There was no one who could compete with his striking ability, and he was too quick-footed and too keen of a ring or cage general for anybody to be able to outwrestle him. The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) was compelled to bring in Alex Pereira, a former Glory Kickboxing champion who had won two divisions, because he was the only man with a level of kickboxing that was comparable to or even above his.

The competition between Pereira and Adesanya was fierce, and ‘Poatan’ swiftly joined the running for the crown. In order to become the champion, he knocked out Adesanya with a technical knockout, but in the subsequent rematch, Adesanya reclaimed the championship with a comprehensive knockout. From the beginning of the Franklin era until this moment, the division was governed by the most capable individuals, with Bisping being an exception.

However, 185 pounds is a different number now. When Strickland defeated Adesanya for five rounds on short notice to win the middleweight championship in 2023, he was the one who was responsible for what is considered to be the most significant upset of the year. Prior to the battle, he was a historically underdog in the betting market, and no one considered him to be a particularly exceptional boxer.

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In addition to a fast jab, Philly Shell, and a gas tank that has no bottom, he possesses very little else of importance. It is more likely that he will prevail through decision-making than through any other means, as he is neither forceful nor remarkable. However, during his first defense of his title, he was defeated by du Plessis, a fighter who is sometimes overlooked. Despite this, he was still able to become a champion.

As far as aesthetics are concerned, Du Plessis does not have the most appealing technique. To put it another way, his manner is awkward, and it reminds me of someone pressing buttons in a video game. That is, if simple aesthetics are taken into consideration. He is actually a highly strategic fighter who possesses a combat IQ that is significantly greater than what is often believed about him.

Moments after a tough bout, he is able to recall individual exchanges in his fights, during which he was required to make a swift adjustment of some kind. He is able to do this because he is able to recall specific exchanges. The optics of his method, on the other hand, caused many people to overlook him during his climb to prominence. They believed that once he began competing against great competitors, he would be defeated.

Many people were under the impression that he would be defeated by Derek Brunson, who is considered to be one of the finest gatekeepers in the division’s history. In its place, du Plessis delivered such a devastating blow to him that Brunson’s corner gave up and conceded defeat. After that, supporters were certain that he was going to suffer a humiliating defeat at the hands of Whittaker, a former champion who has been ranked among the top three fighters.

Instead, du Plessis astonished his critics by knocking out ‘The Reaper’ in the second round of their fight via a technical knockout. After that, he was able to unseat Strickland and ultimately become the champion of the middleweight division. In consecutive title battles, athletes who were widely disregarded by fans and other competitors alike have won gold in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).

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On top of that, there are four other fighters who are now competing in the middleweight division who, on paper, leave a lot to be desired but are still placed in the top 10 of their respective weight classes. The highest-rated member of the group is Marvin Vettori, who is ranked fifth. There is not a single striking or wrestling technique that he excels in, and he has only ever won a single UFC battle by finishing it off.

In spite of the fact that he has a record of 2–3 in his most recent five bouts, no one anticipates him to achieve anything noteworthy concerning the division. There is Paulo Costa, who he had previously competed against, underneath him. Even though Costa is ranked sixth, he has never defeated anyone who is ranked in the top 15 in the world. In point of fact, he has never won a fight against anyone who is even now competing in the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

All of this is without taking into account the fact that he has a record of 1–2 in his most recent three bouts. Despite the fact that he possesses a fighting style that is more aesthetically pleasing than that of many others, it has proven to be entirely unsuccessful against the only two fighters he has fought who are still competing MMA. On the other hand, Roman Dolidze, who has never been able to win over supporters, is currently rated ninth.

Despite the fact that he has won once against a top-10 opponent in Jack Hermansson, he is now on a losing run of two fights. When we talk about Hermansson, he is another player who is ranked tenth. He has not won against anyone who is presently listed in the top ten, and he has only won against someone who is currently ranked in the top fifteen.

The majority of the fighters in the middleweight category, with the exception of Whittaker and Adesanya, and potentially Bo Nickal and Khamzat Chimaev, are not considered to be world-beaters or elites by the majority of fans. This is because their performance against top competition will determine whether or not they do well.

When Silva, Belfort, Machida, Weidman, Brunson, Rockhold, and a number of other famous fighters were all working in the same division, this is a long cry from what it was like. In its place, it is now governed by the underdogs, who are frequently underestimated.

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