The UFC has seen its championship belts bounce around somewhat in recent years. The light heavyweight – once owned by Jon Jones for a mammoth 1,501 days – has switched between Jan Błachowicz, Glover Teixeira, and the current champion Jiří Procházka in recent years, with the trio managing just one successful defense between them.
The flyweight championship, which used to hold permanent residence in Demetrious ‘Mighty Mouse’ Johnson’s trophy cabinet, has also been on the move. The title has traded hands back and forth between Brandon Moreno and Deiveson Figueiredo, with the title belt not being successfully defended in over two years.
There were a couple of constants in the organization in recent times, however, and one of them was the middleweight championship. That was held by Israel Adesanya, but the Nigerian-born Kiwi dropped the championship in shocking fashion earlier in the year to Brazilian kickboxer Alex Pereira. Heading into that bout, Bovada’s mma fight odds made the reigning champion a heavy favorite.
But in the end, he was stunned by the challenger, and his title reign ended after 1,134 days and five successful defenses. That’s a pretty impressive reign at the top of one of the UFC’s most competitive divisions. But when it comes to middleweight kings, one man stands head and shoulders above the rest.
The Rise of a King
Mixed martial arts is a sport that has seen many champions rise and fall in its three-decade existence. Anderson Silva is one of the few fighters to truly legitimize the sport and become an iconic champion. It was during his reign between 2006 and 2012, when he rattled off ten consecutive title defenses, that Silva became a household name and cemented his legacy in the sport.
A native of Curitiba, Brazil, Silva began his martial arts journey in Taekwondo before transitioning to Muay Thai and Jiu-Jitsu. He made his MMA debut in 1997 and quickly became a highly-touted prospect. After wins in Shooto, Cage Rage, and Pride Fighting Championships, Silva was signed by the UFC in 2006.
Silva’s first fight in the UFC was against Chris Leben, who he dispatched in just 49 seconds. The win would prove to be the start of one of the greatest fighting streaks in MMA history. Silva proved his worth by dominating the middleweight division with a series of wins over formidable opponents. He won the middleweight title in 2006 and went on to defend it in spectacular fashion for the next six years.
The Title Reign
Silva’s reign was characterized by an unparalleled level of skill and precision that made him the most feared opponent in the sport. He became known for his athletic and acrobatic striking techniques and his ability to finish fights in devastating fashion. He had a particular knack for finishing fights in the first round, with five of his 15 consecutive wins throughout a six-year period coming via KO or TKO in the first five minutes of the fight.
As well as picking up victories in the middleweight division, Silva also fought many of the UFC’s top light heavyweights. He knocked out James Irvin in July 2008, before defeating the two fighters that contested the first-ever Ultimate Fighter finale, defeating both of them. He would knockout Forrest Griffin with one punch at UFC 101, before defeating Stephan Bonnar by technical knockout some three years later.
Silva’s greatest rivalry during his reign came against Chael Sonnen. The two began a heated feud after Silva’s win over Sonnen at UFC 117 in 2010. The animosity between the two fighters culminated in their rematch at UFC 148, which Silva won in the second round via knockout. This was arguably the most intense and highly-anticipated rematch in MMA history and Silva proved his dominance by making Sonnen tap out in spectacular fashion.
While Silva’s reign as middleweight champion was impressive, it was ultimately cut short due to a series of injuries. Silva was knocked out by Chris Weidman in July 2013, ending his title reign at 2,457 days, the longest in company history, and in the rematch, he suffered a broken leg at UFC 168. The gruesome injury ended Silva’s spell at the middleweight mountain top and forced him to take an extended break from the sport.
Upon his return, Silva fought some of the biggest names in mixed martial arts, including Nick Diaz, Michael Bisping, Daniel Cormier, and Israel Adesanya.
Anderson Silva is still considered to be one of the greatest fighters the sport has ever seen. He has set the bar for what it takes to be a successful champion and has inspired countless fighters to follow in his footsteps. The UFC would not be the same without Anderson Silva and his legacy will continue to live on for many years to come.