Despite declining veterans like Anderson Silva, Vitor Belfort, Lyoto Machida, Michael Bisping and Dan Henderson, the UFC middleweight division remains a thriving playground of mixed talent and surging contenders.
Champion Chris Weidman is going to have his hands full when forced to fend off the likes of Luke Rockhold, Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and Yoel Romero in effort to extend his rare unbeaten streak.
On the heels of significant losses by Gegard Mousasi and Thales Leites, the aforementioned group of top contenders remains the last line of threats to Weidman’s reign. After them, the UFC must look elsewhere within the division in order to mold the next set of title hunters.
Luckily for the promotion, UFC 193 shed light on one of the best rising names in the sport, as Australia’s own Robert Whittaker extended his middleweight record to 3-0 after dismantling favorite Uriah Hall over three rounds. The fact that the 24-year-old already possesses one of the most polished striking arsenals in the division adds pizzazz to an already explosive stock.
But Whittaker isn’t the only up-and-coming middleweight on the UFC roster. He is joined by a select few, capable of building on past experiences to ensure 2016 is a year infused with exceptional action.
In accordance with where their skill set currently resides, how well they’ve adapted over the past few years and their overall potential in a division slowly losing top contenders, here are the best rising threats at 185 pounds.
As mentioned before, Whittaker’s precision striking and ability to land big punches is beginning to open eyes around the division.
His recent victory over Hall, who many people believed would work his way up the middleweight ladder quicker than anyone ranked outside of the top five, showcased an elevated ability to stand with someone just as unorthodox as he is.
Some found Whittaker’s move up from welterweight haste, especially considering he’s still very young, but the New Zealand native has never looked better.
While his stock will be contingent on his capacity to overcome future wrestlers and stay on his feet, there aren’t too many names in the division right now that carry the momentum like Whittaker.
It’s official. Brunson has begun his transition from super athlete to polished cage fighter.
People have always wondered what Brunson’s game would look like should he ever discover his hands, and to the tune of back-to-back TKO finishes he is in the midst of doing just that. While his most recent stoppage over Sam Alvey isn’t transcendent on paper, Alvey came into that bout riding three-straight first-round knockouts.
The 31-year-old’s recent success on the feet has also been fueled by his 77-inch reach, which resides alongside the likes of Weidman, Rockhold and Silva atop the the division.
As arguably one of the most well-rounded wrestlers in all of the UFC, one who took Olympic medalist and top contender Romero down four times in a matter of three rounds, Brunson has all the ingredients to finally make a push towards contention in 2016.
Despite a crushing defeat to Whittaker at UFC 193, Hall remains one of the most talented and athletically inclined fighters at middleweight.
Unfortunately for Hall, he just so happened to run into a wood chipper when Whittaker’s similar striking technique proved too much to out-muscle.
Entering 2016, “Primetime” should be revered as a divisional name capable of making tremendous leaps towards title contention. Not only because he’s as good as it gets when it comes to finishing fights, but more so his ability to rise to the occasion when stacked up against elite competition.
He remains the only fighter ever to stop Mousasi by strikes, doing so via second-round spinning back kick at UFC Fight Night 75, and possesses a known mean streak that could result in a prolonged journey towards the top of the roster.
People tend to overlook Samman when it comes to rising middleweight prospects, but that’s about to change in the most dramatic way possible.
The owner of three straight UFC finishes, including a legendary head-kick knockout of Serra-Longo Fight Team’s Eddie “Truck” Gordon back at UFC 181, Samman is quickly transforming into a dangerous entity at 185 pounds.
The recent death of his girlfriend has certainly fueled his new found violence inside of the Octagon, but it has been his timing and ability to smell blood that has rewarded him with an undefeated promotional record (3-0) and two Performance of the Night awards.
Some may point out fellow TUF alum Elias Theodorou as a more reasonable candidate to round out this list, but the undefeated Canadian has fought lesser competition en route to his two finishes spanning a 3-0 promotional clip.
Needless to say, Samman seems to be putting it all together at 27 years old. His athletic capabilities are truly shinning through and will need to be in full effect when he welcomes back Tamdan “The Barn Cat” McCrory to the Octagon at UFC on Fox 17.