The independent scene as whole is working like a well-oiled machine regarding the middleweight division with a health balance between amount of fighters and success in moving on to the UFC. Four competitors form Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series moved on to the UFC. Legacy Fighting Alliance has had two champions since inception at the beginning of 2017, Eryk Anders and Makus Perez Echeimberg, both of whom have already moved on to the UFC leaving that title vacant. Bellator is reaping the rewards of growing their own middleweights while signing one of the top prospects in the division. Not all the promotions have had such success with Titan still not having ever inaugurated the division while CES MMA, CFFC, and PFL have all failed to replace their middleweights who moved on.
From the eight episodes of DWTNCS five fights were at middleweight with every winner somehow being rewarded. Charles Byrd fought twice first defeating Jamie Pickett then Buddy Wallace with the second victory earning Byrd a UFC contract. Geoffrey Neal and Julian Marquez also won contracts by defeating Chase Waldon and Phil Hawes respectively while Bevon Lewis was signed to a “development contract” upon defeating Elian Urbina. No other division has benefitted so well on the series in terms of percentages.
This is heaviest division Bellator is more about growing fighters than buying UFC vets. Bellator’s current champion Rafael Carvalho hasn’t lost a fight since his MMA debut, his sole blemish on his 15-1 record. After defeating Brian Rogers and Joe Schilling Carvalho won the vacant title with a TKO of Brandon Halsey in October 2015, just over one year after Scott Coker took control. Carvalho went on to defeat Melvin Manhoef twice then notched his first win against a UFC vet when he defeated Alessio Sakara for his third defense. In what has been interpreted as a mark of Bellator’s stature Rafael Lovato Jr. signed to Bellator as opposed to the UFC. Lovato was the Legacy FC champion when he entered Bellator and has since rattled off three wins improving his still-perfect record to 7-0. The most iconic Bellator middleweight Alexander Shlemenko is still around although bouncing between Bellator and M-1 Global with his most recent fight being against UFC star Gegard Mousasi, a fight that snapped Shlemenko’s six-fight win streak. Also keep an eye on Ed Ruth, an undefeated wrestler with MMA a record of 4-0 with all four being in Bellator.
That isn’t to say Bellator aren’t adding UFC vets to this division. Kendall Grove vs. A.J. Matthews is one of the few fights confirmed for 2018 so far but considering Matthews has lost four straight fights that bout is viewed as little more than getting Grove back on track. Mike Rhodes went 0-3 in the UFC then picked up four wins in independents including taking the Victory FC title then signed to Bellator only to lose to Lovato. Note that Victory FC still list Rhodes as champion, interesting considering he fought for Bellator while VFC are webstreamed at UFC Fight Pass.
Cage Warrior’s Lee Chadwick is one to keep an eye on. Chadwick was supposed to fight at Bellator 158 but two opponents fell through. Instead Chadwick went on to CWFC which is webstreamed at UFC Fight Pass where he defeated Tommy Quinn and Andrei Manzolo before taking the title against Victor Cheng. Chadwick’s record now rests at 24-13-1, one of the most experienced middleweights to have never fought for the UFC.
One Championship isn’t known for passing fighters to the UFC, unfortunate considering they have Aung La Nsang as champion. Nsang came up through CFFCand Ring of Combat before joining One Championship in 2014. 21-10 Nsang lost his first title fight against Vitaly Bigdash but won the second in January and June 2017 respectively, his only fight since then being a win at heavyweight over Alain Ngalani in November.
Champions and standouts
- Bellator: Rafael Carvalho
- CES MMA: vacant
- CFFC: vacant
- CWFC: Lee Chadwick
- LFA: vacant
- M-1 Global: Artem Frolov
- One FC: Aung La N Sang
- PFL: vacant
- ROC: Ruslan Melikov
- TFC: uninaugurated
- VFC: Mike Rhodes
- Others: Alexander Shlemenko, Tim Williams, Rafael Lovato Jr., Brendon Allen, Vitaly Bigdash, Ed Ruth, Jamie Pickett, Chase Waldon, Bevon Lewis