Even if Chris Weidman gets past Lyoto “The Dragon” Machida on July 5 at UFC 175, his title reign has the potential to be the toughest among the UFC champions out there today. Not only is the middleweight division the most lucrative and popular, it is the deepest weight class in terms of quality of championship contenders.

Here are five reasons why Chris Weidman’s road is the toughest:

Johny Hendricks  #9 Pound for Pound , UFC Welterweight Champion

Big Rig has just won the welterweight title last March 15 against Robbie Lawler in UFC 171. The win not only showed Hendricks’ skills but it showed that he had the heart of a champion when he summoned his inner strength to beat Lawler in the deciding fifth round.

In Hendricks’ previous fight, the Oklahoma native dominated the legendary Georges St. Pierre for five rounds before losing a disputed and controversial split decision. The bout led to St. Pierre’s leave of absence which paved the way for Johny’s second crack at the title.

Big Rig has a record of 18-2 with 8 knockouts and 1 submission. Hendricks has stated that he wants to retire at 185lbs. While Hendricks admits that he may be relatively “short” at 5’9″ for the middleweight division, he likened himself to Mike Tyson who beat up all the bigger men in heavyweight boxing with his heart and brawn. With his stocky frame and freakish punching power, Hendricks can definitely punch his way to the top of the middleweight division should he choose to move up.

Luke Rockhold # 5 Middleweight

Luke Rockhold has won two consecutive first round stoppage victories in the UFC after his defeat to Vitor Belfort in his UFC debut. Rockhold knocked out #10 Costas Philippou with body kicks in UFC Fight Night last January 15. He returned to the Octagon after three months at UFC 172 and submitted #13 Tim Boetsch via inverted triangle-kimura. Rockhold has an impressive 12-2 record with 3 knockouts and 7 submissions. This Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belter won the Strike Force middleweight crown with a controversial unanimous decision win over Jacare Souza in 2011.

After beating Boetsch, Rockhold called out his UFC conqueror Vitor Belfort for a rematch and demanded a title shot if he gets past the Brazilian phenom. Vitor knocked him out with a spinning heel kick to the face in one of the most spectacular knockouts in UFC history. But after two bounce back victories, Rockhold is back on the winning track and has his eyes set at Belfort and then the title.

Jacare Souza #4 Middleweight

Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza is one of the best grapplers in the sport. Souza is the former Strike Force Middleweight champion who has a record of 20-3 with 2 knockouts. 14 of those victories have come via submission. Souza won a total of 8 gold medals in 5 World Championship of Jiu Jitsu competitions. He also won 2 golds and 3 silvers in five years of competing in the ADCC Submission Wrestling World Championships.

Since joining the UFC in 2013, Souza has been 3-0. Souza submitted Chris Camozzi in his UFC debut while he knocked out Japanese Yushin Okami with punches in the first round round of their UFC Fight Night bout last September 2013. Souza defeated Francis Carmont by unanimous decision in his first fight of 2014.

After the fight, Souza revealed that he suffered an elbow injury during training. But now that the elbow is 100% after surgery, Souza wants a piece of the championship belt too. He also said that he would gladly settle for #3contender Vitor Belfort if he does not get a title shot in his next bout.

Anderson Silva #1 Middleweight, #7 Pound for Pound

Although Weidman beat Silva twice, many people still doubt his victories over the greatest mixed martial artist of all-time. Weidman knocked out the Spider with a punch in their first fight, and critics called it a lucky punch. In their rematch last December 28, Silva broke his left leg while Weidman checked his kick.

Again, the premature ending left doubters wondering what would’ve happened if Silva didn’t break a leg. But the fact is, Weidman beat Silva twice- fair and square. And that’s the reason why the middleweight belt is around the All-American’s waist.

But Silva refused to be counted out. He immediately had arthroscopic surgery to stabilize his tibia with a metallic rod while his fibula was reset. But barely a month and a half after the surgery, Silva tweeted photographs of himself training in the gym. Silva was seen lifting weights with a trainer and going up and down the stairs without the aid of crutches.

UFC President Dana White had hinted a possible year end comeback for the former middleweight champion. And although Silva clearly lost twice to Chris Weidman, UFC fans are still hoping to see them battle once again. Silva has a record of 33-6 with 20 knockouts and 6 submissions.

Vitor Belfort #3 Middleweight

The Phenom was supposed to face Chris Weidman in UFC 173 but he was forced to withdraw because of the Nevada State Athletic Commission’s ban on Testosterone Replacement Therapy(TRT). Belfort has been controversial for his “therapeutical” use of TRT and the decision of the NSA prompted him to forego his application for a license to fight Weidman in UFC 173.  Belfort had blasted to the top of the middleweight standings after three sensational victories over Michael Bisping, Luke Rockhold and Dan Henderson since moving down from the light heavyweight division.

At age 37, Belfort is one of the greatest UFC fighters of all time. At age 19, he was the youngest fighter to win a UFC match. In 1997, he won the UFC 12 Heavyweight tournament. He beat the massive Tank Abbott via knockout in UFC 13 before losing to Randy Couture in the UFC Heavyweight title eliminator in UFC 15.

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