This Saturday, June 22, is a pivotal one for the middleweight division.
At Bellator London, Gegard Mousasi defends his 185-pound crown against the undefeated Rafael Lovato Jr. Mousasi was poached by Bellator in 2017 after the Dutch pound-for-pound claimant ran up five straight wins in the UFC. Now with two more victories and a shiny gold belt, he leads the charge for middleweights the world over against the UFC’s grip of the divisional helm.
Bruno Silva, formerly the M-1 middleweight champion, was another standout gaining a reputation outside the Octagon. Last year, the Brazilian overpowered the division’s hottest prospect in Artem Frolov for the title, and is now set to fight at UFC Greenville this weekend.
Considering international combat sports are more accessible to the American viewer than ever before, a snapshot is in order of the 185-pound landscape emerging outside of that eight-sided cage. Begging one question.
Who are the best middleweights in the world outside of the UFC?
Scott Askham (18-4)
At KSW 49, Askham proved his first win over promotional favorite and former champion Michal Materla wasn’t a fluke. The Englishman went to Poland to use the same recipe for victory he did the first time around, eating his man up with body kicks and eventually stopping him inside the distance. This time in Round 3.
The finish not only earned Askham the KSW middleweight championship but also extended his win streak to four straight—a rejuvenation since a rough stretch in the UFC, who released him after a 2-4 Octagon record.
Standing 6’3”, Askham is a sizable fighter for the class and uses his long legs to deal out real damage. Another KSW staple Marcin Wojcik moved down from heavyweight (after a career at light heavyweight) to meet Askham at 185 pounds but was easily stamped out after succumbing to body kicks and follow-up punches on the ground.
Anatoly Tokov (28-3)
Despite eating a shotgun right hand from Gerald Harris in March, Tokov got off the mat to cinch a guillotine choke in the second round to remain undefeated under the Bellator banner.
Before storming up the Bellator pecking order, the Russia-born vagabond fought across his homeland for M-1 Global, Fight Nights (FNG), and ACB. To go along with a successful pitstop in Japan for RIZIN, Tokov made his Bellator debut having lost just one fight in his previous 17 bouts. That included a win over ACB champion Albert Duraev as well as a legendary scrap with countryman Arbi Agujev.
Tokov, 29, has finished all but one of his four Bellator opponents, living up to his billing as one of Fedor Emelianenko’s training partners. He outpointed the freewheeling Alexander Schlemenko at Bellator 208 in Long Island, New York and now with a recent comeback victory over Harris, should have his eyes on Saturday’s title fight between Mousasi and Lovato Jr.
Albert Duraev (12-3)
Duraev has not competed in 2019 but is still the reigning Absolute Championship Akhat beltholder. He won the strap against “Slava” Vasilevskiy at ACB 77. Affirming his nickname “Machete,” Duraev chopped down his man with leg kicks before finishing him off on the ground with punches.
After a stint under the M-1 banner, Duraev was signed to ACA (then known as ACB) and found his groove, rattling off seven consecutive wins. That streak includes dominant efforts over UFC veterans Sergey Khandozhko and Clifford Starks.
The 30-year-old Russian defended the belt in September 2018, decisioning Piotr Strus over five rounds, flooring the challenger in the third stanza, and pelting him around with winging punches.
Aung La N Sang (25-10)
NSang is currently a duel-divisional ONE champion—champ champ, as it were. It took two attempts to lift the middleweight title from Vitaly Bigdash. But the “Burmese Python” finally did it in the summer of 2017, winning by unanimous decision (scored by its entirety, not round-by-round).
With the gold around his waist, NSang immediately went after a heavyweight by the name of Alain Ngalani. The giant slayer next went on to win the ONE light heavyweight title, outlasting Ken Hasegawa in a firefight that was so good they went at it again three months ago in Tokyo.
NSang, 34, again came out on top, finding his range with high and low kicks, dropping his bloodrival with a right hand in the opening round, and slumped Hasegawa with another right hand at the end of Round 2 where he finished his opponent off with strikes on the ground.
Gegard Mousasi (45-6-2)
Mousasi has had a career like few others. Initially fighting out of the Netherlands, he caught on in Japan and before competing simultaneously between Dream and Strikeforce.
Mousasi was a force at light heavyweight and middleweight. But still took the time to submit Mark Hunt in an openweight competition. His early results in the UFC were a mixed bag, basically alternating wins and losses over his first seven fights inside the Octagon.
In 2016, however, the Dutch virtuoso was reborn. The 33-year-old Mousasi rattled off five straight wins, including crushing knockouts over Vitor Belfort, Uriah Hall, and Chris Weidman. Somehow Dana White and Co. managed to let Bellator snatch him up. Now culminating in a commanding second-round TKO over Rory MacDonald, it can be arguably said that the UFC no longer controls the premier fighter in every division.