Blog — October 6, 2019 at 12:34 pm

The Future Of UFC’s Middleweight Division

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four fighters

With the Reaper dethroned, Middleweight is looking more exciting than ever. Not because Robert Whittaker is no longer champion, but because now there are far too many fights to make and all of the fighters are healthy and ready to go. In other words, this division hasn’t looked that electrifying, at least in the past 10 years.

Here I will focus on mainly the top 5 guys of this weight class and share my thoughts on all the potential blockbuster fights that can (and probably will) happen. First, we need to address last night’s monumental performance from the title and interim title holders.

A fight for the ages

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Israel Adesanya dancing alongside his friends during his walkout

With a little more than 57,000 fans gathering inside the Marvel Stadium and a live gate of over 8 million US dollars, it was clear that previous records didn’t even stand a chance. To top that off, the main card started with an incredible KO (for which De Castro earned himself a 50k bonus) and ended in a bittersweet victory for “The Last Stylebender”.

While all eyes were on the two men involved in the main event of the evening, Israel Adesanya made sure to entertain the crowds before he even stepped into the Octagon. The Nigerian native, came out to three of his friends dancing and quickly joined them to make it a walkout for the ages. Fun fact, two of the dancers were actually Izzy’s best friends that also introduced him to dancing quite a while back.

Robert Whittaker, who had a much more traditional walkout, was greeted with the crowd’s hometown cheers, as he was the fan-favorite, at least in most bookies’ records.

As the fight began, we were all quickly reminded that this will hardly last the full five scheduled rounds as Whittaker came out swinging. That isn’t something we are used to seein from him, as he is usually far more calculated and measured in his shots and fighting style but then again, the 6.5 inch reach disadvantage probably forced him to fight a little dirtier. Getting in the pocket is something Kelvin Gastelum proved to be quite effective against Adesanya and Whittaker tried to capitalize on that. Still, as The Last Stylebender said in his post fight interviews, he was well-prepared for a very aggressive in-your-face Whittaker.

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Countering Whittaker’s combinations was shaping up to be the theme of the fight and just a mere few seconds before the buzzer of the first round, Izzy managed to clip the champion with a solid hook that placed Whittaker on his behinds. At that point, many were certain that the bell saved the current champ and Adesanya felt that next time there would be no buzzer to get in between them.

A few minutes later, after a solid jab in Adesanya’s face, he did a perfect two-piece combination, from which the second left hook knocked down Whittaker. This time, though, Adesanya had all the time in the world, and after a solid shot on the ground the referee felt like he’s seen enough.

After the fight there were a few moments that are worth pointing out. One of the things that was felt throughout the massive arena was Adesanya’s gratitude towards his family, who were all joining him in the octagon and were cheerfully celebrating. Another aspect of that post-fight atmosphere was Whittaker’s class and humbleness. Both fighters acknowledged each other on several occasions and it is safe to say that their respect towards each other will grow more and more from now on. In the words of Whittaker “they will meet again for a fight or two…”.

The last part of the octagon-side events was a particular Brazilian who is on an amazing 13 fight win streak (undefeated since MMA debut). Paulo Costa, as he promised, was watching this event closely throughout the buildup and in the actual arena while it was happening. He is coming off an impressive (although a little controversial) decision victory over the Middleweight powerhouse Yoel Romero. Even before his fight against The Cuban Missile, he made it clear that he wants to “break Adesanya’s face”. The Nigerian-born New Zealander didn’t pay too much attention to that, as he had bigger fish to fry but as soon as he was asked what is next he mentioned, that he has “an overly inflated balloon that he has to deal with”.

That statement comes after Costa called him a skinny clown, to which Adesanya wittedly responded that if he is a clown then Costa is his balloon animal. since both fighters are on an absolute tear and have undefeated streaks, it is quite safe to assume that the UFC will do everything in their powers to make this fight a reality as soon as possible. Apart from Israel’s charisma, Costa has also been a huge fan-favorite among MMA aficionados.

If that doesn’t feel like the right fight currently, which one do you think is? Let me know in the comments!

Rise to glory – What Israel Adesanya means for the division

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The Middleweight division has been the centerpiece of the organization before but it was recently overshadowed by some excellent rivalries across other divisions such as Lightweight, Welterweight, Light Heavyweight, and maybe even Heavyweight. That is partially thanks to the champion’s absence due to his injuries and the lack of a proper face to the division.

Israel’s quick rise to glory started just 20 months ago and he steamrolled through some tough competition to get to his title shot, which he decisively won. With an incredible 7 fights in less than two years, the champion now plans on staying as active as possible, which is exactly why many (including me) think that this will revive the division and place it in the center of everyone’s attention once again.

Apart from the ongoing beef with Jon Jones, Israel is facing a lot of opportunities within his own division. Cannonier, Costa, Romero, and even Whittaker are still up there with him and are all hungry to get a their shot at gold. Still, one can argue that in his own way, Israel just put a new start to this whole weight class.

There have been a lot of people comparing him to Conor McGregor, mainly due to his polarizing character and his charisma. In my opinion, he resembles Conor’s path to a championship belt quite closely. An undefeated streak got him the interim title, the same way Conor got it from Chad Mendes, and then he fought against the real champion and unified the belts. That being said, you can bet that there is a person or a group of people somewhere in UFC’s headquarters rubbing their hands knowing they have their new potential superstar.

But what does this meteoric rise to gold say about UFC’s fighters and their competitiveness? After all, Adesanya was a well-renowned kickboxer before he got his ticket punched for the UFC and he basically outclassed almost all of his opponents on the feet. Does the UFC actually present a decent enough challenge for veteran kickboxers or other type of martial arts champions? Well, I guess that topic deserves a separate discussion on its own…

Now, let’s check out which are (in my opinion) some of the best and most exciting coming matchups.

Potential matchups

Apart from the obvious fight that everyone seems to want at this point (Adesanya vs Costa), there are a few interesting options that I want to point out…

Cannonier vs Anyone in the top 5

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Jared Cannonier has been on many people’s radar for quite some time now. I have been personally following him since his Heavyweight fights with Shawn  Jordan and Cyril Asker. He is one of the few fighters that have gone down two full weight classes and has also been through a lot of personal hardship. All that aside, he is now a true force in Middleweight, where he looks the best out of his whole career. Maybe there is a point to fighters fighting in their natural weight classes here but I am not going to go into that right now.

He is currently on a 3 fight winning streak with KO/TKO wins against Anderson Silva, David Branch, and most importantly – Jack Hermansson.

That last win against a potential title challenger is what cemented his place in the UFC Middleweight top 5. He now has a few options on his radar and even though a title shot might still seem unlikely, he can easily fight against Whittaker to prove his worthiness. Yoel Romero and Kelvin Gastelum are other options, even though Gastelum is already booked against Till and a win over Daren Till might easily set him up for a rematch with Israel Adesanya (for a title or not, depending of Izzy’s next fight results).

Romero vs Whittaker 3

Before you riot against me, hear me out on this one… Both men are coming out of losses and even though it is officially 2-0 for the Australian, many people are still convinced Yoel had him in their second fight. So, what do you think? Should Whittaker go inside the octagon for a third time with arguably one of the most dangerous middleweights right now or should he pick his shots more carefully? We ar eabout to find out, unless Yoel retires, which wouldn’t be a bad call considering his age (42).

Apart from that, everything now seems either booked or pretty likely to happen. The most likely scenario for this division would be Costa getting a title shot and Whittaker getting back into the octagon against someone like Cannonier for a potential title eliminator. The issue is that Gastelum also has a valid claim at the throne, considering that he is Israel’s toughest fight until this day.

Up & comers

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One of the most dangerous young prospects in this division is without a doubt Edmen Shahbazyan. he is on a 10 fight winning streak, 3 of those inside the UFC, with the most recent victory over a tough opponent in the face of Jack Marshman.

He is the third fighter currently on an undefeated winning streak in this division’s top 15  and it will interesting to see who he will be facing in his next fight. One thing is for certain, though – whoever he is fighting, it will put him right in that sweet top 10 position, which will open his way to the elite. My argument against rushing him towards the top 5 is that he is only 22 years of age and there is some experience that he can gather before going up against the veterans. One example of why rushing young fighters is bad is none other than Daren Till, who is making his middleweight debut against Gastelum in 2 weeks.

What the future might hold

Whatever the organization has prepared for us, one thing is absolutely sure and that is that we are definitely going to witness some wars and a lot of back and forth between the elite of the middleweight division.

As I said already, I think we are headed into the Renaissance of this weight class and every single potential fight now is beyond exciting and the title picture is looking as complex as possible.

Middleweight is also grounds for Light heavyweights that are dropping down or welterweights that are going up, just like Darren Till is. Tyron Woodley has also recently mentioned that his dream list of fights to have includes Israel Adesanya.

As a whole, right now all the wrestler-heavy fighters are sharpening their teeth as they seem to think that this is the champion’s weakness, even though he showed in some of his past fights (Tavares, Gastelum) that his ground game is severely underrated and he hasn’t shown his true potential on the ground yet.

Final Words

Even though the future right now is blurry, Middleweight hasn’t seemed so alive for years now. What we don’t know now might be tomorrow’s fight news. The certain thing is that anything we get as a fight will be a spoil to the fight fans and will keep moving this division more and more towards the focus of the UFC. Let me know what your thoughts are down in the comments or on any of my social media platforms!