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Where We Stand: Middleweight Division | June 2021

Take A Look At Where The UFC Middleweight Division Stands After Israel Adesanya Defended His Title Against Marvin Vettori At UFC 263.

“The Last Stylebender” took out another contender at UFC 263, continuing a run of dominance that has Israel Adesanya searching for his next challengers faster than they can ready themselves. A former foe seems primed for a rematch, though, and Robert Whittaker’s name was on the tip of Adesanya’s tongue after another successful title defense. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the state of the middleweight title picture.

Middleweight Champion: Israel Adesanya

(21-1, 15 KOs)

Last Fight: Unanimous Decision Win vs Marvin Vettori (6/12/2021)

Next fight: N/A

Israel Adesanya Octagon Interview | UFC 263: Adesanya vs Vettori 2
Israel Adesanya Octagon Interview | UFC 263: Adesanya vs Vettori 2
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Outlook: Adesanya was in cruise control against Vettori, stunting on the Italian’s proclamations about fulfilling his destiny in Glendale, Arizona. His continued education in the grappling aspect of mixed martial arts helped him to not only fend off many of Vettori’s takedown attempts, but also reverse several positions and put Vettori on the back foot. After a bit of reluctancy, Adesanya acknowledged Whittaker’s case for a rematch, but this time, he wants it on his home turf in Auckland, New Zealand (COVID-19 pending, of course). It’s the fight that probably makes the most sense even though Adesanya knocked Whittaker out in the second round of their unification fight, and knowing the kind of schedule Adesanya likes to keep, it’s likely the fight gets made.

View Each Result From UFC 263

1) Robert Whittaker

(23-5, 9 KOs, 5 Submissions)

Last Fight: Unanimous Decision Win vs Kelvin Gastelum (4/17/2021)

Next fight: N/A

Robert Whittaker of Australia reacts after the conclusion of his middleweight bout against Jared Cannonier during the UFC 254 event on October 25, 2020 on UFC Fight Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)
Robert Whittaker of Australia reacts after the conclusion of his middleweight bout against Jared Cannonier during the UFC 254 event on October 25, 2020 on UFC Fight Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)

Outlook: After losing his title to Adesanya at UFC 243, Whittaker took time to address burnout from the sport and returned looking refreshed, remotivated and very much the part of a No. 1 contender. His unanimous decision victories over Darren Till, Jared Cannonier and Kelvin Gastelum were each a showcase of Whittaker’s well-rounded excellence. He hung even with Till in a technical striking battle before showing his supremacy on the ground. Against Cannonier, Whittaker pressed the action and showed command in all areas. And versus Gastelum (who stepped for Paulo Costa), Whittaker dictated the entire bout, revealing perhaps the best form of his career in a Fight of the Night effort. He more than earned a rematch against Adesanya, and it’s the only fight that really makes sense for Whittaker at this point.

View Whittaker's Athlete Profile Here

2) Paulo Costa

(13-1, 11 KOs, 1 Submission)

Last Fight: TKO Loss vs Israel Adesanya (9/27/2020)

Next fight: N/A

Paulo Costa of Brazil stands in his corner prior to facing Israel Adesanya of Nigeria in their middleweight championship bout during UFC 253 inside Flash Forum on UFC Fight Island on September 27, 2020 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)
Paulo Costa of Brazil stands in his corner prior to facing Israel Adesanya of Nigeria in their middleweight championship bout during UFC 253 inside Flash Forum on UFC Fight Island on September 27, 2020 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Josh He

Outlook: The Brazilian bulldozer hasn’t competed since Adesanya put him away with relative ease on UFC Fight Island, but plenty of logical fights are available to him. Costa hasn’t fought anyone inside the current Top 10 other than Adesanya and Uriah Hall (whom he knocked out at UFC 226). Costa believes he wasn’t in his best mindset on Fight Island, and so it’s up to him to once again show the dominating and domineering form that led to his initial title shot. Considering the fashion in which Adesanya handed Costa his first professional loss, it’ll likely require “The Eraser” to go on the kind of run Whittaker put together in order to earn a second shot against Adesanya.

View Costa's Athlete Profile Here

3) Jared Cannonier

(13-5, 9 KOs, 2 Submissions)

Last Fight: Unanimous Decision Loss vs Robert Whittaker (10/24/2020)

Next fight: vs Kelvin Gastelum (8/21/2021)

Jared Cannonier celebrates his TKO victory over Jack Hermansson of Sweden in their middleweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at Royal Arena on September 28, 2019 in Copenhagen, Denmark. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Jared Cannonier celebrates his TKO victory over Jack Hermansson of Sweden in their middleweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at Royal Arena on September 28, 2019 in Copenhagen, Denmark. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Outlook: Cannonier was on the doorstep of a title shot when he faced Robert Whittaker on Fight Island, and Adesanya made it clear he was interested in defending his title against him, but he couldn’t put it together to get past the former champion. Given the three-fight winning streak he rode into that Whittaker fight, as well as the fact that he’s the only Top 5 middleweight Adesanya hasn’t yet faced, Cannonier perhaps needs just one significant victory to earn his shot. The 37-year-old former heavyweight is as purely powerful as anyone in the middleweight division, and he makes for an interesting matchup against anyone else inside the Top 5, so he’s by no means far from a title fight.

View Cannonier's Athlete Profile Here

4) Marvin Vettori

(17-5-1, 2 KOs, 9 Submissions)

Last Fight: Unanimous Decision Loss vs Israel Adesanya (6/13/2021)

Next fight: N/

Marvin Vettori of Italy prepares to fight Israel Adesanya of Nigeria in their UFC middleweight championship fight during the UFC 263 event at Gila River Arena on June 12, 2021 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Marvin Vettori of Italy prepares to fight Israel Adesanya of Nigeria in their UFC middleweight championship fight during the UFC 263 event at Gila River Arena on June 12, 2021 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Outlook: Although “The Italian Dream” fell short in his second bout against Adesanya, time and circumstance are on his side as he searches for another path to the title. On his five-fight winning streak, Vettori’s only Top 10 foe was Jack Hermansson, which means he has a bevy of matchups for him at the top of the division much like Costa. Vettori’s work ethic and determination are perhaps his best traits, and his ever-improving skill set makes him a grueling challenge for anyone who comes next. Again, Whittaker’s run back to title-shot worthiness against Adesanya is the blueprint, albeit a difficult one, on which to embark, but thus far, Vettori has shown every sign that he is a fighter incredibly focused on doing whatever is necessary to accomplish his goals.

View Vettori's Athlete Profile Here

5) Derek Brunson

(22-7, 12 KOs, 3 Submissions)

Last Fight: Unanimous Decision Win vs Kevin Holland (3/20/2021)

Next fight: N/A

Derek Brunson Interview with Paul Felder | UFC Vegas 22
Derek Brunson Interview with Paul Felder | UFC Vegas 22
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Outlook: After suffering back-to-back TKO losses to Jacare Souza and Israel Adesanya in 2018, Brunson has looked and fought like a new man as he embarked on a four-fight winning streak. Moving his training to Sanford MMA, where he is now under the tutelage of Henri Hooft, Brunson has harnessed his explosiveness to become a lethal, but educated, fighter in the Octagon. However, given that Adesanya did put him away in the first round, Brunson is perhaps a few wins away from achieving that contender status. Fights against Costa, Cannonier, Vettori and Jack Hermansson are all sensible, and at 37 years old, it could very well be Brunson’s last window to have a shot at UFC gold.

View Brunson's Athlete Profile Here

In the Mix: Jack Hermansson, Darren Till, Uriah Hall

Darren Till, lutador peso-médio do UFC

Outlook: The rate at which Adseanya fights and beats his fellow middleweights forces a sort of problem for him but a window of opportunity for contenders. It’s why a rematch Whittaker is a logical choice, and it’s also why the likes of Jack Hermansson, Darren Till and Uriah Hall could be closer to a title shot than most people assume when looking at the rankings. Hermansson always feels like he is two big-time wins away from that chance, but thus far has fallen short. He had a strong performance against Edmen Shahbazyan that put him back on track and he could find himself in position soon. Till, much like Cannonier, is a challenger Adesanya is interested in fighting, but the Brit hasn’t yet done the work to earn that fight and a second title shot in a second weight class. Hall, on the other hand, is a little further away it seems, requiring a handful more fights before potentially catching the attention of Adesanya. It seems like Hall has found a good home for his training at Fortis MMA, and the spectacular nature of Hall’s style lends to opportunity if he can continue his current run of form.