The UFC middleweight division has long been home to some of the sport’s biggest stars. Middleweight carries the one-shot KO power of bigger frames while retaining high levels of speed and skill. Today, ‘The Last Stylebender’ reigns supreme over the division with few major contenders he has not already dispatched. Out of the top 5 ranked contenders, only Jared Cannonier has yet to face the New Zealander. Adesanya has knocked out Whittaker, Costa, and Brunson. He also holds two dominant decision victories over #5 ranked Marvin Vettori. Despite this one-sided dominance in the division, Adesanya’s recent loss to light heavyweight champion Jan Błachowicz proved that he can be bested in MMA.
At the top of the division, Adesanya is due to rematch the #1 ranked Whittaker. Unfortunately, the bout has been delayed as a result of the COVID-19 crisis in Australia and New Zealand. The #2 ranked Paulo Costa has just been scheduled to fight #5 ranked Marvin Vettori. With both coming off of losses to Adesanya, this will likely be a war to prove they remain elite.
The #3 ranked Jared Cannonier is coming off a dominant performance against Kelvin Gastelum. In his post-fight interview, he expressed the desire to fight again instead of waiting for a title fight. A good matchup would be Derek Brunson, who claimed the #4 spot after submitting Darren Till this past weekend. While Brunson has expressed his desire to sit out until he challenges for the belt, a title shot is not promised.
Looking towards the bottom half of the top 10, Jack Hermansson (#6) and Darren Till (#8) are still trying to break into the top 5 of the division. Hermansson has two relatively wide losses to Cannonier and Vettori. His chances of against the rest of the top 5 are not great unless he drastically improves his standup and movement. Till will need to fix major holes in his defensive wrestling and grappling game. Changing camps or at least working with an established camp of American wrestlers would round out his game quite nicely should he decide to pursue that route.
Ranked #11-15 and Rising Stars
In terms of prospects, the middleweight division is a bit more stagnant than the overall talent level would suggest. Both Edmen Shahbazyan (#11) and Kevin Holland (#14) need to improve major aspects of their game. Both need to heavily work on their wrestling and ground if they want to be part of the elite. Shahbazyan would also definitely benefit from an improved conditioning regimen. One of the current rising stars of the division is Sean Strickland (#7), who boasts a 5-win streak. Despite his striking prowess, Strickland will have to compete with a murderer’s row of fighters as he works his way up the ranks. Unfortunately for Strickland and the other contenders, breaking into the top 5 means little when Robert Whittaker and Israel Adesanya are so far ahead of the rest of the pack.
The UFC has recently signed Alex Pereira, who holds 2 victories over Israel Adesanya in GLORY kickboxing. Pereira is mostly known for his devastating knockout of Adesanya. He was also the first double champion in GLORY history. If he develops solid takedown defense, his striking will be a challenge for anyone in the middleweight division. Pereira has the type of power that Firas Zahabi has dubbed “the touch of death” and in 4 oz gloves, anyone should be afraid of being hit flush. While it is too early to see quite how well the Brazilian will transition into high-level mixed martial arts, the prospect of an Adesanya-Pereira trilogy is too sweet to pass up.