Israel Adesanya ufc tite

What’s next for Israel Adesanya?

5 potential fights for the UFC Middleweight Champion

Although he was unsuccessful in his quest to capture the UFC Light Heavyweight title, the Last Stylebender still has a lot to give at 185lbs.

Paulo Costa

While the litany of excuses the Brazilian has made since he was handily defeated by Adesanya back in September has somewhat harmed Costa’s reputation among fans of the sport, it is hard to deny just how effective Borrachinha had been on his run to the title.

Costa dispatched the likes of Johnny Hendricks, Uriah Hall, and Yoel Romero as part of a five-fight winning streak, and could still prove to be a stylistically interesting opponent for the champion if he adopted a different approach in the rematch.

Suffering such a one-sided beating at the hands of the champion could well have forced the Brazilian right to the back of the line at 185lbs but it hasn’t. Costa has a golden opportunity to redeem himself inside the Octagon and start building momentum towards the title if he can get past former UFC Middleweight Champion Robert Whittaker when the pair meet in the main event of UFC Fight Night 188 in April.

Defeating Whittaker though is easier said than done…

 

Robert Whittaker

Before Israel Adesanya arrived in the UFC and almost instantly established himself as the premier fighter in the middleweight division, Robert Whittaker had been on a warpath at 185lbs.

In an 8 fight streak, capped off by victories in two wars with Yoel Romero, it appeared that Whittaker was going to reign atop of the weight class for at least the foreseeable future.

Now, of course, that didn’t happen, and Adesanya knocked Whittaker out in the second round when the pair finally met in the Octagon at UFC 243. But even with that said, Whittaker’s more recent wins over Darren Till and Jared Cannonier have proved that he is still one of the most technically savvy fighters in the sport, and will likely be looking to take some tips from Jan Błachowicz on how to defeat the Last Stylebender in a rematch.

Darren Till

One of the main issues that Adesanya faces as he makes his way back to the middleweight division is the lack of fresh matchups for him. After all, Izzy owns victories over three of the top five contenders in the division,  and while I’m sure no one would be complaining if any of the rematches were booked, a new challenge might be just what the champion needs to reassert his dominance at 185lbs.

So, who better for the champ to test himself against than the surging contender, trash-talking Englishman Darren Till. The former welterweight title challenger’s high-level technical striking presents an interesting stylistic matchup and his hilarious pre-fight antics would almost certainly provide some excellent entertainment before the two met in the Octagon.

Of course, Till still has a certain Italian to get past if he wants a second shot at UFC gold…

Marvin Vettori

Standing directly in front of Till’s route to the title, Marvin Vettori will be hoping that an impressive performance against the Brit will allow him to exact some revenge against the sitting champion.

Despite not having a background in wrestling, Vettori proved to be one of the only fighters at 185lbs who has any success in putting the champion on his back. And, if Izzy’s fight with UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jan Błachowicz last week is anything to go by, a takedown-oriented approach is the way to go to avoid the champion’s world-class striking. 

And, to his credit, Vettori has improved significantly since he found himself on the wrong side of a split decision to Adesanya in 2018. 

Since then, the Italian has rattled off four consecutive victories leading to a bout with Till that may well decide the next challenger for the belt at 185lbs.

Kelvin Gastelum

Though many believe that the former welterweight is undersized at 185lbs, it’s impossible to ignore just how successfully Kelvin Gastelum implemented his boxing-heavy style when he and Adesanya first met at UFC 236.

Unlike pretty much every other opponent the champion has faced at 185lbs in the UFC, Gastelum was repeatedly able to exploit openings in Adesanya’s defence and force him to fight on the back foot.

Despite his impressive successes in the losing effort, it seemed that Gastelum’s career was heading in the opposite direction to the champion. The Ultimate Fighter 17 winner lost two further fights to Darren Till and Jack Hermansson before getting back in the win column in February with a win over perennial contender Ian Heinisch.

Gastelum will likely still need one or two further wins to really force his way back into the title picture in the middleweight division, but if the matchmakers are looking for guaranteed fireworks for the champion’s return to 185lbs you would be hard-pressed to find a better fight than this one.

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