Since Michael Bisping won the middleweight title at UFC 199 in 2016 after knocking out Luke Rockhold, the title has been up for grabs a total of two times. The first of them being Bisping’s first title defence against Dan Henderson at UFC 204. Bisping’s second defence came at UFC 217 against Georges St-Pierre. Bisping failed to defeat GSP that night, losing by rear-naked choke in the third round. This made GSP the new middleweight champion. He was expected to unify the titles with interim middleweight champion, Robert Whittaker, in early 2018.
UFC Middleweight Wishlist for 2018
St-Pierre ended up vacating the title nearly one month after winning it. Whittaker was promoted to the undisputed champ. He was set to make his first title defence against Rockhold at UFC 221 next month in Australia. Unfortunately, Whittaker was forced to pull out of the fight due to an injury. Yoel Romero replaced Whittaker. Romero and Rockhold will fight for yet another interim title. If Romero were to win, it would set up a rematch of his UFC 213 main event with Whittaker, also for the interim title.
In the midst of all this craziness, Kelvin Gastelum continued to look great at 185 with a knockout victory over the former champion, Michael Bisping at UFC Fight Night: Bisping vs. Gastelum. This fight came just two weeks after Bisping lost his title to GSP. Rising stars like Paulo Costa and Eryk Anders have also put their names on a list of fighters to watch during the new year. With the middleweight division being somewhat crazy during 2017, here are five fights that would be great to see happen 2018. This is the UFC Middleweight Wishlist for 2018.
#1: Robert Whittaker vs. Luke Rockhold
This fight was supposed to happen in a couple of weeks at UFC 221 in Perth. After an injury forced the current champion out of the fight, Yoel Romero will instead take on Rockhold. A win for Rockhold will schedule him against Whittaker at a later date in 2018. A win for Romero would set up a rematch with Whittaker. That is a less interesting fight. The fight between Whittaker and Rockhold was supposed to be the best fight on that card. After the fallout of Whittaker, that card isn’t looking too hot anymore.
Both fighters are very good on the feet, with Rockhold probably being the better ground fighter. This could have posed a threat to Whittaker, but the last time Whittaker faced a grappler, he won by second-round TKO. Both fighters pose a threat, as they are both very skilled. If Whittaker can win, it will be the first defense of the title that he was awarded after Georges St-Pierre vacated the belt. If Rockhold can win, he will win the middleweight title for the second time. Expect this fight to be booked almost immediately if Rockhold can get past Yoel Romero next month.
#2: Jacare Souza vs. Chris Weidman
If Jacare Souza can defeat Derek Brunson next week at UFC on Fox: Souza vs. Brunson 2, a fight with the former champion, Chris Weidman would be an exciting one. That fight could also lead to a title shot. But if Souza loses next Saturday, there may be a possibility of retirement. Souza recently revealed that he almost retired following his loss to Robert Whittaker back in April.
Chris Weidman is coming off a victory over Kelvin Gastelum. This is his first win since defeating Vitor Belfort at UFC 187 in 2015. After that win, he lost the middleweight belt to Luke Rockhold at UFC 194. He then lost two more fights, falling to Romero and Gegard Mousasi. The win over Gastelum was a big one. It kept him towards the top of the rankings and could set up a potential fight with Jacare. The winner of that fight could get a title shot.
Weidman and Souza are very experienced on the ground. Weidman was an All-American wrestler and Souza is a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Souza seems to have the grappling advantage. His record boasts 17 submission victories. With Weidman not currently having a scheduled opponent and assuming that Jacare gets past Brunson next weekend, this is a fight that the UFC should put together.
#3: David Branch vs. Eryk Anders
Assuming that Eryk Anders defeats Lyoto Machida on February 3rd, he could earn a short notice fight with David Branch at UFC on Fox 28 on February 24. Branch was originally scheduled to fight Yoel Romero at this event. He lacks an opponent after Romero left to challenge Luke Rockhold for the interim title. Anders coming out untouched against Machida may or may not happen, but regardless, a fight with the former WSOF champ would be an entertaining fight. It would also be Anders’ toughest challenge in the UFC.
Anders made his debut at UFC on Fox on July 22. He took on UFC veteran, Rafael Natal. He won the fight in the first round by TKO. Anders went on to pick up his second win at UFC Fight Night: Swanson vs. Ortega. He beat Markus Perez by unanimous decision, setting up his fight with the former light heavyweight champion, Lyoto Machida.
Branch is 1-1 in the UFC. He has a win over Krzysztof Jotko at UFC 211, and a loss to the former champion, Luke Rockhold. A win over his former opponent, Romero, could have put him one win away from a title shot. He now must look for other options after Romero’s withdrawal. If a fight with Anders does end up materializing, a win for Branch wouldn’t really do much for his current position in the rankings. But if Anders could come out with the win, it would help him get a much higher ranked fight. He could be looking for a chance to win a title shot later this year. So, if Anders can come out of his fight with Machida, a fight with Davis Branch should happen, either in Orlando or on another card within the next month or two.
#4: Michael Bisping vs. Vitor Belfort
A re-match that should go down in London between two former champions and legends of the sport, Michael Bisping and Vitor Belfort. If the fight were to happen, both men would most likely retire afterwards, win or lose. Bisping has made it clear, since losing his title and then losing another to Kelvin Gastelum, that his ideal time and place to retire is on March 17 in his home country of England.
These two have faced each other before. Their last fight came all the way back in January 2013 at UFC on FX: Belfort vs. Bisping. Belfort came out of that fight with a second-round TKO victory. After Belfort’s fight with Uriah Hall was scratched from UFC Fight Night: Stephens vs. Choi, it has been rumored that a double retirement fight between him and Bisping would be happening in London. Bisping has denied the rumours multiple times.
Belfort claims that he has signed the contract and Bisping has declined the offer. With not much time left before UFC Fight Night 127, the UFC will need to get this fight done soon or miss out. With both of these fighters needing to find their retirement fights, this seems like the perfect match-up.
#5: Kelvin Gastelum vs. Paulo Costa
It may take a little while for Costa to reach a position in the rankings where he could get the chance to take on Gastelum. However, if the UFC promotes him as the next big thing, he may not have to wait long. Both men have plenty of power in their hands. They can both end a fight with one punch at any moment. We saw this when Gastelum took on Michael Bisping. He knocked out Bisping in the first round. Costa has also shown his strength and power, most recently defeating Johny Hendricks at UFC 217. He has an unbeaten record, now sitting at 11-0.
If he continues winning, Costa could be in a position to fight Gastelum later this year possibly one more win at some point this year, he could put himself in a position to fight Gastelum. If Gastelum can win, that proves that he is definitely built for this division, as Costa is massive. Meanwhile, If Costa can win, the UFC may have found it’s new superstar and he could earn a title shot. If Costa can get one or two more wins to put him in a position to fight Gastelum, the UFC should look to book that fight at some point either in the middle of this year, or the second half of 2018.
With the title situation still being all messed up due to the actions of GSP and all the interim titles that are being thrown around, these are five fights that the UFC should look to make during 2018. Many of these fights could produce new challengers for the belt. Once Robert Whittaker becomes healthy the challengers will be ready. Until then, fighters will continue to fight and stake their claims for a shot at the UFC middleweight championship.
KANSAS CITY, MO – APRIL 15: Robert Whittaker of New Zealand celebrates his TKO victory over Jacare Souza of Brazil in their middleweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at Sprint Center on April 15, 2017, in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)