Pre-fight Analysis

What to do with the UFC Middleweight Division

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The Issue with the UFC Middleweight Division

The UFC middleweight division is in an awkward position. With Israel Adesanya becoming so dominant, the 185-lb. division faces the potential problem of becoming stagnant.

Adesanya’s Problem

Israel Adesanya is one of the most dominant champions in UFC history and is the first man since Anderson Silva to dominate the middleweight division. He has cleared out the middleweight division including twice beating former champ and highly regarded Robert Whittaker, Paulo Costa, Marvin Vettori,  Yoel Romero, Derek Brunson and Kelvin Gastelum. Almost half of the current top-10 have been decisively beaten by Adesanya, some on multiple occasions. With a win over the next in line in that of Jared Cannonier, one wonders who will be left to face “Stylebender”. If Adesanya continues in the vein of form he is in, then it does not look likely that he will lose the belt anytime soon. However, this does put him at risk—at risk of becoming boring, almost too dominant. In a recent video posted by Chael Sonnen, the “Bad Guy” discussed how he believed that Adesanya was essentially suffering from a lack of competition and that the  middleweight division needs some new blood in order to keep the fans engaged, otherwise if the match ups are not compelling people will slowly begin to lose interest. While Adesanya has done an excellent job of keeping the wider MMA community engaged through his social media activity he may risk losing that mainstream appeal with only his own hardcore fans tuning in to see his fights.

This phenomenon described by Sonnen can be seen in the careers of two former champions whose reigns are viewed drastically differently by the public. Demetrious Johnson and the Anderson Silva were incredibly dominant champions that defended their championship belts over 10 times.  Anderson Silva is frequently mentioned in greatest of all time conversations and consistently lauded by fans and fellow fighters alike for his skills and accomplishments. However, while Demetrious Johnson still receives praise, he never enjoyed the widespread attention throughout the mainstream MMA community. Many UFC pundits, fighters, and general personalities consider him to be the greatest of all time, yet his pay-per-view buys as well as the UFC considering dissolving his division show that despite his skills and abilities, not many people tuned in to his fights.

This begs the question “What is it that separates a Demetrious Johnson from the likes of an Anderson Silva or Georges St Pierre?”. The answer is the opponents that they faced.  Who could forget Silva’s iconic rivalry with Chael Sonnen, front kicking Vitor Belfort in the face, submitting UFC and Pride legend Dan Henderson or “The Spider” making former light heavyweight champ Forrest Griffin look like an amateur. GSP also fought legends of the sport with classic fights against the likes of Matt Hughes, BJ Penn, Carlos Condit and of course Nick Diaz. In comparison Johnson fought fighters such as Henry Cejudo, Joseph Benavidez, John Dodson, Tim Elliot, and Ray Borg. These are all skilled fighters but most are not massively popular within the mainstream MMA community and would not attract much attention to flyweight title fights.

For champions such as Israel Adesanya who have beaten so many top contenders, they risk falling into obscurity if they can not find an opponent that would garner enough media spotlight. It is crucial that any opponent they face is not only a good fighter, but will be able to engage the fans and generate hype for the fights. There is a reason why Conor McGregor, who has not managed to put together two consecutive wins in almost 6 years, is being talked about immediately fighting for the title upon his return to the organization. While admittedly not everyone can be on the level of McGregor, it is vital that both fighters can make the fans care about the match up and the result. 

Possible Opponents to Keep Adesanya from falling into Championship Limbo

Darren Till

Till has been one of the most popular fighters in the company for some amount of years now. With social media antics and relatable interviews where he talks about insecurities and fears he has held ever since his loss to Tyron Woodley has cemented his place as a fan favorite. Losing 4 of his last 5 fights has certainly hindered his momentum, yet despite this, he has had close fights with the likes of Robert Whittaker which showed he can hang with the best of the best in the middleweight division. The Liverpudlian has also recently formed a hugely popular partnership with welterweight Khamzat Chimaev, frequently finding himself in mainstream MMA media. If Till’s training with Chimaev can improve his wrestling then with his already top tier striking and jiu jitsu he will be a serious force in the middleweight division. Till is currently angling for a comeback fight against Uriah Hall, and if he picks up a win over Hall, that would certainly leave him in a position to fight one of the top-5. It is hard to imagine that a win over anyone such as Marvin Vettori, Sean Strickland or even avenging his defeat to Brunson would not put him directly in line for a title shot.

Colby Covington

Colby ‘Chaos’ Covington is in an unfortunate position at welterweight. He has slowly transformed over the last few years from being considered an unlikable cringeworthy Conor McGregor rip off to somewhat of a comedic character consistently delivering one liners and could definitely be considered a fan favorite. Indeed, after beating Jorge Masvidal at UFC 272, Covington has firmly established himself as one of the elite fighters in the division. Unfortunately, this is exactly where the problem lies. Covington has already faced off against ‘the Nightmare’ on two separate occasions, coming up short both times. The chances of him getting another title shot anytime soon are not particularly high. In order to prevent himself from entering a limbo of simply fighting for the sake of fighting with no title shot on the line, Covington needs to shake things up. One excellent way of doing this is by moving weight classes. Not being a particularly big welterweight, Covington can go up or down and it looked like he may make the move to lightweight following his callouts of Dustin Poirier. However, in his recent appearance on the ‘Full Send’ podcast, Covington decided to abandon the call out of Poirier and repeatedly reiterated his intention to fight Adesanya for the title. With the current form Covington is in and if Adesanya does indeed breeze past Cannonier as many expect him too, it would not be surprising if he was gifted a title shot in his first fight at his new weight class.

Sean Strickland

Strickland is… an interesting character to say the least. Currently sitting at #4 in the middleweight rankings, Strickland has managed to remain undefeated as a middleweight and while his record and wins are impressive, what is more likely to generate a title shot for him is the notoriety that he brings. Strickland is the ‘villian’ of the UFC that Colby Covington tries so hard to be. While Covington parades around with fake belts and MAGA hats, Strickland repeatedly states his homicidal thoughts and how he would like to kill someone in the Octagon. In an infamous interview with Ariel Helwani, Strickland details his life stating how he suffered an abusive childhood, was a Neo-Nazi at one point and how he believes himself to be a sociopath, and has actively put himself in situations where he would be within his legal right to murder someone. He has divided MMA fans and fighters, with some appreciating his extremely blunt persona which pulls no punches and details exactly how he is feeling, while others view him as a disgrace to the sport due to his murderous intentions, as well as the numerous videos that have surfaced of him knocking out sparring partners. Others simply feel sorry for him and view him as a man who is aware that he is mentally damaged, yet is unable to find the help that he so obviously needs. Love him or hate him, no one can deny that Sean Strickland is an extremely entertaining character, perhaps for all the wrong reasons.

Alex Pereira

While this may be the most outlandish claim out of all the names listed so far as Pereira is still relatively unproven in the sport of MMA, it is by far the most compelling narrative of all. It is quite simple. Pereira is the last man to knock out Israel Adesanya. That is all that is needed. An easy way to make an unbeatable man seem beatable is to bring in the last man to leave him knocked out cold on the canvas. While Pereira is still new to MMA, he holds an impressive striking pedigree and recently gained an unanimous decision victory over Bruno Silva, who himself was undefeated in the UFC.  With talks of Pereira fighting Sean Strickland at UFC 277, a win for Pereira would almost nail him on to fight for the title.

Main Photo:Embed from Getty Images

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