Middleweight is a Glorious Mess

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The division that Anderson Silva once ruled with an iron muay thai fist is now in disarray.  We have a champion in Dricus Du Plessis, who hasn’t been booked to fight since he secured the title in January.  Add to that, we have viable contenders who have an argument to walk right into a title fight based on their resume and recent success.
In an attempt to bring clarity to the situation, we will assess the contenders and their positions within the title picture.
Our assessment will categorize them into four groups: “Title Ready,” “One Quality Win Away,” “Work to Do,” and “Extenuating Circumstances.” By doing so, we hope to provide a comprehensive overview of the division’s current landscape.

  • Title Ready – Just need an opponent and a date.
  • One Quality Win Away – One signature win from being placed in the title fight
  • Got Some Work to Do – Two or more fights from a chance at the belt
  • Extenuating Circumstances – Obstacles outside their control are preventing them from making strides toward a championship

Title Ready

Dricus Du Plessis Champion (24-1)

  • Dricus Du Plessis is clearly title-ready as the reigning defending champion. Although his next opponent has yet to be named, he appears ready to face whoever the UFC puts in front of him. Like every champion, he is pushing for a ‘home game’ for one of his title defenses, but that seems unlikely at the moment.
  • Dirty Secret:  2 of his last 4 wins are over fighters who are no longer in the UFC
  • Potential matchup: Du Plessis vs Israel Adesanya

Israel Adesanya #2 (24-3)

  • Israel Adesanya, despite coming off a loss to Sean Strickland, finds himself back in title contention. Some fans are whispering that he doesn’t deserve a title shot, but with five successful title defenses, he’s earned the right to skip the line—just this once.
  • Dirty Secret:  3-2 in his last 5 fights
  • Potential matchup: Adesanya vs Dricus Du Plessis

Sean Strickland #1 (29-6)

  • Strickland adds a very interesting dynamic to the division. He holds a win over Adesanya, and some argue that he should have been awarded the victory against Du Plessis when they met in January. He’s coming off a dominant win over Paulo Costa, and his only losses in his last six fights were via contentious split decisions. He may be the challenger in waiting, pending the confirmation of the DDP-Izzy fight.
  • Dirty Secret:  2 finishes in the last 4 years
  • Potential matchup: Strickland vs Du Plessis-Adesanya winner 

One Quality Win Away

Jared Cannonier #4 (17-6)

  • Cannonier’s position is almost as unusual as Strickland’s. He lost to Adesanya in his title bid but holds a win over Strickland. He would be a fresh matchup for Du Plessis if the UFC matchmakers opt for a new fight instead of a rematch. However, he first needs to impressively handle Nassourdine Imavov.
  • Dirty Secret:  2nd oldest ranked fighter in the UFC
  • Next matchup: Cannonier vs Nassourdine Imavov (6/8)

Robert Whittaker #3 (23-8)

  • Despite all that Robert Whittaker has achieved in his career, he still has plenty left in the tank and a strong desire to reclaim the belt. His last fight against Paulo Costa was a definitive win, even though Costa put up a good fight. Whittaker now faces the polarizing Khamzat Chimaev, offering him the chance to add a statement win to his title shot campaign. One win alone might not secure Whittaker a title shot, but if he wins and Strickland captures the belt, his chances for a title shot improve significantly.
  • Dirty Secret:  Has a convincing loss to Dricus Du Plessis less than a year ago, and two losses to Israel Adesanya (likely challenger)
  • Next matchup: Whittaker vs Khamzat Chimaev (6/22)

Khamzat Chimaev #10 (13-0)

  • Surprised? You shouldn’t be. Khamzat Chimaev is polarizing, but also a fan favorite and an undefeated fighter. The UFC would love to see Chimaev (with a clear visa) as a champion, but he faces a tough challenge in former champion Robert Whittaker. Rest assured, if Chimaev beats Whittaker, the UFC will find a way to funnel him into a title fight—especially if Adesanya or Strickland ends up with the belt.
  • Dirty Secret:  Undefeated, but his aura has subsided
  • Next matchup: Chimaev vs Robert Whittaker (6/22)

Got Some Work to Do

Brendan Allen #6 (24-5)

  • Brendan Allen represents the new wave of middleweight contenders climbing toward the top of the division. Unfortunately for Allen, he hasn’t fared well against the division’s top fighters. Although he narrowly edged out a win in his last fight against Chris Curtis, he still has a significant hill to climb to earn a title shot. He needs a signature win to kick off his campaign for a shot at the belt.
  • Dirty Secret:  1-4 against current top 15 ranked Middleweights  
  • Potential matchup: Allen vs Marvin Vettori 

Marvin Vettori #5 (19-6)

  • Marvin Vettori has quite a hill to climb to get back into title contention. He’s coming off a loss to Jared Cannonier, where he absorbed an astonishing 241 significant strikes in a lopsided decision. Vettori needs to string together a few convincing wins to even be considered for a title shot again. If Adesanya reclaims the title, Vettori’s chances narrow even further.
  • Dirty Secret:  2-3 in his last 5 fights
  • Potential matchup: Vettori vs Brendan Allen 

Nassourdine Imavov #7 (13-4)

  • Nassourdine Imavov has a unique opportunity to shake up the rankings if he can get past Jared Cannonier. With only one fight against a top 5 opponent so far, Imavov can make waves with a signature win against Cannonier. While this win alone won’t immediately put him in title contention, it would position him as a dark horse that the division didn’t see coming.
  • Dirty Secret:  1-1-1 versus the current middleweight top 15
  • Next matchup: Imavov vs Jared Cannonier (6/8)

Extenuating Circumstances

Leon Edwards Welterweight Champion (22-3)

  • Don’t be surprised if Leon Edwards beats Belal Muhammad and immediately calls for a fight with Dricus Du Plessis or whoever holds the belt. Early in his career, Leon dabbled in the middleweight division, and with three successful title defenses, he might start eyeing a champ-champ opportunity. Lately, three title defenses seem to be the point when champions consider moving up. Don’t sleep on this possibility.
  • Dirty Secret:  Hasn’t competed at Middleweight since 2011 and isn’t exactly an “active” champion
  • Next matchup: Edwards vs Belal Muhammad (7/27)

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Antwyn Jackson is a freelance writer hailing from Dallas, TX. He holds a B.A. in Economics from the University of North Texas. His fascination with MMA was ignited during the WEC days, watching legends like Urijah Faber and Donald Cerrone. With a background as a feature writer for Bleacher Report, Antwyn currently shines as the host of the up and coming show, Making the Walk MMA on Youtube. In 2023, he joined the esteemed MMA Sucka family. When he's not immersed in the world of combat sports, Antwyn enjoys indulging in his passion for music and other sports such as basketball, football, and track. Stay connected with him on Twitter @walk_mma, Instagram, and on YouTube through Making the Walk MMA.