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Is Israel Adesanya's reign as UFC Middleweight champion coming to an end?

Israel Adesanya is still the UFC Middleweight champion - but could his time at the top be about to end?
Israel Adesanya is still the UFC Middleweight champion - but could his time at the top be about to end?
Scott Newman
SENIOR ANALYST
Modified 21 Apr 2021
Feature

It’s probably safe to say that 2021 hasn’t been the best year thus far, at least for UFC Middleweight champion Israel Adesanya.

Israel Adesanya was defeated by Jan Blachowicz, ending his hopes of becoming a double UFC champion – but could his days as UFC Middleweight champ be numbered too?

As we’ve learned time after time, anything is possible in the UFC – and so this is definitely a scenario worth considering.


Israel Adesanya’s next UFC Middleweight title defense hasn’t been booked yet

Robert Whittaker could be next in line for a shot at Israel Adesanya
Robert Whittaker could be next in line for a shot at Israel Adesanya's UFC Middleweight crown.

The first question worth asking is who exactly will face Israel Adesanya in his next UFC Middleweight title defense.

As of the time of writing, the next challenger for The Last Stylebender has not been determined, meaning Adesanya’s next fight has not yet been booked.

There are a number of names who instantly come to mind, though.

At the front of the queue right now is probably former UFC Middleweight champ Robert Whittaker – the man who Adesanya dethroned to take the title at UFC 243 in October 2019.

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Their first fight was a one-sided beating in favor of Adesanya, but at least a few caveats were worth considering.

Firstly, the fight was Whittaker’s first in the UFC in well over a year following some serious injuries. And secondly, The Reaper has bounced back strongly in the time that has followed, defeating Darren Till, Jared Cannonier and Kelvin Gastelum handily.

The result of their first fight would make Israel Adesanya the favorite going in. But Whittaker would almost certainly put up a better fight this time, making him a very dangerous foe.

If not Whittaker, two other names come to mind.

One would be Darren Till. The Gorilla would be a tricky sell as a title challenger right now, as he’s only won one UFC fight at 185lbs and obviously lost his last fight to Whittaker.

However, Adesanya’s coach has spoken of him as a potential challenger, and he would make a fresh opponent. He’s also a favorite of the UFC’s and would certainly be capable of selling the fight.

And the other option would be Marvin Vettori. The Italian Dream is coming off back-to-back wins over Kevin Holland and Jack Hermansson, is on a five-fight win streak overall and, most importantly, took Adesanya to a split decision in 2018.

However, Vettori isn’t a big name in the UFC just yet, and so it’s likely that he’ll be behind both Whittaker and Till in the pecking order.


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How much has his fight with Jan Blachowicz taken out of Israel Adesanya?

Israel Adesanya didn
Israel Adesanya didn't take too much damage in his loss to Jan Blachowicz.

Realistically speaking, nobody would really expect Whittaker, Till, or Vettori to beat Israel Adesanya based on what we’ve seen from The Last Stylebender thus far.

However, how much has Adesanya’s foray into the UFC’s Light Heavyweight division taken out of him? It’s a question worth asking.

In 2009, when then-UFC Lightweight champ BJ Penn stepped up to the Welterweight division to challenge Georges St. Pierre, he took a pretty horrendous beatdown.

However, The Prodigy then rebounded by putting on two of the greatest performances of his career in defeating Kenny Florian and Diego Sanchez.

In contrast, Adesanya’s loss to Jan Blachowicz certainly wasn’t as one-sided as Penn’s loss to GSP. In fact, The Last Stylebender fought relatively well and the fight was quite close.

However, the difference in this situation is that when Penn lost to St. Pierre, he’d already suffered a number of losses in his MMA career. One more to GSP wasn’t going to derail him.

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Adesanya, on the other hand, had never lost in the UFC or MMA in general before being defeated by Blachowicz.

So not only did he fail in his quest to become a two-division UFC champion, but he also no longer has the unbeatable aura that he once carried with him.

And that alone may well make him vulnerable. We’ve seen on numerous occasions that once a fighter loses that aura, it’s hard to regain it.

So physically, Adesanya should be fine following his loss to Blachowicz. But whether he’s fine mentally is another question entirely.


Israel Adesanya remains the best Middleweight in the UFC, but his position is not as strong as it was

Despite suffering his first loss, Israel Adesanya is still the UFC
Despite suffering his first loss, Israel Adesanya is still the UFC's best Middleweight.

Realistically, nobody should be expecting to see Israel Adesanya dethroned as UFC Middleweight champion any time soon. He’s already beaten two of his top three contenders, and beneath them, the division doesn’t really have any monstrous prospects.

However, with his unbeaten aura now cracked, it’s probably safe to say that his position isn’t as strong as it was before he moved up to 205lbs.

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In fact, in the near future, we could well look back at his decision to fight Blachowicz as one of the greatest mistakes in UFC history.

It’s clear that right now, Robert Whittaker is the biggest threat to Adesanya’s UFC Middleweight title. And if the two are booked to face off in late 2021, then we should definitely expect a different fight this time around.

Many fans felt that Israel Adesanya’s attempt to dethrone Blachowicz was his best shot at cementing himself as an all-time great in the UFC.

However, if The Last Stylebender can return to 185lbs and continue to dominate there, then that would be an equally impressive feat – and would allow him to etch his name into the UFC’s history books in a different way.

So can he do it? Only time will tell.

Published 21 Apr 2021, 01:34 IST
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