Israel Adesanya is the bona fide king of the UFC middleweight division. ‘The Last Stylebender’ dispatched former champion Robert Whittaker, as well as a killer’s row of contenders, each with their own stylistic challenges. Exploring the UFC’s middleweight rankings, we look at some potential contenders who could challenge the reigning champion. These combatants could perhaps crown themselves as the new middleweight titleholders in the near future.
Who could dethrone the masterful Israel Adesanya? Could it be a ferocious striker? A technical submission wizard? Or a fighter with an unbreakable heart and iron will? ‘The Last Stylebender’ has proven himself to be a worthy champion. We’re going to take a deep dive into the UFC middleweight rankings to pull out some of the hottest prospects that could lay claim to the middleweight belt soon enough.
Here are 4 UFC middleweights who could be dangerous matchups for the current champion:
#4 – Andre ‘Sergipano’ Muniz – The Brazilian grappler could be the match to Israel Adesanya’s striking
Andre Muniz hails from Montes Claros, Brazil and is a Dana White’s Contender’s Series alumni, all the way from Season 1. Muniz holds a spectacular 14 submission victories in his 21 professional wins, and remains undefeated in his tenure with the UFC.
Muniz poses an exceptional submission threat, managing to submit BJJ legend and UFC veteran Ronaldo ‘Jacaré’ Souza in his last outing. In a move that shocked the MMA world, Andre Muniz broke Souza’s arm with an armbar in the very first round.
During Israel Adesanya’s impressive middleweight streak, we’ve seen him conquer wrestlers such as Yoel Romero and Marvin Vettori. However, never have we seen the champ face off against any jiu-jitsu wizards such as Muniz.
Granted Muniz can string some more victories together to challenge for the title, we can see this matchup bringing out a side of Izzy we haven’t seen before. Izzy has one defeat to current light heavyweight champion Jan Blachowicz, where he was thoroughly outmuscled by an opponent he wasn’t much larger than. Muniz stands the same height as Blachowicz, could he achieve the same result?
#3. Kelvin Gastelum – Adesanya’s toughest test to date
In 2019, Kelvin Gastelum fought Adesanya for the UFC middleweight interim belt at UFC 236 when then champion Robert Whitaker dropped out due to injury. What resulted was one of the all-time greatest back and forth wars in UFC history.
Gastelum has a history of being underestimated and beating the odds, ever since his stint on The Ultimate Fighter season 17, where he won a hard fought decision over Uriah Hall. Hall, at the time, had a Mike Tyson aura of invincibility going into the fight, having brutally dispatched several other TUF competitors on his path to the finale.
Not unlike his fight with Hall on TUF, Gastelum defied the odds and, through sheer grit and willpower, put on an absolute show, colliding with Adesanya in one of the best spectacles of mixed martial arts in recent memory.
Gastelum is one of few fighters to wobble Adesanya during a fight, and even managed to disfigure the future champ in ways we hadn’t seen before, and haven’t seen since.
This begs the question: if Gastelum could somehow enter contention for the title again, would we see an outcome similar to the last time these two men fought? Perhaps, but time will tell!
#2. Jack Hermansson – Could ‘The Joker’ submit ‘The Last Stylebender’?
Jack Hermansson has long been a mainstay in the UFC’s middleweight rankings, and is one of the few big contenders that Adesanya hasn’t fought yet.
‘The Joker’ has an underrated skillset, he isn’t afraid to mix it up on the feet, and he has a superb submission game, holding wins over Edmen Shahbazyan and Kelvin Gastelum to name a few.
Hermansson is another grappling threat for Adesanya, and has the ability to lock in a submission just about anywhere. Having recently lost to Marvin Vettori (who went on to challenge for the belt), Hermansson is only one or two good wins away from facing off against Adesanya, putting the champion’s grappling prowess into question.
#1 – Robert Whittaker – Israel Adesanya’s next opponent looking to reclaim the belt
Robert Whittaker was the bona fide middleweight champion long before Adesanya stole the belt from him in a spectacular knockout victory at UFC 243 in 2019.
‘The Reaper’ has since faced a murderous row of fighters on his way to redemption, facing the likes of Darren Till, Jared Cannonier, and Kelvin Gastelum, dominating each opponent in a fashion only ‘The Reaper’ could muster.
Whittaker has not taken his foot off the brakes, and certainly hasn’t taken a step down in competition since his loss to the current champ, facing off against several of the top 10 in his division in a winning effort to rematch Adesanya.
Adesanya is likely going to rematch Whittaker for his next UFC middleweight title defence. Whittaker has improved since his defeat, implementing a grappling-heavy strategy that utilizes more of his wrestling abilities. Whittaker’s striking is exceptional and does allow him to stand toe-to-toe with Izzy, granted he doesn’t get sloppy and make mistakes like in their last outing.
This new and improved ‘Reaper’ will be Adesanya’s one true test, beating Whittaker for the second time would cement Izzy as an all-time great middleweight, but it will simultaneously be his biggest test, on the biggest stage of his career, and ‘The Reaper’ will come into the fight with a fiery vengeance like never before.
Out of this top 5, who do you think stands the best chance against The Last Stylebender? Comment your opinion below!