Read about the wild year in the UFC middleweight division, featuring surprising upsets, title shots, and the upcoming bout between Israel Adesanya and Dricus Du Plessis.
|The UFC middleweight division has seen a wild year with title changes and surprising upsets.
|Israel Adesanya seeks revenge against Alex Pereira and secures a brutal knockout.
|Dricus Du Plessis emerges as a top contender with impressive wins over Derek Brunson and Robert Whittaker.
|Adesanya and Du Plessis have their first staredown and verbal exchange, leaving the community unsure.
|Chael Sonnen sees Adesanya’s drive as a champion and praises his focus on competition.
|Adesanya hopes for a bout against Du Plessis next, rather than a trilogy with Whittaker.
|UFC President Dana White is noncommital on the exact date of the title bout.
|Sonnen compares Adesanya’s position to other big stars like the Diaz brothers, Conor McGregor, and Jon Jones.
2023 has been a wild year for the UFC middleweight division. Closing out 2022, the title changed hands with a stunning comeback upset knockout from Brazil’s Alex Pereira over his longtime kickboxing rival Israel Adesanya. “The Last Stylebender” sought revenge at UFC 287 in April and got it with a brutal second-round knockout of “Poatan,” sending his foe to light heavyweight.
In the meantime, contenders have been jockeying for position and hoping to get their shots. Making the most of his opportunities has been South Africa’s Dricus Du Plessis, who stopped perennial top 10 stalwart Derek Brunson with strikes in March. The win extended “Stillknocks’” streak to five in the UFC and seven overall. It was arguably enough to have earned him a title shot especially with Adesanya’s interest in tussling with the former KSW titlist. Instead, Du Plessis had to get through the largest obstacle imaginable outside of the champion himself, the former champion Robert Whittaker. Du Plessis managed to shock the world and TKO “The Reaper” in round two at UFC 290 this past weekend, solidifying his title shot later this year.
Adesanya entered the octagon during Du Plessis’ post-fight interview and the two had their first staredown and verbal exchange. Adesanya called Du Plessis the n-word multiple times and mentioned where each came from, leaving many within the community unsure of what to make of it all. Former two-time UFC middleweight title challenger and top-divisional contender Chael Sonnen couldn’t help but read the interaction as a further indication of Adesanya’s drive as a champion. “[Adesanya] lost his mind tonight in front of you and it was real and it didn’t have anything to do with money and it did not have anything to do with fame,” Sonnen said on his YouTube channel. “He lost his mind tonight on a poor up-and-comer, who does not have a beautiful contract, who is not world-known, who is not a face that is going to go down as an icon of his industry. The big man picked on the little man and he couldn’t control himself. It was real. And it was real because ‘Izzy’ hasn’t let that other stuff in. He hasn’t let those distractions in. He’s that same hungry guy. “For ‘Izzy,’ it’s still about competition. It’s a very interesting mindset that takes an extreme discipline. I have never seen anybody come through this sport that has controlled their career more than Israel Adesanya. Nobody has called their shot and I do mean nobody.”
Since reclaiming his title, Adesanya has been hopeful that the stars would align for a bout against Du Plessis next rather than a trilogy with Whittaker, who he’s already defeated twice. The brewing fresh matchup will surely be targeted for UFC 293 on Sept. 10 in Sydney, Australia but UFC President Dana White was noncommital on fight night of when exactly the title bout will go down. Sonnen noted how other big stars like the Diaz brothers, Conor McGregor, and Jon Jones also had a unique level of pull in their positions like Adesanya. However, “The American Gangster” feels it’s never been done to the degree of the two-time reigning middleweight kingpin. “He called for ‘DDP’ and he didn’t call for him tonight,” Sonnen said. “He also called for him tonight. He got him tonight. He called for him a long time ago. It was one of the things that Dana said way back when Dana agreed to make the match with ‘Izzy’ and Yoel Romero. “Yoel had just been in a No. 1 contenders match and he lost to Paulo Costa. So, it should have been Paulo Costa and ‘Izzy,’ right? He went after Yoel [instead]. Dana’s going, ‘Yoel’s a really hard fight, ‘Izzy.’ You’re a tall, skinny kickboxer. He’s an Olympic medalist in wrestling from Cuba. This is a terrible idea.’ It’s really hard to tell a guy no when he’s asking for something so difficult. Dana had to try to package that up and tell it to the audience and it made perfect sense when he did. “Then you go look at Du Plessis,” he continued. “Du Plessis wasn’t ranked high enough to get the fight with ‘Izzy,’ which is what tonight in the Whittaker fight was about. But it’s the same guy that ‘Izzy’ called out. ‘Izzy’ went in front of the mic and he called for the hardest job for himself. And now the ranking of Du Plessis who will come Tuesday morning be the No. 1 contender, is right in line with what ‘Izzy’ says. And that’s the competitor, never looking for the easy way.”