UFC Middleweight
(Photo By Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)

UFC Middleweight Division Breakdown: Who Are The Real Contenders?

Champion: Israel Adesanya

Obviously the best UFC middleweight at the moment, Adesanya is an unstoppable force of nature. Wrestling is usually cited as the weakest part of his game, but no part of his game is actually weak at all. Adesanya moved up to light heavyweight to try for the belt but was unable to do so. At middleweight, however, his combination of creativity and power make beating him a tall task. He will defend his belt against Marvin Vettori at UFC 263, and I predict a knockout victory.

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#1 Middleweight Contender: Robert Whittaker

Whittaker has ridiculous power. He has 10 knockouts in his UFC career, and his opponents crumble when he connects on punches. The former champion has beaten Jarrod Cannonier and Kelvin Gastelum in the last 12 months and has already been promised a title shot following UFC 263 in June. In my opinion, Whittaker is the only fighter in the UFC middleweight division that can beat Adesanya. His power and toughness have only improved since the last time the two fighters met, and he can use his elite striking to get a win in their next fight.

#2 Middleweight Contender: Paulo Costa

Costa is not a true contender. He got absolutely manhandled by Adesanya when they fought last year and instead of taking the loss on the chin, he blamed it on drinking wine the previous night. Costa’s striking is crazy accurate, as he lands 57% of his significant strikes, but he has not fought anyone particularly good in the division. He fought an old Uriah Hall and an older Yoel Romero, but neither of them is anywhere near the skill level of the elite fighters in the division. It is not impossible that he wins the title, but unless he improves significantly, I do not see a title in his near future.

#3 Middleweight Contender: Marvin Vettori

Vettori is getting a shot at the belt in his rematch with Adesanya at UFC 263. Vettori is an elite-level wrestler with good enough striking to stand with a lot of fighters in the division, but neither his striking nor his speed are enough to beat Adesanya, and his wrestling will not even play a factor in the fight if he cannot catch the champion. Vettori is a submission expert, submitting 9 fighters on his way to a 17-4-1 record over his career so far. Vettori can be champion eventually, but it will be difficult for him to claim the belt until Adesanya retires.

#4 Middleweight Contender: Jarod Cannonier

Cannonier is widely known for his superhuman power, as he has nine knockouts in his 13 UFC wins. Although he has a lot of power, it is unlikely Cannioer can go toe to toe with the best of the best in the division. Additionally, he rarely uses wrestling, and being successful in the modern UFC middleweight division almost requires a complete skill set. Cannonier has some great wins on his resume, with KOs over Anderson Silva and Jack Hermansson, but he most recently got dominated by Whittaker at UFC 254. He simply did not throw enough punches against Whittaker, and if he does not throw enough punches or utilize his wrestling, it will be difficult for Cannonier to beat the best fighters in the division.

#5 Middleweight Contender: Derek Brunson

Brunson also has insane power, and he is on a 4-fight win streak and has 12 knockouts in 22 MMA victories. To go along with the power in his hands, Brunson is a frequent wrestler, although his takedown percentage, 27%, is not super accurate. If he can find a way to mix his elite striking with well-timed takedowns, Brunson has a real shot at getting into a title eliminator or title fight in the near future.

Who Else?

The only other two fighters in the UFC middleweight division to look out for are Jack Hermansson and Darren Till. Both men are well-rounded fighters who could make a push for the top of the division before the end of 2021.

Overall though, Adesanya is the clear-cut #1 in the middleweight division. Until he changes weight classes or retires, nobody else will hold the belt.

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