Photo via Ester Lin
Last month we saw UFC Middleweight Champion Israel Adesanya move up to Light Heavyweight and fight for the championship as he waited around for a clear-cut challenger to his own belt. Fortunately for us, and Izzy, we may soon have an answer to the question of “who’s next?”. This Saturday, April 17th, former champion Robert “The Reaper” Whittaker (22-5) will take on former title challenger Kelvin Gastelum (16-6, 1 NC) at the UFC Apex facility in Las Vegas, NV. While nothing has been officially confirmed by Dana White, it’s not farfetched to assume that with a victory also comes a rematch with Adesanya for the Middleweight championship.
If you look at the current UFC Middleweight Rankings as they are today, Adesanya already holds wins over four of the top five guys, with Jared Cannonier being the lone exception (however he lost to Whittaker in his last fight back in October). Since their respective losses to the current champ, #1 Whittaker has gone on to win via decision against #6 Darren Till and #4 Jared Cannonier. On the other hand, #8 Gastelum lost a decision to #6 Till and by submission to #7 Jack Hermansson, but was able to bounce back with a decision victory over Ian Heinisch. These two were supposed to fight for the championship back in February of 2019 but Whittaker was forced to have emergency surgery the day of the fight. With many of the top-ranked fighters either dealing with an injury, already booked for a fight, or coming off a loss, Dana White and the UFC will need to find an opponent for Izzy sooner rather than later. Two guys in the top 10 coming off of wins and looking to get back to glory makes for a perfect fight to determine who will get the next shot at the Middleweight belt.
One man who might have an issue with this, however, would be Marvin Vettori (17-4-1) who is currently ranked #3 in the division. Although he lost to Adesanya back in 2018, he is currently sitting on a five-fight win streak and has been trying to get the champ’s attention for the last couple of months. In a perfect world, the Whittaker/Gastelum winner would fight Vettori next with the winner of that fight moving on to face Adesanya again. Although this route, would lead us right back to where we are now: waiting for a Number One Contender, it would be the best way to decide who is truly worthy of that title shot. Be sure to tune in to ESPN and ESPN+ this Saturday, April 17th to catch all the action.