The middleweight division is as hot as it’s been in several years right now and yet barring a huge shock at UFC Vegas 24, there is still only one fight to make for the championship.
Robert Whittaker has lost just once since 2014, against Israel Adesanya in a bout that saw him lose the 185lbs title of the world back in October 2019.
In that fight he was the underdog going in and was impressively knocked out in the second round, with many people believing that could be the end of his career at the top.
He had been suffering with burnout from non-stop fighting for years, to the point where before his fight with Kelvin Gastelum at UFC 234 he was forced to withdraw just hours before the event with a hernia and a twisted and collapsed bowel which needed emergency surgery.
After losing to Adesanya, Whittaker took ten months off from the sport. He withdrew from a bout against Jared Cannonier and instead just opted to spend time with his family and really heal up. He returned in July on Fight Island to take on the division’s newest contender Darren Till.
He completely nullified the Brit and despite being knocked down in the first round, he eased to a dominant decision win in his first fight back without the belt around his waist.
He followed that up by finally taking the fight against Cannonier, with both fighters believing that a win would see them named as the next contender to Adesanya’s crown. The champion had publicly admitted that Cannonier would get the next shot with a win, so when Whittaker comfortably despatched of him via a unanimous decision too he was expected to get his rematch.
Instead of that rematch though, Adesanya opted to attempt to become a double champion by moving up to light heavyweight to fight Jan Blachowicz. He made the move but got comfortably beaten by the legendary Polish power and now must come back down to 185lbs to show everyone he can still reign supreme in his natural weight class.
Awaiting him is a plethora of candidates looking to take his crown. Darren Till is still a win away from a title shot in the champion’s eyes, but a broken collar bone is likely to rule him out of the next fight. Marvin Vettori is now on a five-fight win streak after his win over Kevin Holland, but Adesanya doesn’t seem to have much interest in fighting the Italian.
You can maybe argue that Vettori is worth the shot first since his defeat came back in 2016 and both he and Adesanya have improved exponentially since then, but the only fight we want now is Adesanya and Whittaker.
This weekend ‘The Reaper’ takes on Gastelum in a fight he didn’t need to take. He’s said several times now that he’s not concerned with chasing his loss to Adesanya, it’s more about getting the title back.
A win against Gastelum would mean he’s followed up consecutive top five opponents with a short-notice replacement who is considered to be one of the more dangerous fighters in the division. He will have earned the bout and he will undoubtedly be a bigger draw than Vettori, which will entice Adesanya more.
Should he lose, it will only strengthen Vettori’s case but it may just mean that we don’t see Adesanya for a while. But watching his last two performances, he has been stellar. He looks sharp, quick, powerful, agile and arguably better than ever before.
The rematch between the two best welterweights in the world is what the fans and the division needs, Whittaker just needs to do his job at UFC Vegas 24 and keep winning.