Robert Whittaker
Robert Whittaker

The State of the UFC’s Middleweight Division Following Robert Whittaker’s Victory in Saudi Arabia

"Take the title to Africa"

The UFC’s maiden show in Saudi Arabia was expected to be a blockbuster one. The card was scheduled to be headlined by a mouthwatering clash between Robert Whittaker and Khamzat Chimaev, with the winner expected to receive a lucrative bout against Sean Strickland or perhaps even a title shot. However, the Chechan behemoth had to pull out of the contest due to a mysterious illness, leaving the Reaper to battle it out with unheralded Russian Ikram Aliskerov.

The Aussie sensation duly passed that test with flying colors, knocking out his opponent in the very first round, and proving that he is still a major player in the middleweight division. However, attention now turns to what’s next – not just for Whittaker, but for the 185-pound division as a whole. Let’s take a look at the state of play at middleweight following Whittaker’s stunning victory.

The New Champion: Dricus Du Plessis

Dricus Du Plessis stands as the reigning UFC middleweight champion, a position he earned through relentless determination and a streak of impressive victories. The South African star made headlines when he stated that he would “take the title to Africa,” despite the UFC already having two African champions at that time in the form of Israel Adesanya and Kamaru Usman. However, those two duly lost their straps, while the 30-year-old picked up his first world championship with a razor-thin split decision victory against Sean Strickland in Toronto at UFC 297.

His championship bout against the brash American was nothing short of spectacular, with the two stars brawling in an all-out war, with the South African ultimately showcasing his ability to adapt and overcome adversity and duly becoming champion. He isn’t short of prospective challengers, and it seems that the first of them will come in the form of the Last Style Bender. The former champion embarked on a foul-mouthed tirade the last time the two came face to face in the Octagon, and they won’t have to wait too long to get reacquainted.

The Number One Contender: Israel Adesanya

Flamboyant former champion Adesanya will clash with Du Plessis at UFC 305 in a genuine grudge match. The latest UFC betting odds make the Nigerian-born Kiwi a narrow -137 favorite to regain the title for a third time, with the champion a live +125 underdog. And had it not been for the aforementioned obscenities, Adesanya may very well have been overlooked in the title standings in favor of a rematch between the current king and former champ Strickland.

In the end, however, the powers that be within the UFC decided that the Last Style Bender should remain the number one contender in the middleweight division. Despite his recent setback against the controversial Strickland at UFC 293, where he was dominated en route to losing the championship, Adesanya’s place at the top of the contender’s list seems to be the sensible choice. He was the second-longest reigning champion in the history of the division before a November 2022 defeat to Alex Pereira, which he went on to avenge.

However, in the first bout of his second reign, he would lose again, this time to Strickland. The American then went on to lose the title in his first defense to Du Plessis, and the South African current champion will be hoping that the game of hot potato ends with him defeating Adesanya and stamping his authority on the division.


The Wild Card: Sean Strickland

Sean Strickland’s presence in the middleweight division adds an element of unpredictability. Known for his outspoken personality and unorthodox fighting style, the American is a wild card that cannot be ignored. His recent performances have been as explosive as his mic skills are controversial, making him a polarizing figure in the MMA community. He upset Adesanya to claim the middleweight title last September, and he will consider himself unlucky to not receive an immediate title rematch with Du Plessis, considering the close nature of their previous clash.

Strickland’s ability to draw attention, both positive and negative, works in his favor. His brash demeanor and fearless approach to fighting make him a dangerous opponent for anyone in the division. However, he has recently made the controversial decision to wait for the winner of the upcoming clash between the top two, hoping that he will finally get his title rematch.

Back in the Mix: Robert Whittaker

One thing that may delay Strickland’s ascension is Robert Whittaker and his recent victory in Saudi Arabia. The Aussie has demonstrated a willingness to fight anyone in any place at any time, and that has forced the UFC brass to hold him in high regard. His first-round knockout win in the Arabian Gulf was a dominant one and he will be hoping that it forces the promotion’s matchmakers to catapult him to number-one contender status, just as a similar victory for Dustin Poirier did at UFC 299. Failing that, a clash against Strickland with a shot at the winner of the upcoming title clash on the line could also prove to be lucrative.

▶️ Follow us on Youtube for the best & latest MMA content ▶️
Latest newsMMARobert Whittaker