We know that UFC 293 is confirmed for this coming September in Sydney, Australia, and Israel Adesanya is targeted for the first defense of his recently recaptured middleweight title. But we don’t know much else. As of now, there’s no venue officially listed, and “The Last Stylebender” doesn’t have an opponent set in stone.
Immediately after Israel Adesanya exacted revenge on longtime nemesis Alex Periera, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that the two would meet for a trilogy fight that would hopefully allow both men to finally walk away from one another. We soon learned that “Poatan” instead intended to move up a division when he signed on the dotted line to make his light heavyweight debut against former champion Jan Blachowicz at UFC 291.
So now that the most logical option is occupied, who does Adesanya face next? Considering that we have over three months until Bruce Buffer takes the microphone to begin UFC 293, this shouldn’t be a problem, right? Taking a quick glance at the schedule between this rare off weekend and September 9 reveals a pretty obvious problem: There aren’t many sensible options.
The combination of Israel Adesanya previously cleaning out much of the division and top contenders taking other assignments have put the champion in an interesting position ahead of his impending homecoming.
So let’s take a look at what does and doesn’t make sense about his potential opponents.
Dricus Du Plessis vs. Robert Whittaker winner
This seems like a no-brainer. As of now, Robert Whittaker is at worst the third-best middleweight in the UFC. Since tipping the scales at 185, he’s only lost to Israel Adesanya. In last year’s rematch, “The Reaper” looked a world apart from the humiliation he suffered in their initial meeting. That performance raised legitimate questions about what his chances would look like with a third try.
Dricus Du Plessis has made quite the impression since entering the promotion in 2020. He’s undefeated in the Octagon and recently finished perennial contender Derek Brunson. Although he sits just outside of the top 5, he’d be a fresh opponent for Israel Adesanya and could provide an interesting style match-up. Additionally, the budding rivalry between the two African-born fighters regarding their ties to the Motherland would provide more than enough material for Endeavor’s marketing department to work with.
What doesn’t make sense about a possible UFC 293 is that while it would be hard to deny his right to get another chance to defeat Adesanya if Whittaker gets the W at UFC 291, it seems like it would be hard to sell. Coming up short twice isn’t likely to excite anyone to see it for a third time. Maybe they’re counting on fans in the Oceanic region to flock to the unnamed venue to see their two biggest stars on home territory. But we’ve seen fighters, like Joseph Benavidez for example, lose twice to the champion and enter a no man’s land of sorts. It would take a lot for Whittaker to overcome that hurdle.
On the other hand, it’s difficult to poke holes in the merit of offering Du Plessis a title shot if he defeats Whittaker. But that’s not the biggest problem.
The elephant in the room here is that UFC 291 is in July. That means both men will have cut weight and trained for a full 25-minute bout. By the time the night is over they will have punched, kicked, elbowed, kneed, twisted, and choked one another. Somebody is likely to get hurt. Even if the injuries are mild, the timetable to recover, train, cut weight again, and perform at an optimal level just nine weeks later is a tremendous gamble.
Since Khamzat Chimaev went on that entertaining streak of activity in 2020, it feels like this has been the endgame for the UFC. By hell or high water, “Borz” was going to shoot up the rankings and find himself in a title shot. Along the way, he’s been given clear preferential treatment in matchmaking.
Before he was even a ranked welterweight, multiple bookings against the then number three ranked Leon Edwards were shoehorned in until COVID spoiled those plans. He was even given a main event with Nate Diaz before blowing weight and ruining what was almost certain to be his highest-profile win. After the two were so eager to call one another out, it was a safe bet that Paulo Costa would be next for the undefeated Checynan. But with Costa puzzlingly scheduled to fight the unranked Ikram Aliskerov, Chimaev getting a chance at Adesanya doesn’t seem out of reach.
However, the fact that Chimaev almost single-handedly destroyed the card by missing weight at UFC 279 should be enough to disqualify him. Weighing 8.5 pounds over the contracted limit and forcing a last-minute reshuffling isn’t something that should be rewarded with a chance to fight for gold.
There’s also that minor detail about Chimaev being unranked at middleweight and absent from the division for almost three years.
Sure, this wouldn’t be for the middleweight title but Israel Adesanya going up in weight for another attempt to become a dual division champ isn’t unrealistic. Jan Blachowicz used his wrestling to shut him down. Jamahal Hill is much less likely to use that same strategy. Perhaps that personnel change at the top would motivate Adesanya to step away and let his list of contenders sort themselves out for a little while.
Since winning the light heavyweight title in January, we haven’t heard any real news about Jamahal Hill’s next move. He set a deadline to defend for the first time this summer and set his sights on welcoming Jiri Prochazka back from his injury-forced hiatus. Reports have recently surfaced suggesting that Prochazka is still on the mend and won’t be ready on that timetable. If Hill is willing to adjust his calendar by a few weeks the door is open.
As a champion that probably has pay-per-view points on his contract, this fight seems very attractive. Adesanya is a far bigger star than anyone currently in title contention at light heavyweight.
Yet, beyond the fact that Adesanya has barely settled back into the throne, it feels premature to talk about another jump in weight. However, we have seen and will see more title shots that are much harder to defend than this one.