Who is next for Israel Adesanya?
That’s the biggest question on everyone’s mind coming out of Adesanya’s dramatic revenge win over Alex Pereira at UFC 287. With their series tied at one apiece in MMA, is a trilogy match in the cards for the now two-time UFC middleweight champion and Pereira? Or after back-to-back battles, is time to give someone else a chance at 185 pounds?
MMA Fighting’s Shaun Al-Shatti, Steven Marrocco, Damon Martin, and Jed Meshew sidle back up to the roundtable to debate who should be next for “The Last Stylebender.”
Meshew: Come on, y’all. This one is easy. It’s practically a layup: Israel Adesanya needs to fight Dricus du Plessis next.
The best part of watching MMA, and the UFC in particular, is when you get a matchup of two people who really don’t like each other. The UFC is terrible at promoting any other kind of fight, and as such they force-feed fake “bad blood” narratives all the time that land flat. But when you get a real one, between two people with a genuine dispute that they can’t settle like adults, and so instead settle it like men by bashing each other’s heads in, that’s the good stuff. It’s primal, and it works. And what is more primal than a territory dispute with not-so-subtle overtones of imperialism, xenophobia, and colonialism?
Look, we don’t have to do a deep dive into just how stupid it is for one man to try and speak for all of Africa (over 1 billion people spread across one of the largest landmasses on the planet) or how potentially problematic it is for a white South African man to tell Black men of African heritage that they don’t belong (extremely bad scenes!), for us all to recognize that du Plessis saying he will be the first African UFC champion is dumb. But dumb and inflammatory comments are the backbone of any good fight buildup, and they clearly struck a chord, because I don’t see Adesanya threatening any other top contenders by saying he “will gladly drag his carcass across South Africa.”
At the end of the day, we’re talking about two top-10 middleweights with legitimate beef, and beef that’s about more than simply being the best. This is feud about the very nature of cultural identity and heritage. And with the UFC reportedly heading to Africa sometime this year, how do you not put this battle for the continent on center stage? This is not some sort of “We used to be friends but he betrayed me!” or “You slept with my girlfriend!” type of backyard animus; this is f****** Hamlet in an eight-sided cage. Why on god’s green Earth would we settle for anything less?
Marrocco: Fellas, fellas. Please give Mr. Adesanya a break from Alex Pereira. They have now fought four times in kickboxing and MMA — that’s more than a year in the gym thinking about one guy. The emphatic nature of Adesanya’s revenge at UFC 287 should give him some leeway to choose a new challenge, and that kind of narrows things down at 185 pounds. Look down the list, and you see a lot of conquered ground. Perhaps the best current candidate, Robert Whittaker, offers little inspiration for the two-time champ. Then there’s younger blood like du Plessis, which Adesanya is right about: The South African hasn’t done the work yet, fun as it might be to make him answer for his words about his heritage.
So let that rivalry percolate a little more, and let’s find out if du Plessis’ many near-losses are a function of oxygen deficiency or his worthiness as a middleweight title challenger. Instead, give Adesanya another boogeyman in Khamzat Chimaev. That’s just the kind of scary matchup that would bring the best out in him — and it would be an exciting fight for the fans. It’s also a better style matchup than that other boogeyman Adesanya took on in Yoel Romero, whose counter-heavy, wrestling-adverse approach made for a dreadful fight to watch. No part of Chimaev is going to hesitate to rush the champ and try to deposit him on the ground. It’s where he wins the fight, and where all of Adesanya’s work rounding out his game gets a big test.
After Chimaev’s dreadful weight miss, Adesanya is a compelling restart for one of the sport’s most compelling young talents. He brings a ton of eyeballs. And he’s not too bad at promoting fights, either.
Martin: Israel Adesanya just vanquished his boogeyman in Alex Pereira, so why not keep the revenge tour going with a rematch against Jan Blachowicz?
Blachowicz is currently the only other fighter in MMA outside of Pereira to hold a win over Adesanya, so there’s already a storyline baked into the potential fight.
No one expected Blachowicz to suddenly call for another fight with Adesanya after his win at UFC 287, especially with the former light heavyweight champion offering to make the drop down to 185 pounds. Blachowicz already ruined Adesanya’s attempt at becoming a two-division champion when he moved up to 205 pounds, so this is a chance to run it back with the roles reversed now that “The Last Stylebender” is champion once again.
Sure, Blachowicz skips the line to get an immediate title shot, but at least he has the credentials to justify it given his past as a UFC champion in his own right.
To add to that, Blachowicz is stuck in no man’s land right now in his own division. If he’s confident he can make the drop down to middleweight, he would immediately set up an interesting fight with Adesanya thanks to the history shared between them.
Al-Shatti: Look fellas, I love you all. I really do. You’re all brilliant, handsome, exemplary humans. And you know what? I’ve heard your positions. They’re reasonable, well-argued. So it pains me to say this: You’re wrong. You’re all very, very wrong. Alex Pereira is the only correct answer. And until I hear the words “I’m leaving to 205” uttered from his mouth, the boogeyman y’all keep referencing has business that needs to be settled with the champ.
Casting aside this notion that a 1-1 series tie (or 3-1 series deficit) somehow puts Pereira in Adesanya’s rear-view, there’s a simple reason why the trilogy match should be next: It is — by far — the biggest and most compelling fight available to Adesanya. We’re talking about one of the most cinematic, topsy-turvy, tension-rich rivalries of the past 10 years, a once-in-generation mix of history, revenge, technical wizardry, and Jordan-esque pettiness, with enough lore to fill out its own 30 for 30 mini-series. Even Hollywood fails to write scripts as dramatic as the twists and turns these two men provide. Every time they meet, it’s art.
You want grudges, Jed? You want heat? Adesanya held a private grudge against a child for SIX YEARS because of the enmity these two men share! You’re a fool if you think all these UFC 287 post-fight theatrics aren’t coming back into play for Round 5. No, Adesanya vs. Pereira is easily the best thing going right now at 185 pounds, and is even more enthralling now that the upper hand has finally flipped. The through line of this rivalry is quite literally, “That guy you think is winning? Oh, hey — look at that! He just lost in jaw-dropping fashion.”
Listen, I get it — some people just want to see something new. I hear you. But it’s important to remember, this isn’t some back-pocket fight that will stick around forever.
Pereira is already 36 years old with oodles of mileage on his odometer, and Adesanya intimated in his own post-fight press conference that he may only have a few fights left before he rides off into MMA Valhalla. We’re at the Two Towers point of this epic trilogy — it’ll be a crime if we miss our Return of the King moment just because the blood gods, in their infinite cruelty, decide to close the window. The greatest UFC middleweight storyline since Silva vs. Sonnen — and possibly ever? — is sitting right here in front of us just waiting to finished. Can we please close that loop before scuttling on to whatever comes next?
Who should be next for Israel Adesanya?
This poll is closed
Dricus Du Plessis
Someone else (explain in comments)