There are some divisions in the UFC that have more drawing power than others. Take a look at the lightweight division, for instance, with so many stars at the top. That is one division that sees its fighters constantly headlining events. With Conor McGregor, Khabib Nurmagomedov, Dustin Poirier, and more, it is easy for that division to secure the spotlight. But what if a division begins to slow down? Can a division slow so much that it disappears? That may be a problem rising in the UFC middleweight division.
Any time a champion in a division decides to leave and pursue a title in another weight class without relinquishing the belt, it can cause problems. First off, it puts that division on hold. That is what we see happening now in the UFC middleweight division. Israel Adesanya is a huge star, and rightfully so. He is flashy inside the cage and out, and he draws attention when he is getting ready to fight. He excels at trash talk and can follow it up in the Octagon. So now, he is leaving. He wants to try his hand at light heavyweight, but where does that leave the rest of the 185-pounders?
There is a matchup pending between two potential title challengers, former champ Robert Whittaker and Paulo Costa. Those two will meet in the Octagon as the main event of the April 17 event. Still, even though the winner might as well be lined up to face the champion when he returns to middleweight, it lacks the drawing power. Whittaker was UFC champion for about a year and a half and didn’t do much for his legacy in that time. He never really defended the title because when he fought Yoel Romero the second time, Romero missed weight. As for Costa, he is a big name but not really on the level of Adesanya or some contenders in other divisions.
Let’s look at heavyweight, for example. Francis Ngannou is a title challenger, has fought for a title, and has never been a champion, but he is one of the biggest stars in the sport. Is there anyone like that in the middleweight division top ten right now? The closest thing to it would be Darren Till. He has the personality to add to his fighting skills. But other than him, not really. That is not good for a division without a champion.
So what if the division is not full of stars? Does that really matter? What if we still get some great fights? Well, it probably doesn’t hurt too much for the time being at a weight class like middleweight. There are many fighters still coming up in the division and hundreds more probably still waiting to be discovered. But let’s not forget about the near abolition of the men’s flyweight division. Dana White almost knocked out that whole division for lack of spark. When Demetrious Johnson was at the helm, it wasn’t a showcase of sparkle. Johnson was dominant, and he sped through the contenders. Then came Henry Cejudo, and like him or not, he brought the headlines with him.
That may be what middleweight needs in the absence of Adesanya. Right now, the top five consists of Whittaker, Costa, Jared Cannonier, Darren Till, and Marvin Vettori. These five men are great fighters and great competitors. They put on amazing fights. There is an opportunity for them to battle it out while Adesanya is gone, and then the highest-ranked man will get the shot. Adesanya will be facing Jan Błachowicz in March, so there is not really that much time to kill, that is if Adesanya does choose to return to the division. If he does not, then there will be room for a new wave of middleweight talent to rise up through the ranks.