The UFC middleweight division has been a mess for the last couple of years. Ever since Michael Bisping shocked the world and knocked out Luke Rockhold at UFC 199, the 185lbs division has been a weight class full of confusion. After Bisping finished Rockhold, he ended up fighting Dan Henderson next, which created a backlog of deserving contenders. The promotion created an interim title which Robert Whittaker won over Yoel Romero, then allowed the undisputed title to be fought between Bisping and Georges St-Pierre, meaning the middleweight division had two titles. Confusing, to say the least.
GSP vacated the belt after winning it from Bisping, which meant Whittaker was promoted to undisputed champ. After Whittaker pulled out of a fight against Luke Rockhold, another interim belt was created, but Romero wasn’t awarded it after beating Rockhold due to missing weight. Romero earned a title shot, anyways, and ended up fighting Whittaker for a second time. And for a second time, Whittaker won a decision over Romero. That set up Whittaker with his next title defense against Kelvin Gastelum in the main event of UFC 234, with the next No. 1 contender to be decided between Israel Adesanya and Anderson Silva.
Unfortunately, the unthinkable happened when Whittaker was forced to pull out of his fight against Gastelum at the last second due to emergency hernia surgery. That left Gastelum off the card, and elevated Adesanya and Silva to the main event, a fight which Adesanya ended up winning by decision. And now the confusion sets in.
At the UFC 234 post-fight press conference, UFC president Dana White was non-committal to giving Gastelum the next title shot, even though he did nothing wrong and doesn’t deserve to lose his title shot. It sure seems like the promotion is leaning towards giving Adesanya the next title shot, and screw Gastelum over in the process. The reason being is money. Adesanya is clearly more marketable than Gastelum and he has star power. According to White, the pay-per-view numbers for UFC 234 were better than expected. The promotion believes they have a big chip here with Adesanya, and they will want to keep him happy. Adesanya says he won’t fight anyone besides the champion for the title next, and now the UFC is in a situation where they have to either be honest and honor Gastelum the title shot he earned, or skip him over and give it to Adesanya.
If we’ve seen anything from the Colby Covington situation at 170lbs, we know that the UFC will give the title shot to whoever it likes better. I don’t think the UFC dislikes Gastelum by any means, but it sure doesn’t like him as much as Adesanya. If “The Last Stylebender” tells the UFC he wants the next title shot, they’re very likely to give it to him. Which makes you wonder what will happen next for Gastelum, who has earned the right to fight for the 185lbs belt, and who might have it taken away for reasons out of his control.
The UFC middleweight division is full of amazing talent and tremendous fighters, but for whatever reason there’s just so much bad karma in this weight class and the title can’t seem to be passed off in a linear fashion. Ever since Anderson Silva lost the belt back in 2013 the title has been passed around like a hot potato. We thought Whittaker might be the guy who could help bring some clarity back to the division, but if anything, his title reign has been more confusing than anyone’s. Hopefully Whittaker can get back to full health soon and this division can get on a roll again, but it sure seems like 185 has been snakebitten and no one can be confident about its title picture going forward.