The middleweight division has been starving for fresh title challengers for a minute now. In the years-long chaos following the dethroning of Anderson Silva, Israel Adesanya has emerged as the division’s latest truly dominant king.
Other than a brief bump in the road against Alex Pereira last year, the ‘Last Stylebender’ has not only defeated most of the top ten at 185, but he’s done so decisively. Assuming that his upcoming fight with Sean Strickland doesn’t hold any major surprises, he’ll walk into October with victories over everyone sitting above the 8-slot in the UFC’s official rankings. Well, everyone except one man, current no. 1 contender Dricus Du Plessis.
Eugene Bareman thinks Du Plessis needs to win again to fight Israel Adesanya
At this point, Du Plessis is absolutely the man of the moment among the middleweight field. His crushing victory over Robert Whittaker was the kind of statement that no other title challenger seeking UFC gold has been able to make. Add in a whole bunch of heat between he and Adesanya over African heritage, who has it, and what it means, and there’s no question that Izzy vs. ‘Stillknocks’ is the fight fans want to see.
It was the fight we were supposed to see, too, until Du Plessis revealed that he couldn’t accept the booking due to the insanely short turnaround window the UFC was demanding. A move that Adesanya’s coach, Eugene Bareman, says should disqualify Du Plessis from being next in line.
“I don’t make that call. But the problem is, if you don’t step up and take fights, you go into the pool,” Bareman explained in a recent interview with Submission Radio. “That’s a fact. Nothing in this sport is solid until there’s something signed on the dotted line. If he’s got nothing signed on the dotted line, then he’s out there in the ether. He had a shot. He had a shot. It’s the same shot that many of my boys have had who have fought for titles or had titles.
“You never, never—and we’ve fought with horrific injuries, because you don’t take that lightly. And the problem with them is they’ve had an injury. And yeah, it’s been a bad injury. So what? You’ve taken your shot for granted. You think you’re going to get it again. But you don’t know what this machine does. You don’t know the UFC.
“You don’t know what they do. You don’t know how they twist and turn things. Never feel comfortable with where you are. If there’s something in front of you that you’ve been working for your whole life, don’t think for a minute that it can’t just be taken away just like that. And he had it, and he let it slip.”
“So, they can’t be sitting comfortable thinking that they got the next shot. Because they don’t. Because I know this sport. The fact is they don’t. But they did. They never took it. And now they should not be sitting comfortable thinking they got the next shot. Because in this sport, it’s just not true.”
When it comes to the UFC and their ability to break promises and change plans, there’s no question that Bareman is absolutely right. But the question has to be asked…
If not Du Plessis, then who?
As already touched on above, there are no other fighters positioned for a middleweight title shot at this moment. Even Sean Strickland, who is stepping in for the South African, seems like an absolute stretch as a contender, given that he’s getting his shot off a win over Abus Magomedov. The next two ranked fighters that Adesanya hasn’t faced at 185? Roman Dolidze and Jack Hermansson—both men coming off losses.
After that the UFC would have to stretch all the way down to Brendan Allen, Kelvin Gastelum, or… Paul Craig? Long story short, Dricus Du Plessis is unquestionably the top contender in the middleweight division right now, and to think anything else makes no sense at all.
Hell, there’s not even really a fight that it would make sense for Du Plessis to take. Is he going to fight Jared Cannonier and set the ‘Killa Gorilla’ to contend again just one year after his dreadful fight with Adesanya? Marvin Vettori?
The one wildcard in all this is Paulo Costa vs. Khamzat Chimaev and the idea that any one win against a ranked middleweight could propel the Chechen to top contender status. Considering Chimaev hasn’t fought for a year, or fought at middleweight for three years, however, an instant title shot seems like a very generous prediction.
Israel Adesanya still clearly wants to fight Du Plessis
Even with the idea that Chimaev could potentially be the rival contender that Bareman is imagining, it seems like he’s ignoring the clearly stated desires of his own fighter. Ever since Du Plessis started needling the City Kickboxing star over his emigrant status, Adesanya has been vocal in his desire to humiliate the former KSW champion inside the Octagon.
Even as the UFC were looking to finalize Adesanya vs. Strickland for UFC 293, with Du Plessis clearly out of the picture, the Nigerian-born New Zealander’s focus seemed firmly on the fight he wasn’t getting.
“Now he doesn’t want to fight,” Adesanya explained, speaking of Du Plessis on a recent podcast. “Even after, he’s like ‘Oh bro, all you had to do was put some gloves on, we could have got it on right there.’ B—ch ass, f—k you wouldn’t have because guess what? He didn’t want it. When I told him feel me, people were like, ‘Oh, he’s so classy walking away. He’s so classy.’ I’m like, ‘Bro, he didn’t even walk away. He felt me. He didn’t want to feel me. He’s not a scared man, he’s a tough dude. He’s very crafty, and he’s got a good team behind him—smart team.
“I don’t think he’s a scared man, but I’ll tell you he’s scared of me. You know when you look in someone’s eyes, you just know straight away. He didn’t call me into the cage, I stepped in the cage myself. I didn’t even see him call me … I stepped into the cage because I made this s—t happen. This motherf—ker—I hope … I really was hoping he’d f—king step up. But he’s a b—ch, and I’ll tell you right now: Keep training. Keep training. I’ve got something for your ass, so keep training.”
From the sound of things, the 34-year-old former kickboxing champion would absolutely leap at the chance to fight Dricus Du Plessis if the UFC could make it happen. Bareman’s not wrong, the fight game is fickle and the UFC will do whatever it pleases, but if there’s a bigger, clearer, more obvious fight out there for Adesanya than this one, I can’t see it.
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