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Where We Stand: Middleweight Division | January 2024

Dricus Du Plessis Is The UFC Middleweight Champion Of The World, And A Highly Anticipated Matchup With A Former Champ Could Be Next

For the fourth consecutive time, “And new” was heard after a middleweight title fight, and South Africa’s Dricus Du Plessis laid his claim to the throne just four months after Sean Strickland shocked Israel Adesanya and the MMA world.  With the carousel at 185 pounds spinning rapidly, it could find itself in familiar territory if Du Plessis gets what he wants in terms of his first title defense.

This is where we stand in the middleweight division:

Champion: Dricus Du Plessis

Last Fight: Split Decision Win vs Sean Strickland (1/20/2024)

Next fight: N/A

Dricus Du Plessis Post-Fight Interview | UFC 297
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Dricus Du Plessis Post-Fight Interview | UFC 297
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Outlook: “Stillknocks” methodically and impressively got the job done with a complete five-round effort that showcased his power, grappling, cardio and, ultimately, his Fight IQ. Du Plessis’ ability to navigate the barrage of pressure from Strickland whilst pouring on his own offense was as impressive as any big moments he created in the fight, and he made his intentions clear after the fight: he wants to settle the score with Israel Adesanya. Whether the former champion is ready and willing to return to action after announcing a hiatus following the loss of his belt, it is unknown for now. If it’s not Adesanya, Jared Cannonier has been waiting for a fight and been right around the picture since battering Marvin Vettori. Khamzat Chimaev chimed in as usual, but Du Plessis kind of dismissed “Borz” in his post-fight press conference. Du Plessis and Adesanya already cut a promo for their fight after Du Plessis’ win over Robert Whittaker, so it’s sure to produce fireworks if that does come to fruition.

1) Sean Strickland

Last Fight: Split Decision Loss vs Dricus Du Plessis (1/20/2024)

Next fight: N/A

Sean Strickland prepares to face Dricus Du Plessis of South Africa in a UFC middleweight championship bout during the UFC 297 event at Scotiabank Arena on January 20, 2024 in Toronto, Ontario. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Sean Strickland prepares to face Dricus Du Plessis of South Africa in a UFC middleweight championship bout during the UFC 297 event at Scotiabank Arena on January 20, 2024 in Toronto, Ontario. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Outlook: For one reason or another, Strickland’s notoriety skyrocketed over the course of the last 14 months, and he had once again won a country’s fans over as he headlined his first title defense in Canada. The divisive former champion has an argument that he should have collected another win, but, instead, he suffered another split decision loss. Where Strickland goes from here is curious, as he maintains that the belt isn’t something of high value to him. More than likely, he’ll go back to fighting whoever the matchmakers give him, which could be anything from a rematch with Jared Cannonier to fights with Robert Whittaker or Marvin Vettori. Brendan Allen has long called for a rematch with Strickland, and that fight would make more sense for both if Allen can get past Vettori in April. Strickland fought five times in the last 13 months, however, and while it’s unlikely the 32-year-old wants a break, he could benefit from taking in the big picture at the top of the middleweight division.

2) Israel Adesanya

Last Fight: Unanimous Decision Loss vs Sean Strickland (9/9/2023)

Next fight: N/A

Israel Adesanya of Nigeria kicks Sean Strickland in the UFC middleweight championship fight during the UFC 293 event at Qudos Bank Arena on September 10, 2023 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Israel Adesanya of Nigeria kicks Sean Strickland in the UFC middleweight championship fight during the UFC 293 event at Qudos Bank Arena on September 10, 2023 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Outlook: “The Last Stylebender” could rest on his laurels, decide to retire and do so as a surefire hall of famer and rank among the best of his generation, but it seems like Adesanya is circling a return to action sooner than later. Surely, the fact that Du Plessis has the belt (and maybe, additionally, the fact that Alex Pereira holds the light heavyweight title) is music to Adesanya’s ears. Only four months have passed, however, since his loss to Strickland, and the 34-year-old seemed adamant about taking an extended break. We shall see.

3) Robert Whittaker

Last Fight: TKO Loss vs Dricus Du Plessis (7/8/2023)

Next fight: N/A

Robert Whittaker of New Zealand punches Marvin Vettori of Italy in a middleweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at The Accor Arena on September 03, 2022 in Paris, France. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Robert Whittaker of New Zealand punches Marvin Vettori of Italy in a middleweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at The Accor Arena on September 03, 2022 in Paris, France. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Outlook: Whittaker’s title aspirations got a whole new life when Adesanya lost the belt and subsequently announced a hiatus, but those hopes were dealt a tough card when Du Plessis claimed the belt. Few middleweights carry as much pedigree as “The Reaper,” and the former champion can put himself right back into the title conversation should he fight and beat Paulo Costa in Anaheim. It will probably take a couple big wins for Whittaker to get a shot at Du Plessis after the South African knocked him out in July 2023, but the 33-year-old Whittaker is a champion through and through.

4) Jared Cannonier

Last Fight: Unanimous Decision Win vs Marvin Vettori (6/17/2023)

Next fight: N/A

Jared Cannonier battles Sean Strickland in a middleweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on December 17, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Jared Cannonier battles Sean Strickland in a middleweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on December 17, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)


Outlook: It’s pretty wild that Strickland went on to take the belt off Adesanya’s hands just eight months after he lost a split decision to Cannonier, but that’s the fight game for you. It’s not that Cannonier did anything wrong other than lose a rather disappointing decision to Adesanya in his first title shot at UFC 276. His two subsequent wins were impressive, particularly his record-setting win over Vettori. Unfortunately for “Tha Killa Gorilla,” an MCL tear suffered in October puts him on the backburner regarding the title picture. Whenever he returns, he’ll likely need to rack up a pair of big wins to get his second chance at gold.

5) Marvin Vettori

Last Fight: Unanimous Decision Loss vs Jared Cannonier (6/17/2023)

Next fight: N/A

Marvin Vettori of Italy punches Jared Cannonier in a middleweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on June 17, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Marvin Vettori of Italy punches Jared Cannonier in a middleweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on June 17, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)


Outlook: “The Italian Dream” made a smart move of taking a break from competition after his loss to Cannonier in June 2023. Vettori, always lauded for his chin and toughness, had to rely on those traits more than he would’ve liked in that matchup, but he has a chance to quickly bounce back into the title conversation if he can cement his Top 5 spot against Allen. The 30-year-old Italian has lost three of his last five, so the fight with Allen makes a lot of sense, but it’s up to him to remind everyone he is an elite 185er come April.

In the Mix: Paulo Costa, Brendan Allen, Khamzat Chimaev, Roman Dolidze

Outlook: Few fighters are as mercurial as Paulo Costa, who fought once-a-year from 2018 until 2022 before a mixture of injuries and other reasons kept him out of the Octagon in 2023. One of those few who can match the unpredictability of Costa is Khamzat Chimaev, who picked up a win over Kamaru Usman last time out when the former welterweight champion stepped up on less than two weeks’ notice. Costa has a fight scheduled with Whittaker that would absolutely throw him back in the title conversation, but he has to make weight and step into the Octagon before making that happen. For Chimaev, who knows what he wants and whether that want is realistic. Regardless, he remains a threatening and potentially title-worthy draw.

Allen and Roman Dolidze are more under the radar than maybe any other fighters in the rankings, but Allen, in particular, has hit his stride in the organization. The Dana White’s Contender Series alumnus has won six on the bounce with five coming via rear naked choke, and, at 28, he is potentially just hitting his prime. His headliner against Vettori will do a lot to validate his presence in the title conversation. Dolidze was on the same path before running into Vettori at UFC 286, which snapped his four-fight winning streak. He has a chance to strengthen his resume, as he is set to face Nassourdine Imavov on February 3.  

View The Middleweight Rankings

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