This past weekend at UFC VEGAS 16, the UFC middleweight division picked up a new contender when Marvin Vettori upended Jack Hermansson in a five-round clash for the main event. It was a hard-fought contest – the only round that was a clear cut blowout for either competitor was the opening round for Vettori – but there was a universal consensus Vettori was the better man at the end of 25 minutes.
Unfortunately, for Sean Shelby and Mick Maynard – though it is fortunate for all the fantasy matchmakers out there – Vettori’s win did nothing to clear up the middleweight title picture. In fact, it may very well have complicated things. Had Hermansson emerged victorious, there would have been little doubt he was the top contender in the division given Israel Adesanya has little desire to grant Robert Whittaker a rematch. Perhaps that would have been different had Whittaker expressed a greater desire to get his mitts on Adesanya again. Unfortunately, that’s not what happened and Whittaker is sitting on the outside looking in.
So how does Vettori’s win complicate things? After all, his win over Hermansson was entertaining. It was also definitive and Vettori showed plenty of personality in his post-fight interview, even if a large chunk of it was bleeped out. No, things are complicated by the fact that Adesanya already has a win over Vettori and given Adesanya’s attitude towards Whittaker, it doesn’t look like the champ is interested in revisiting opponents he has already disposed of.
If he wants an immediate title shot, Vettori may have shot himself in the foot when he originally called out Paulo Costa, though he did later retract that and say that he wants a shot at the belt. Regardless, Adesanya knows how to play the game and if he doesn’t want to face Vettori, The Italian’s call out of Costa will come back to haunt him. Besides, Adesanya’s attention has been focused on getting a contest with Jan Blachowicz for the light heavyweight championship. There is a large contingent of fans – myself included – who would rather see Adesanya focus on building up his middleweight resume, perhaps making a goal of shattering Demetrious Johnson’s record for consecutive defenses. There have been multiple “champ-champ’s” ever since Conor McGregor established the precedent, and only one with a record like Johnson’s. Just sayin’…
Now that I’ve covered that tangent – not trying to throw shade on Adesanya, but because I believe Adesanya is capable of achieving that goal – Vettori could very well be the next man up and still have to fight Costa. Even I have to admit the lack of clarity for Adesanya’s next challenge at 185 is making the reality of him challenging Blachowicz all the more likely. If Vettori wants to ensure he’s the next man up ahead of Whittaker, he’s going to have to solidify his standing in the division and nothing would do that more than a win over Costa. Costa would be dumb to pass over the opportunity himself. If he wants to pick up another shot at the title, he’s going to have to eliminate as much of the competition around him as possible. Given Costa wasn’t even competitive with Adesanya, he’s got a lot of work to do. It’s hard to believe that won’t be the direction the UFC takes.
It’s been suggested by a small minority we could get some clarity with Kevin Holland and Jacare Souza facing off. That seems doubtful. Though most would agree it’s a travesty Jacare never got a chance to fight for the UFC middleweight championship, the former Strikeforce champion is now 41 and hasn’t won a fight in two years. Beating Holland won’t put him back in the picture. As for Holland, should he beat Jacare, it would be five wins in a row, not to mention nine wins in his last ten appearances. Unfortunately, his best current win in that stretch is arguably Darren Stewart. Jacare would undeniably top that, but a win over Jacare doesn’t mean what it once did. Holland does have bad blood with Adesanya, but even with his gift of gab, it seems doubtful he could talk his way into that fight without greater accolades.
Even with his earlier loss to Adesanya, Vettori currently has the best case to face Adesanya. There are three people who have given Adesanya close fights. One of them – Yoel Romero – isn’t even on the UFC roster at this point. Another – Kelvin Gastelum – is nowhere near the title picture, riding a three-fight losing streak. The other is Vettori, who is also the only one who has fought him to a split decision. Having recently rewatched that fight, there is a case to be made Vettori won it, though I’m sure most would agree the right decision was reached. Perhaps Vettori could make a case out of that, but almost winning is rarely enough to put an argument over the top.
The bottom line is this: Vettori probably fought himself into the top of the title challenger hierarchy, but may yet still have some work to do. Adesanya isn’t expressing an interest in defending his middleweight belt right now – in part because there isn’t an obvious contender – and has his sights set on acquiring a second belt. Whether one agrees there isn’t an obvious contender, I don’t believe anyone would be against the idea of Vettori facing off with Paulo Costa. The fear there is it would eliminate the most obvious contender, but that shouldn’t be a matchmaker’s concern when putting together fights. Maynard and Shelby need to be concerned about making fights that are logical and that fans want to see. Good luck finding someone who doesn’t want to see that fight.