UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya has long targeted 2021 as the year he would step up and try to become double champions, but it was always planned to challenge Jon Jones for the light heavyweight title.
But with Jones continuing his first heavyweight fight, Adesanya will face Jan Blachowicz in UFC 259 on March 6th. After Jones vacated the title, Blachowicz stopped Dominick Reyes in the second round on September 26 to win the belt. Blachowicz was a tough underdog against Reyes, which proves he shouldn’t be overlooked against Adesanya who will likely be the betting favorite.
Is this the right step for Adesanya?
Adesanya will keep his middleweight title as he seeks to become just the fifth fighter in UFC history to hold two belts at the same time. But would that be good for both divisions or would it slow the momentum if the champion moves from one weight class to the next?
Leon Edwards has not fought since July 20, 2019 as several fights failed, mainly due to the pandemic. He was supposed to fight the aspiring Khamzat Chimaev on January 20, but Chimaev came down with COVID-19. And that was after it was canceled when Edwards caught the virus. Should the UFC move on from this fight or postpone it?
ESPN reporters Brett Okamoto and Marc Raimondi take a look at these issues, as well as Anthony Pettis, who joins the PFL to decide what is real and what is not.
Real or not, this is the right move for Israel Adesanya
Okamoto: Absolutely. Right now, Robert Whittaker is the next challenger to Adesanya’s middleweight title, which he took the belt off in 2019. Personally, I’m higher than most in this rematch. I want to see it and I am giving Whittaker a real try at regaining the belt. But if Adesanya prefers the bigger fight that is the chance to add “champion champion” to his already stellar résumé, nobody can blame him.
I’ve always admired Adesanya’s tendency to seek a challenge – from such frequent fights early in his UFC career to calling for a defense against Yoel Romero when no one really asked – this guy doesn’t fear anyone. And I see Blachowicz as a very, very difficult fight. In my opinion, a perfect 2021 for Adesanya means a promotion against Blachowicz, a retreat to middleweight for the Whittaker rematch, and then maybe a retreat to light heavyweight against Jon Jones.
Real or not, double champions are bad for the sport because they slow down the divisions.
Raimondi: In some cases this may apply. It really is case by case. But I won’t say real. There were four fighters in UFC history who held two titles at the same time: Conor McGregor, Daniel Cormier, Henry Cejudo and Amanda Nunes. I can’t really say that a division got worse after someone was a double champion. In some cases the departments got better. Since Cejudo was flyweight champion, the 125-pound weight class has been brand new. Without Nunes, there would most likely not even be a women’s featherweight division.
One of the reasons double champions haven’t slowed down the divisions is because the UFC was very good at pulling the trigger when they asked these defending champions to give up their belts. That’s what they did to McGregor in 2016 after beating Eddie Alvarez to win the lightweight title. Jose Aldo was promoted to undisputed champion after winning the sub-title by beating Frankie Edgar at UFC 200. Max Holloway beat Aldo to become champion and a new star was born. The same happened to Cejudo, who had vacated the belt before a fight between Deiveson Figueiredo and Joseph Benavidez in January. Figueiredo missed the weight but stopped Benavidez only to stop him again in a rematch in July. Figueiredo was a revelation in flyweight, the best finisher in division history.
In other words, these departments don’t have to slow down if the UFC doesn’t allow them. If Adesanya beats Blachowicz to win the light heavyweight title, he has options of what to do next. And the UFC too. If it makes sense, the PhD will do whatever it takes to make way for a new potential standout in a title fight.
Okamoto: One million percent they should rebook the fight, and it looks like this will happen after it was announced late Wednesday that the match between Michael Chiesa and Neil Magny became the main event on January 20th.
This is a compelling – and unusual – matchup between a high-profile competitor – Edwards is ESPN’s No. 4 welterweight – and someone who has only had three UFC fights. But those three wins, all disruptions, put Chimaev on the fast track, and it is possible that the winner of that fight will get a title shot next.
I would have seen well if the UFC had found Edwards as an opponent because he needs a fight. We haven’t seen him in over a year. But this fight is so good, I understand the UFC wants to keep it.
Real or not: Anthony Pettis becomes PFL champion
Raimondi: Really. On paper, Pettis must be considered a favorite to win the PFL lightweight season and, in the end, the $ 1 million prize. PFL has signed some solid names for its 155 pound division for 2021, including Marcin Held, Clay Collard, and of course two-time defending champions Natan Schulte. While a fight with Schulte would be very competitive – Schulte is very underrated – Pettis has a skill and experience that is above all others. If you want to say that Pettis is a bit behind his prime, not the same fighter he was when he was the 2013 and 2014 UFC lightweight champion. One can argue that. But that doesn’t mean he’s not a championship level fighter.
In fact, Pettis could see a resurrection like Jorge Masvidal’s in the latter half of his career. “Showtime” has cleaned up its party, has become more of a family man and has found a new love for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in Las Vegas with the highly regarded trainer Robert Drysdale. Pettis looked great in a win over Alex Morono on December 19th and also has a win over Donald Cerrone earlier this year. I mean, this is the same guy who took out a much bigger Stephen Thompson in 2019. Pettis is able to easily beat almost anyone in the world. When he’s at his best, the Milwaukee native is still elite. It will be very interesting to see him outside of a UFC / WEC cage for the first time in 13 years. It wouldn’t be a shock if Pettis had one of those giant checks for $ 1 million on him in about a year.