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Sean Strickland, Paulo Costa, Khamzat Chimaev and Robert Whittaker
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Middleweight Title Picture Comes Into Focus In June

As Dricus Du Plessis Awaits His First Title Defense, The Best at 185 Pounds Jockey For Position

After the middleweight title changed hands to kick off its 2024 campaign at UFC 297: Strickland vs Du Plessis, the picture at the top of the 185-pound division has been rather quiet as Dricus Du Plessis readies for the first defense of his belt. Outside of a thrilling battle between Robert Whittaker and Paulo Costa at UFC 298, Brendan Allen and Jack Hermansson are the only middleweights currently seated in the Top 10 to compete this year. 

That changes dramatically in June, as six Top 10 middleweights clash in five-round bouts that’ll surely give the title picture more clarity. The elephant in the room is Israel Adesanya’s eventual return to action after his self-declared hiatus following his loss to Strickland at UFC 293. It’s assumed that Adesanya will get a chance to regain his belt in a long-awaited matchup with Du Plessis, one that has been boiling for the better part of a year now.  

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From 2019 to 2022, Adesanya held the belt to the tune of five consecutive defenses (although “The Last Stylebender” considers his unification win over Whittaker at UFC 243 a defense, as well). After Alex Pereira unseated him in November 2022, the middleweight belt changed hands in each of the ensuing three title bouts. 

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First up in the middleweight gauntlet is a five-round co-main event between Strickland and Costa at UFC 302: Makhachev vs Poirier. 

Sean Stickland vs Paulo Costa Preview | UFC 302
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Sean Stickland vs Paulo Costa Preview | UFC 302
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Strickland was unable to turn his stunning upset of Adesanya into a longer title reign, although some quibble with the split decision result in Toronto. Naturally, the uber-active Strickland was ready to get back on the horse and back into position to regain the title, and a fight with Costa could do just that. For his part, Costa remains one of the most mercurial middleweights in the Top 10. The Brazilian marauder has fought just four times this decade, with his lone win coming against Luke Rockhold in Rockhold’s final UFC bout, but “The Eraser” remains a real threat in the Top 10. His entertaining style in and out of the Octagon continues to draw eyes, and, as he showed in his fight with Whittaker, he very much has the goods to compete with the best at 185 pounds. 

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Stylistically, the fight is a treat. Both men thrive when they are pressuring forward, and they tend to do so regardless of what is coming back their way. Strickland does so in a much more defensively sound style, often cutting his opponent’s attacks short and drowning them over the course of the fight, whereas Costa pins his opponent along the fence before unleashing a barrage of attacks. For the most part, they both do so with little consequence, as they’ve only been knocked out a combined three times in 51 total fights. 

After those two clash in Newark, the middleweight train rolls along to the tune of a main event in Louisville, Kentucky, between Jared Cannonier and Nassourdine Imavov

Jared Cannonier prepares to fight Marvin Vettori of Italy 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)
Jared Cannonier prepares to fight Marvin Vettori of Italy 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)

In a different world, one might think Cannonier earned his second crack at the belt when he dismantled Marvin Vettori over the course of 25 minutes. It was an emphatic sequel to his split decision win over Strickland, which opened UFC’s 2023 schedule, but the dominoes didn’t fall in his favor, particularly after Cannonier was forced to pull out of a bout with Roman Dolidze in December 2023. Nevertheless, “Tha Killa Gorilla” can extend his streak to three and bolster his case for a title shot when he takes on Imavov. 

WATCH: Alexa Grasso And Valentina Shevchenko Break Down The Women's Flyweight Division

The fight is debatably a much bigger opportunity for Imavov, who scored his first win since September 2022 when he took out Dolidze via majority decision in February. The bout was Imavov’s second main event opportunity, and he seemed much better equipped than his first one against Strickland in January 2023. A win against Cannonier could launch Imavov into a matchup with someone in the Top 5 next time out if he gets business done in Louisville. 

While the end of June is capped with Conor McGregor’s return to the Octagon opposite Michael Chandler at UFC 303, the main event going down in UFC’s first event in Saudi Arabia might equal it in terms of stakes and intrigue. 

Khamzat Chimaev of the United Arab Emirates punches Kamaru Usman of Nigeria in a middleweight fight during the UFC 294 event at Etihad Arena on October 21, 2023 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Khamzat Chimaev of the United Arab Emirates punches Kamaru Usman of Nigeria in a middleweight fight during the UFC 294 event at Etihad Arena on October 21, 2023 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Former middleweight champion Whittaker takes on the undefeated Khamzat Chimaev in a critical bout at 185 pounds. Since moving to middleweight in November 2014, he has only lost to two men in the division. Unfortunately, those two are Adesanya and Du Plessis, which means Whittaker has a longer road ahead to regaining his belt than a fighter of his caliber would normally face. That said, Whittaker has continuously taken on all comers, most recently Costa in Anaheim. 

Chimaev, who has been tabbed a future champion since bursting onto the scene in July 2020, has done nothing but ace each test thrown his way. His only problem is consistency. The 30-year-old continues to bounce between the welterweight and middleweight divisions but, at present, it appears as though 185 pounds is his home. He stamped that with a majority decision win over Kamaru Usman when the former welterweight champion stepped in on short notice at UFC 294. That said, a win over Whittaker would do wonders to legitimize his claims to a title shot. 

It's all to play for in the middleweight division this summer. Adesanya’s championship reign provided the most stability at the top since Anderson Silva’s legendary run, but for as much fun as a dominant champion is to watch, fight fans cannot deny the appeal of the current carousel spinning at the top right now. 

Order UFC 302: Makhachev vs Poirier

UFC 302: Makhachev vs Poirier took place live from Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey on June 1, 2024. See the Final Prelim and Main Card Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses, and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!