Who Should Israel Adesanya Face Next After Losing to Jan Blachowicz at UFC 259?

Tom Taylor@@TomTayMMAContributor IMarch 7, 2021

Who Should Israel Adesanya Face Next After Losing to Jan Blachowicz at UFC 259?

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    Israel Adesanya's quest to become a two-division UFC champion didn't go the way he planned.

    Adesanya, the UFC middleweight champion, attempted to win a second title in the main event of UFC 259 on Saturday night when he took on the promotion's light heavyweight champion, Jan Blachowicz. 

    The middleweight champ had his moments in this champion-versus-champion fight, particularly in the early going. However, Blachowicz ultimately came out on top via unanimous decision on the strength of his striking volume and a pair of takedowns in the championship rounds.

    This failed crack at light heavyweight gold marks Adesanya's first taste of defeat as a pro mixed martial artist and raises some interesting questions about his future in the sport.

    Despite the loss, however, he still has a number of interesting options on his menu. 

    Here are three fights that make sense for the once-beaten middleweight champ going forward. 

Robert Whittaker

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    From here, it seems a near certainty that Adesanya will return to the middleweight division to defend his title. If that's indeed how things shake out, the most suitable challenger for his next defense is former division champion Robert Whittaker.

    Adesanya has met Whittaker once, having defeated the Aussie by second-round knockout to capture the middleweight title in 2019. While that outcome was decisive, Whittaker has since rebounded with impressive decision victories over Darren Till and Jared Cannonier and asserted himself as the division's clear-cut No. 1 contender.

    Whittaker is scheduled to fight Paulo Costa on April 17, and a loss would destroy his claim to another middleweight title shot. Yet if he beats Costa and Adesanya returns to the division, this is the fight to make.

Winner of Darren Till vs. Marvin Vettori

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    If Adesanya returns to the middleweight division and Whittaker loses to Costa on April 17, all signs indicate the winner of an April 10 fight between Darren Till and Marvin Vettori will get the next crack at the belt.  

    England's Till is the UFC's No. 4 middleweight, while Italy's Vettori is ranked one spot behind him at No. 5. Based on that, it would be fair to award the winner of their upcoming fight a shot at Adesanya's belt.

    The real appeal of matching Till or Vettori with Adesanya, however, is that both have history with the champ.   

    Till, like Adesanya, is viewed as one of MMA's best strikers. While he and the champion have respect for each other, and even seem to have formed a friendship, they've also expressed interest in fighting to see who is the superior striker.

    Vettori, on the other hand, has fought Adesanya. The pair met in 2018 in Adesanya's second Octagon appearance. While Adesanya won, he did so by the skin of his teeth, leaving the cage with a split-decision triumph. Since then, Vettori has repeatedly suggested he deserved the judges' nod in that matchup and has loudly expressed his desire for a do-over with the champ. 

Jon Jones

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    Heading into UFC 259, a fight between Israel Adesanya and Jon Jones stood out as one of the biggest the UFC could make in 2021. The fight has definitely lost a lot of its luster with Adesanya's loss to Blachowicz, but it would still be a big deal on the strength of the pair's sizzling beef alone. 

    Jones and Adesanya have made no secret of their disdain for each other and have been jawing back-and-forth in interviews and on social media for what feels like decades. 

    Jones recently vacated the light heavyweight throne with ambitions to move up to heavyweight and is gaining mass to achieve that goal. Based on that, this fight would almost certainly have to occur at heavyweight, as Jones is simply too far along to make it back down to the light heavyweight division's 205-pound limit. 

    On the surface, it seems like a reach to suggest the middleweight champion should climb to heavyweight, but he's expressed his willingness to do so and has competed as a heavyweight in the kickboxing ring—so it's not out of the question. 

    The only real question is whether Jones is willing to forgo his crack at the heavyweight title to settle a score with one of his fiercest rivals. Given how lucrative this fight would be for all involved, it seems likely he could be convinced.