Middleweight phenom Israel Adesanya, who fights out of New Zealand, set up a future mega event against Australian champion Robert Whittaker by defeating Kelvin Gastelum in perhaps the best middleweight title fight of all time.
What’s next for the biggest names of UFC 236? Here’s ESPN’s take.
Dustin Poirier, interim lightweight champion
Result: Defeated Max Holloway via unanimous decision
Next: Khabib Nurmagomedov
Is it finally time to restore some order to the 155-pound division? It has arguably been the most stacked and exciting division for years — and the most frustrating. There have been just two official lightweight title fights the past two years, despite a long list of deserving contenders.
A championship bout between Nurmagomedov and Poirier (potentially in September in Abu Dhabi) would be a return to normalcy. It’s an undefeated, undisputed champ facing an undisputed No. 1 contender in Poirier (yes, Poirier has surpassed even Tony Ferguson in that regard). If it happens in September, it would be just five months after this weekend’s interim title fight. It’s exciting to think about an active lightweight division.
Max Holloway, featherweight champion
Result: Lost to Dustin Poirier via unanimous decision
Next: Frankie Edgar
It’s hard to envision any scenario that doesn’t involve Holloway heading back to 145 pounds. For the record, I would be perfectly content with him staying at 155. Give him time to make adjustments (both physically and stylistically) at this higher weight, and I have no doubt he’d be successful. If you’re writing him off after one fight at 155 pounds because he’s too small, you’re jumping the gun. He can still be a champ at 155.
But he has a belt at 145 pounds, and that’s a hard thing to give up. I think Holloway always liked the idea of fighting Edgar. Edgar is an all-time great and one of the most respected fighters of all time. These two were scheduled to fight once before, and don’t forget, Edgar put his title shot on the line when he didn’t have to last year, and he lost to Brian Ortega. He has a win since, and I think he’s deserving of the shot.
Israel Adesanya, interim middleweight champion
Result: Defeated Kelvin Gastelum via unanimous decision
Next: Robert Whittaker
Not much to debate here. It was understood that a title unification bout against Robert Whittaker was always on the line on Saturday. It happens to work out great for the UFC that Whittaker trains in Sydney and Adesanya represents New Zealand. This is going to shape up to be a spectacle, and there’s already talk of turning it into a stadium show.
That fifth round by Adesanya on Saturday will likely go down as one of the defining moments of his career. Facing the greatest adversity of his MMA career to date, against an experienced, ultra-durable opponent … to turn in a 10-8 round under those circumstances … we found out who Israel Adesanya is at UFC 236.
Kelvin Gastelum, middleweight
Result: Lost to Israel Adesanya via unanimous decision
Next: Chris Weidman
Sometimes, it’s the unfortunate thing about sports: There can be only one winner. Gastelum did not deserve to lose at UFC 236. You could argue that he, along with Adesanya, proved that he is cut from a champion’s cloth. But the belt did not go home with Gastelum, and there’s a chance he’ll have to wait a long time for a second crack at it.
Whittaker versus Adesanya is next. The UFC has already promised Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza the next title shot after that, should he defeat Jack Hermansson in a bout scheduled for April 27. In other words, the middleweight title has a full schedule in the foreseeable future. Gastelum deserves time off following this fight of the year candidate. He also went through back-to-back training camps the past five months.
There could be several shake-ups in the division by the time Gastelum returns, but right now, a rematch with Weidman would make sense. Gastelum might not have won the title, but he’s easily still a top-five middleweight. Weidman is 1-4 in his past five, but he has been competitive in defeat and is still recognized as a top 185-pounder. He also holds a win over Gastelum from 2017.