Dana White has recently announced that the main-event for UFC 297 will be Sean Strickland defending his middle-weight title for the first time against Dricus Du Plessis in Toronto. This announcement has excited MMA fans as they get to see De Plessis fight for championship gold for the first time against the loudmouthed striker who is fresh of an incredible win himself. It will be a fight that no one will want to miss, especially Israel Adesanya. In wake of the announcement that Strickland and De Plessis would be facing each other in the octagon in January it begs the question, what’s next for Israel Adesanya? Before we explore Izzy’s next potential steps, I just want to acknowledge the interview he gave to MMA junkie at the Francis Ngannou Tyson Fury fight, in which he claimed he won’t be back until 2027. It seems that Izzy was joking in that interview, and in an unpredictable sport such as this I think it’s safe not to read too deeply into statements like that.
Sean Strickland became only the second middleweight in history to Stop Israel Adesanya. Strickland won the UFC 293 bout in September by unanimous decision, dominating Israel in a fight on the feet. Strickland landed 137 strikes to Adesanya’s 97 knocking him down in the first. It was a shock to many when Strickland had his hand raised that night most of all to Adesanya who looked like he’d just been struck by lightning 137 times. If Sean Strickland successfully defends his belt at UFC 297 then that would nicely set up a rematch with Izzy, we’ve already seen them fight before however this fight would be under a whole new set of circumstances. Izzy would be fuelled by redeeming his previous loss to Strickland, very similarly to his rivalry with Alex Pereira, in which he managed to KO Pereira cold in their rematch. This would also be a version of Strickland who has beaten the top two ranked fighters in the division in less than 6 months. Fighters often find another gear once they have tasted title victory so a fight between Adesanya and Strickland who would both have such motivation would make a spectacular build-up, and fight.
Dricus De Plessis
On the flip side if Dricus De Plessis emerged victorious at UFC 297 then that would make for a highly anticipated fight with the last Stylebender. The two men have history, with De Plessis having said “Did those belts ever go to Africa? As far as I know, they came to America and New Zealand. I’m going to take a belt to Africa. I’m the African fighter in the UFC. Myself and Cameron, we breathe African air. We wake up in Africa every day. We train in Africa, we’re African born, we’re African raised, we still reside in Africa, we train out of Africa – that’s an African champion, and that’s who I’ll be.”. Adesanya didn’t take kindly to De Plessis comments and confronted De Plessis in the Octagon at UFC 290 exchanging heated words and adding fuel to the fire between them. This matchup would certainly grab the attention of the masses and has the potential to be a huge fight, it is all dependant on who the victor is at UFC 297.
Another opponent Adesanya has seasoned history with is Alex Pereira. In their first two outings in the kickboxing promotion Glory Pereira beat Adesanya once by unanimous decision and once by KO, following these fights Adesanya would begin his ascendence to the top of MMA putting Alex distantly in the rear-view mirror. However, at UFC 281 Adesanya would meet his old foe once again in a middleweight title fight, history would yet again repeat itself with the Brazilian claiming the title from the reluctant clutches of Stylebender. This story would have yet another turn as Adesanya would face Pereira for a fourth time and finally lay his demons to rest at UFC 287 knocking out his opponent cold to reclaim his title. Another fight between the two would definitely garner enough interest to validate seeing them fight for a fifth time. If Pereira manages to beat Jiří Procházka at UFC 295 then it could set up a mega fight for UFC 300. The only reasons people may disagree with this fight being made is that Izzy has only fought at LHW once in which he lost to Jan Błachowicz, coupled with the fact that Pereira may be more focused on fighting Jamahal Hill for the LHW title If he does emerge victorious from UFC 295.
In summary Israel isn’t short of potential opponents he can face in the future, each one of the fighters listed would give him both great fights in the cage and the rivalries Izzy has with the fighters have enough sustenance to produce a great build up. All of these fights also depend on what Izzy wants next, if you look at the pound-for-pound middleweight rankings he’s already beaten a lot of the top guys such as Robert Whittaker, and Marvin Vettori so you’d assume he’ll only fight for the title or take a fight that will be a big PPV sale. I think deep down we all want to see the last Stylebender in the cage again soon, and with UFC 300 quickly approaching that could be the perfect stage to see Israel Adesanya return.