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Despite losing his middleweight title in his last fight of 2022 to Alex Pereira at UFC 281, oddsmakers still list Israel Adesanya as the favorite to walk out of 2023 as the middleweight champion.
Prior to losing his title to Pereira, Adesanya had defended his belt five times - including two defenses in 2022 over Jared Cannonier and former champion Robert Whittaker.
Although not yet official, an immediate rematch with Pereira seems likely to be Adesanya’s first fight in the new year.
As mentioned above, Alex Pereira won the title from Israel Adesanya at the end of 2022 via fifth-round TKO. It was just his seventh mixed martial arts bout and he now has a professional record of 7-1.
It was highly promoted during the build up to Pereira’s title fight that he had already defeated Adesanya twice prior in professional kickboxing.
Pereira had two fights in 2022 prior to his title win. He defeated Bruno Silva by decision in March and followed that performance with a first-round knockout of Sean Strickland.
Although Khamzat Chimaev’s most notable UFC wins have come in the welterweight division, it shouldn’t be forgotten that Chimaev has two middleweight wins as well as a 180-pound catchweight win.
Chimaev’s first fight of 2022 was a fight of the year contender. He fought and defeated Gilbert Burns via unanimous decision at 170 pounds.
He was then scheduled to face Nate Diaz at welterweight but missed weight at UFC 279. The card was shuffled and Chimaev fought Kevin Holland at 180-pounds. He won the contest via first-round submission.
Chimaev is listed in the top-5 of the welterweight rankings but should his weight-cutting issues persist, there is a quality chance that the undefeated fighter moves his way up the middleweight rankings in 2023.
Since moving up in weight to the middleweight division, former champion Robert Whittaker has only lost twice at 185-pounds; both of those losses coming against Israel Adesanya.
Whittaker was riding a three-fight winning streak heading into 2022 and his first bout of the year was a rematch with Adesanya that he lost in a close decision.
He bounced back in his second bout of 2022 - earning a unanimous decision win over former title challenger Marvin Vettori.
It was rumored that Whittaker would next take on Paulo Costa in February 2023 but Costa has denied the fight rumors and it is unclear if a new opponent will be selected for Whittaker by next month.
Having yet to make his UFC debut, oddsmakers still round out their top favorite middleweights with freestyle wrestling prodigy Bo Nickal.
Nickal is 3-0 as a mixed martial artist and has two submission wins on Dana White’s Contender Series.
Nickal is a multi-time NCAA division one champion, has a blue belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and currently trains with American Top Team - a team that boasts the likes of Dustin Poirier, Mateusz Gamrot, and Jorge Masvidal.
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