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The Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight division received a shakeup at the end of 2017, when Georges St. Pierre came out of retirement, choked out Michael Bisping and won the title at UFC 217. Health issues forced St. Pierre to vacate the crown, allowing for Robert Whittaker’s promotion from interim titleholder to undisputed champion -- a process most fighters would prefer to see take place in competition rather than by default.
That was not the end of the trouble at 185 pounds. Whittaker underwent knee surgery, only to have his return delayed further by a serious staph infection.
To keep things moving, top contenders Yoel Romero and Luke Rockhold will meet for the interim middleweight championship at UFC 221 on Feb. 10 in Perth, Australia. The match was made due to Whittaker’s lingering health issues. Romero was originally scheduled to face former two-division World Series of Fighting titleholder David Branch at UFC on Fox 24 on Feb. 24. While Branch finds himself in limbo following the latest divisional shuffle, no one should count him out as a possible contender in 2018.
Initial reports had Whittaker missing a significant amount of time, but a recent social-media update from “Bobby Knuckles” indicates things could be looking up for all parties involved in the chase for middleweight supremacy. With the champion having returned to training and the top two contenders squaring off, it’s only a matter of time until the division straightens itself out.
The third-ranked contender at 185 pounds returned from injury on Jan. 27, and Ronaldo Souza kept his place in line by stopping Derek Brunson with a first-round head kick and follow-up punches in the UFC on Fox 27 main event. It served as a reminder, lest anyone forget that the decorated Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt is well-rounded enough to make a run at UFC gold and offers plenty of intriguing matchups, especially if he is afforded the opportunity to avenge previous losses to Romero, Rockhold and Whittaker. Meanwhile, former champion Chris Weidman is never far from the title hunt and would undoubtedly covet a shot at redemption against Rockhold, as well; and Kevin Gastelum cannot be ignored, as the 26-year-old has just entered his prime.
This is all speculation until bodies heal and fights happen. The aftermath of UFC 221 seems certain to produce future main events. No superfights are needed. These fights sell themselves, and one of the contenders listed above -- or perhaps a dark horse -- should take the undisputed mantle once the dust settles.
Edward Carbajal serves as the lead MMA analyst for Frontproof Media and holds a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and a brown belt in Ishin Ryu Karate. He has covered combat sports since 2014 and has been a fan of MMA since UFC 1. You can follow him on Twitter @Carbazel or at his website TheBlogBoardJungle.com.