When undefeated Brazilian UFC middleweight Paulo Costa was forced to have surgery on his injured biceps, the mixed martial arts world started asking: who would take his place as Israel Adesanya's first title challenger?

The Kiwi middleweight's team have put the wheels in motion to provide an answer to the question in the form of Cuban Yoel Romero.

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While the two fighters have been going back and forth online, there is more to the situation than simply jawing. The Herald understands Adesanya's team contacted the UFC as soon as they found out Costa was sidelined to indicate Romero was the opponent they want to fight, and whether the promotion would be able to swing it given the Cuban's recent record.

The 42-year-old Romero has lost three of his last four fights, most recently taking a decision loss against Costa. However, given his reputation for putting on exciting fights, the bout would not be a hard one for the UFC to promote.


UFC boss Dana White has remained tight-lipped on the company's plans for Adesanya's first title defence, and recently indicated Romero may not be the most deserving of a title shot record-wise. That being said, the pair have been known to give the fans a show. In 12 UFC bouts, Romero has been awarded a performance bonus on eight occassions - five of which have been for Fight of the Night. Adesanya has received six performance bonuses in seven UFC fights.

Other candidates for a shot at Adesanya include former champion Robert Whittaker and rising star Jared Cannonier. Whittaker recently postponed several speaking arrangements in order to get back into training camp for an "exciting opportunity", however the Herald understands this is not a rematch against Adesanya. Record-wise, Cannonier is the most deserving challenger with Costa out of the picture, with three wins by knockout in as many fights at middleweight.

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The decision by Adesanya's team to ask for Romero is twofold: it makes the most sense for the company from a business-sense while giving Adesanya the chance to prove his all-around abilty against an elite wrestler.

A silver medallist in wrestling at the 2000 Olympic Games, Romero would be the most decorated grappler to square off against Adesanya, whose grappling game is continually questioned despite the fact he has thwarted 85 per cent of opposition takedown attempts.

The 42-year-old Romero, who boasts a 13-4 professional mixed martial arts record, has been in a position to claim UFC gold on three occassions - although he became ineligible to win the title on two of those due to missing weight, which is another concern for those who believe Romero is not a worthy contender.

With Adesanya looking to get back to work in the early months of 2020, the Herald understands the Kiwi expects to defend the title on a pay per view event in the United States in the first quarter of the UFC calendar, regardless of opponent.

The UFC have announced just two events on their 2020 calendar so far - an ESPN televised Fight Night and a pay per view event, both in January, with the pay per view expected to be headlined by returning lightweight Conor McGregor.