Israel Adesanya won a legion of new fans with his thrilling unanimous decision win over legend Anderson Silva in Melbourne on Sunday — but his status as the true No. 1 contender to Robert Whittaker's crown has been thrown into question by some pointed criticism from within the UFC fraternity.
The 29-year-old kickboxing specialist declared himself the No. 1 contender after stealing the show at UFC 234 at Rod Laver Arena — ignoring the chaos caused to the middleweight division by Whittaker's collapsed bowel and intestinal hernia that required emergency surgery on the morning of the event.
UFC boss Dana White now finds himself in the impossible position of having promised both Adesanya and American Kelvin Gastelum the next shot at Whittaker's belt.
With no clear timeframe for Whittaker's return Adesanya is now facing a potentially extended wait on the sidelines until after an expected Whittaker-Gastelum showdown in 2019 — or the prospect of having to fight again, possibly against No.3 contender Jacare Souza, without a belt on the line.
Adesanya finds himself in the difficult position of having cemented himself as a top contender with his dominant win over Silva — while also failing to do enough to make it impossible for White to overlook him when it comes time for him to meet with UFC match makers on Tuesday.
He also failed to do enough to win over some of his UFC rivals.
American Chris Weidman led the criticism, suggesting he is not convinced Adesanya is the real thing just yet.
At 5-0 in the UFC, Adesanya is unbeaten in his 12 months in the promotion, but there remain doubts about his wrestling and ground game.
However, the coach of Conor McGregor, John Kavanagh, and White are already convinced he is a future champion.
Kavanagh on Twitter wrote that it is "just a matter of time" before Adesanya is the champion.
White also admitted having Adesanya as a champion would be good for the UFC because of the Kiwi's ability to promote fights.
"The kid's got it," White said on Sunday.
"Not only is he talented in the Octagon, he's talented outside of it too.
"His interviews are exciting, he's an interesting guy, he's fun to watch and I think he's got a really bright future here."
Adesanya's fast lips did get him into trouble on Sunday in front of the Melbourne crowd after he appeared to take a shot at Whittaker for his failure to defend his belt.
"I showed up to work, a lot of people didn't, even though it's out of their hands, sometimes it's not in their control," Adesanya said, clearly disappointed that the forecast trans-Tasman title showdown has been scrapped for now.
White said on Sunday he will begin planning the middleweight division with a meeting on Tuesday where he will have the futures of Gastelum and Adesanya in his hands.