Just eighteen months after his first UFC fight, Israel Adesanya (18-0) has silenced critics to reach the summit, beating Robert Whittaker with a second-round KO to become the new undisputed Middleweight Champion infront of a record-breaking crowd at Marvel Stadium in Australia.
His energetic, provocative entrance minutes beforehand was merely a precursor to how he’d perform once he set foot in the Octagon. There was more where that came from.
Adesanya, who has now fought three times in 2019, was up against an intriguing prospect in Whittaker – who pulled out through injury prior to his scheduled UFC 234 title bout against Kelvin Gastelum back in February.
That night he was forced to undergo emergency dual surgery, having sustained an abdominal hernia of the intestine and twisted, collapsed bowel. So with that in mind, the 28-year-old hadn’t fought since a split decision win against Yoel Romero at UFC 225. That was last June.
Despite obviously training and keeping myself fight-prepared since that Fight of the Night victory, Whittaker wasn’t doing himself any favours with some ill-advised comments earlier this week. Having questioned if Israel was as tough as Romero, who Whittaker went to war with for 50 minutes and ten gruelling rounds in his previous two fights, this quote didn’t age well:
“I don’t think he’s going to be able to withstand the heat that I bring and I’m not looking to finish him; I’m looking to drag this into a five-round war. I’m going to drag him into the trenches. I’m going to do what Gastelum did, but better. Let’s see if he wants to leave early.” – Whittaker’s pre-fight comments
Leave early Israel certainly did not, despite a nervy first-round which saw Robert push the pace with aggressive flurries. Despite attempting strikes aplenty, he was also being made to miss a lot by a rangy, enthusiastic Adesanya who you felt was just getting into his groove.
So while the round was mightily close in the dying embers, Israel undoubtedly was up on the judges’ scorecards when landing a stunning knockdown moments before the bell sounded. It was a timely warning sign and although he showed discretion not to land hammer fists as referee Marc Goddard watched on, he would soon earn his opportunity.
During the following round, Whittaker continued an aggressive stance and looked to control the fight, landing some success with his left hook and forcing Israel to absorb some damage.
With a bloodied nose and closing the distance, Whittaker needed to approach with caution against an Adesanya with ever-growing confidence – not least after that stunning knockdown – who introduced more shot variety, targeting the body and utilising head kicks well too.
Then with just over a minute left on R2, Adesanya applied the finishing touch to end the bout in emphatic style. Having been buzzed with a right hand as he leaned back, he struck Whittaker with a crushing left hook before very brief ground-and-pound before the referee waved it all off.
Whittaker worked hard and was seemingly unfazed by the late knockdown, but ultimately found himself stifled by a better, more precise striker in what was an entertaining standup contest.
Other results on the UFC 243 card were as follows
Dan Hooker def. Al Iaquinta via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-26)
Sergey Spivak def. Tai Tuivasa via second-round submission (arm-triangle choke)
Dhiego Lima def. Luke Jumeau via split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
Yorgan De Castro def. Justin Tafa via first-round TKO (punch)
Jake Matthews def. Rostem Akman via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Callan Potter def. Maki Pitolo via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
Brad Riddell def. Jamie Mullarkey via unanimous decision (29-27, 30-26, 30-26)
Megan Anderson def. Zarah Fairn via first-round submission (triangle choke)
Post-fight comments, aftermath
This victory pushes the Stylebender to an 18-0 record, including six UFC wins over the last eighteen months. During the post-fight interview, he laughed at suggestions he struggles with a lack of knockout power while revealing his coaches had everything planned out for this Whittaker fight – “from plan A all the way to Z”
He also called out an increasingly animated Paulo Costa who watched ringside, insisting the Brazilian is next inline after a unanimous decision win over Romero at UFC 241 last month.
Whittaker was in reflective mood, after suffering his first defeat since 2014 on this occasion infront of his home crowd.
“Obviously, I’m disappointed but I took the fight to him. Me and him are two of the world’s best strikers, it was tit-for-tat and then I got caught, it happens. He beat me tonight, but I’m 28, this is my first loss in the division.
Trust me when I say I’m not going anywhere. I am fortuante enough that I didn’t leave the Octagon with any injuries, so I look to get back in there and get back to work. I’m not going anywhere.”
He hinted there could and probably will be a rematch between the pair somewhere down the line in future, although not straight away with no clause in their fight contrac to activate.
Meanwhile on commentary, UFC heavyweight turned analyst Daniel Cormier waxed lyrical about Adesanya’s star power and how he could be the company’s main attraction for years to come after another excellent display.
“He has all the makings of an international superstar. I asked him to train with me before he even came here [to the UFC], he’s the man. He’s got the personality, everything. I was a fan before and now everyone is too.”
As previously mentioned, Adesanya has already fought three times in 2019 and is an active champion, with plenty of interested suitors ready to take a crack at ruining his undefeated streak.
28-year-old hard-hitting Brazillian Paulo Costa, who claimed he wanted Israel to win (despite not believing he could beat Whittaker), is next inline. Provided negotiations go smoothly, that fight should be pencilled in for the first quarter of 2020, while Dana White will undoubtedly have some interesting matchups planned, including one that involves Jon Jones, for Adesanya as the hype train rolls on.
The pair genuinely dislike each other and Borrachinha will eventually get the title bout he has been longing for. Despite being a tantalising encounter, not many believe he’ll come out victorious if Adesanya is at his best.