UFC 263: Adesanya Going Over Old Ground
By Harry Jensen
Israel Adesanya will be making his third defence of the UFC middleweight championship this Saturday against former opponent Marvin Vettori, in a fight that most believe will be another shut out display by ‘The Last Stylebender.’
This fight seems like a mismatch on paper, and rightly so since the Nigerian-New Zealander already has a win against the Italian, but it isn’t Adesanya’s fault that this fight has been made.
When the champ holds wins over every top contender that has made their way through the division’s rankings, and Vettori is one of the only fighters not coming off a loss in the top ten middleweights, it does rationalise this fight’s creation.
Since losing his title in the autumn of 2019, former-champ Robert Whittaker has slowly but surely been making his own mark on the division, beating all the fighters which were initially marketed as a future test for the champion Adesanya. This includes the likes of England’s Darren Till, the ‘Killa Gorilla’ Jared Cannonier, and also a win over former interim-title contender Kelvin Gastelum.
It almost seems as if ‘The Reaper’ is taking all the potential fights for the Stylebender before they can materialise, something quite ironic considering he was blasted out in two rounds against the champ himself.
So with Vettori taking the title shot over Whittaker, it begs the question, does ‘The Italian Dream’ really deserve it?
Ultimately, it doesn’t seem that way at all.
Vettori is currently on a 5-fight win streak, which does seem commendable, until you factor in that only 2 of these wins were against ranked opponents, both a #4-ranked Jack Hermannson and #10-ranked Kevin Holland, the latter also taking the fight on 10 days’ notice and conceding over 20 minutes of control time but only 24 significant strikes from the Italian.
Comparing Vettori’s feat against Whittaker and you’ll see a large discrepancy in the skill level of opponent. Whittaker has beaten #2, #5, and #8 ranked fighters in the middleweight division, yet was still snubbed for a rematch with Adesanya.
This does seem unfair at first glance, but Vettori’s title shot is explained by the circumstances in which it came about.
Whittaker was fresh off a 5-round physically-taxing domination of Gastelum when Adesanya made his intentions of activity as a champion clear, and it was obvious that Whittaker wouldn’t be able to make the 2-month turn around to fight in June, so the next best replacement was found in Vettori.
This brings me back to what I said at the beginning: This fight is ultimately a big mismatch on paper, and any observer would heavily favour Adesanya to win, maybe even by stoppage.
But since Adesanya’s outing in March, a weakness in his takedown defence was exposed which was previously doubted since his impressive dismantling of Derek Brunson in 2018 back in his contender days.
Vettori has a lot of confidence in his wrestling abilities, so it makes sense that he backs himself for the upset considering Adesanya’s last loss was characterised by his opponent’s superior wrestling.
But Jan Blachowicz has a much larger frame than Vettori, so it will be interesting to see if he can replicate the light-heavyweight champion’s success despite the obvious physical differences.
Many of those who would be calling for an easy victory for Adesanya may have lost some confidence in their picks after his last fight, but not enough to consider him as anything other than a heavy favourite.