UFC 271: Adesanya vs Whittaker Preview & Prediction
By Cathal Geeney
Israel Adesanya will take on Robert Whittaker as he looks to successfully defend his 185-pound title in Houston, Texas on Saturday night at UFC 271.
It speaks to the dominance of Israel Adesanya in the middleweight division that Saturday night will be his second consecutive time defending his belt against an opponent he already holds a victory over.
The champion’s game is built around his incredible striking precision and speed. Transitioning from a kickboxing background, the New Zealander utilises every bit of his 80-inch range to pick his opponent off with an array of punches and kicks. While if you try and negate his reach advantage by rushing him, his movement, and counter punches land with devastating effect.
The Last Stylebender suffered his first taste of defeat inside the UFC octagon just under twelve months ago, when he came up short against Jan Blachowicz as he ‘dared to be great’ by stepping up to light-heavyweight. The main talking point post fight was regarding the grappling abilities of Adesanya, as he was taken down in each of the final two rounds, playing a major role in his decision loss.
The Nigerian-born fighter has since bounced back in dominant fashion with a clear decision victory over Marvin Vettori back in June (50-45 across all judges’ scorecards). While it wasn’t necessarily the most entertaining fight, it was important for Izzy to let his counterparts know that his grappling is not necessarily a weakness. This is particularly important heading into a fight against someone of the calibre of Whittaker.
Robert Whittaker is an incredible competitor. Prior to relinquishing his belt to Adesanya, Bobby Knuckles was on a nine-fight winning streak, which included back-to-back five-round wars with Yoel Romero.
After his loss, many expected Whittaker to look for one more win and then aim for a rematch for the title. Instead, the thirty-one-year-old decided to lay down the gauntlet to the toughest possible opponents and defeated Darren Till, Jared Cannonier and Kelvin Gastelum in the last eighteen months.
In terms of fighting style, Whittaker is well balanced. He is an expert striker, with his own unique style. He is very light on his feet, throwing lots of feints to maintain the distance before rushing in with a lead jab or a hook. He looks to work off this and follow it up with a combination. Whittaker also has a strong wrestling pedigree, having competed in Freestyle Wrestling in his native Australia. He even qualified to represent Australia in the 2018 Commonwealth games, only to pull out due to his MMA commitments.
On paper, Whittaker has all the skills to be a dominant UFC champion, it’s just unfortunate for him that Adesanya happens to be in the same division at the same time. These are two top fighters at the peak of their powers and Saturday night should be a joy to behold.
Adesanya is such an intelligent, patient fighter. He will make reads during the early rounds and adjust accordingly. If he feels the knockout is there, as was the case last time out, he will go for the kill. Or if he gets comfortable, he can be technical and go the distance, cardio never seems to be a major issue.
Whittaker needs to find the correct balance this time around. This involves applying constantly pressure, as he did last time out, but he cannot get reckless and leave himself vulnerable. It may sound like he’s stuck between a rock and a hard place here, but I do believe his has the skillset to overcome the reigning champ.
If Whittaker can use all the tools at his disposal, oblique kick, jab, feints, takedown threat, and manage to remain composed and follow his gameplan, I think he can cause a major surprise and regain the middleweight strap. This might raise a few eyebrows, but I’m predicting a picture-perfect performance from the Australian in a razor tight decision victory.