On Saturday, February 12th, the long-awaited Middleweight Championship rematch between Israel Adesanya and Robert Whittaker will take place in Houston, Texas. In the first fight between the two, Israel Adesanya put his clinical striking on full display by knocking out Whittaker in the second round.
Israel Adesanya is currently an overwhelming favorite coming into the fight, currently sitting on DraftKings at –275 odds to win the fight. Robert Whittaker currently sits at +270.
Setting the scene
Since their first fight, Robert Whittaker has gone 3-0 with decision wins over Darren Till, Jared Cannonier, and Kelvin Gastelum. He’s looked great in each fight and is looking more like a complete fighter than he ever has before.
That says a lot, considering who he has fought in the past. Whittaker has two wins over Jacare Souza, Derek Brunson, Uriah Hall, and Yoel Romer (x2) but never has he looked so poised and determined as he does now.
Israel Adesanya has gone 3-1 since his victory over Whittaker in 2019. His win over Whittaker got him the belt, and he has yet to relinquish it despite gaining a loss on his record.
His one loss is to Jan Blachowicz, who was the Light Heavyweight champion at the time. The fight took place at Light Heavyweight, so the status of Adesanya’s belt was unaffected by the result.
However, what the loss to Blachowicz did do was expose some holes in Adesanya’s game. Blachowicz completely out-wrestled Adesanya in their fight, and was able to get the decision victory by demonstrating unwavering ground control.
The fighting world took note of Adesanya’s apparent weakness. His next fight after Blachowicz was back at Middleweight, with his belt on the line against contender Marvin Vettori. While Adesanya seemed to win the fight with ease, Vettori attempted 14 takedowns, landing four.
Vettori amassed close to seven minutes of ground control in that fight but still lost via unanimous decision.
How Robert Whittaker can win
Well, like I just went over, Whittaker’s easiest path to victory would be through getting Adesanya on the ground. The only problem is, Whittaker isn’t the best wrestler in the world.
While he does have five submission victories under his belt, they all came before he was even in the UFC. Historically, much of Whittaker’s style is in-your-face striking–which obviously didn’t work in his first fight against Adesanya.
In an interview with MMA journalist Ariel Helwani, Whittaker recognized his faults in the two’s first fight. Whittaker says he was “letting everything get to him,” wondering why “everyone was giving so much attention” to Adesanya. So, Whittaker was admittedly angry.
However, he went on to say how much he’s since come to terms with those feelings and won’t let them bother him in the cage this time around. This is great news for Whittaker fans, because Israel Adesanya is one of the best counter-strikers in the UFC. So if Whittaker makes an ill-advised charge at the champ, he could very well pay for it.
If Whittaker is on his A-game, he can definitely stand-and-bang with the champ. However, for every second that passes by with the fight on its feet, Whittaker runs the chances of getting caught by Adesanya. So, if Whittaker wants a safe chance, he’ll have to look to his ground game to sort this one out.
How Adesanya can win
Adesanya’s best chance at grabbing this win is by keeping the fight on its feet. Adesanya is the much taller fighter, so he should have no issues keeping Whittaker at range. If Whittaker does come into the pocket and the two fight in a phone booth, Adesanya has proven he has the speed and head movement to get out of those situations with ease.
Adesanya’s toughest rounds on the feet seem to come right in the beginning. If you go back and watch Adesanya’s fights, he always seems to get tagged at least once in the first round. If he’s able to avoid the full brunt of Whittaker’s strength early, he should have a decent shot at maybe even getting a finish in the second or third round.
Also, there is an advantage to knowing everyone knows your weakness. Since Adesanya knows Whittaker will likely be looking for a takedown, it can allow him the opportunity to catch him on entry. A perfectly timed uppercut or knee (which Adesnaya is prone to do) could do a lot of damage to a shooting Whittaker.
Unfortunately for Whittaker, I don’t see this one going his way. Why he has improved since the two last met, Adesanya is still the superior striker, and by a fair margin. If Whittaker can manage to take him down then this could be a different story, but seeing as how Vettori only managed to get him down 4 times I don’t think Whittaker would be able to do much better.
Adesanya Wins Via TKO/KO Round 3