UFC 243: Adesanya Stops Whittaker to Claim Undisputed UFC Middleweight Title
By: Jesse Donathan
According to multiple sources, UFC 243 in Melbourne, Australia saw approximately 56,000 fans in attendance to watch the UFC middleweight title unification bout between Israel “The Last Stylebender” Adesanya and Robert “The Reaper” Whittaker in the evenings main event. Adesanya, fighting out of New Zealand by way of Nigeria and Whittaker, a Sydney, Australia native are both hometown boys in the eyes of the Australian crowd who obviously turned out in mass to support their mixed martial arts heroes at the beautiful Marvel Stadium in downtown Melbourne.
Adesanya came into his UFC 243 middleweight title unification bout against Whittaker with a six-and-a-half-inch reach advantage at 6-foot-4-inches tall, at least a full four inches taller than his opponent. Nonetheless, the reigning, defending UFC middleweight champion Whittaker came into the fight a -105 betting favorite to hand the undefeated Adesanya his first career mixed martial arts loss.
“The Reaper” would come out strong right out of the gate, meeting Adesanya in the middle of the Octagon and pressing the action on the interim champion who displayed excellent footwork in measuring up the aggressive Whittaker. Taking a page out of UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones playbook, Whittaker immediately looked to land oblique kicks to the side of Adesanya’s knee. It was a war of low kicks early, with Whittaker bouncing up and down on the balls of his feet, periodically lunging in with powerful jabs and left hooks in an attempt to mitigate the reach and distance management of the experienced kickboxer Israel Adesanya.
Just over half way through the bout, the fighters would briefly clinch up with one another in the Octagon, and on the break, Whittaker miffs an open-handed strike passed Adesanya which rakes the interim champions eye, briefly bringing a halt to the action as referee Marc Goddard assesses the situation. After momentarily wiping his eye on Goddard’s shirt, Adesanya would collect himself despite the increasingly common eye gouging technique that seems to enjoy the benefit of the doubt all too often anymore.
The fight would resume with Adesanya momentarily pressing forward on Whittaker before “The Reaper” would turn the tables, launching a failed superman punch that got Adesanya backing up. With both fighter’s head hunting, high kicks would launch numerous times from both athletes, Adesanya coming dangerously close to connecting on Whittaker at one point during the contest.
With just under 10-seconds left in the round, Whittaker would explode with a final volley of punches that ended up seeing Adesanya clobber Whittaker with a huge right hand just as the bell sounded that sent Robert crashing to the canvas, the champion potentially saved by the bell as “The Reaper” looked noticeably hurt returning back to his corner. It was a 10-9 round for the interim champion Adesanya who looked poised, calm and collected in the first stanza of the bout.
In between rounds, Whittaker looked calm and collected on his stool, the champions conditioning no doubt playing a huge role in his ability to recover from such a powerful blow. The two fighters would again meet each other in the middle of the Octagon, with Whittaker going back to the oblique kicks and his lunging style of attack against Adesanya in part credited by the fight announcers to the hard-fought success Kelvin Gastelum found against Adesanya in his losing effort to capture the interim title against Israel. In critiquing Adesanya’s game plan, former two-division champion Daniel Cormier, calling the evenings fight in Melbourne, would note that Adesanya was looking to counter Whittaker with a hook throughout much of the fight, an observation which would soon turn out to be a prophetic.
Whether through the fog of war, a lapse in focus and concentration, fatigue or perhaps even injury, Whittaker would begin to noticeably slow down half way through the second round. His footwork, in and out movement and overall mobility began to cease as the flatter footed, stationary Whittaker looked more and more like a target for the dangerous Adesanya. This was the beginning of the end for Robert Whittaker whose right leg seemed to be injured and giving him problems.
With under two minutes remaining in the round, Whittaker would launch a multiple punch combination against Adesanya who managed to connect with a huge left hook in the middle of the sequence which sent Whittaker crashing to the canvas with Adesanya and Goddard in close pursuit.
Swarming the obviously hurt Whittaker, referee Marc Goddard had decided he had seen enough, waiving off the contest with Israel Adesanya claiming the undisputed UFC middleweight championship in impressive fashion.
Like the true champion that he is, Robert Whittaker came to compete Saturday night and went out on his shield like many legendary warriors before him. “The Reaper” came to bang against a dangerous, seasoned kickboxer in a fight he could have easily chosen to take a completely different path in game planning against. Hindsight being 20/20, perhaps Whittaker should have looked to execute a more takedown based, ground oriented style of attack against Adesanya but the UFC middleweight title is now unified and Israel Adesanya has put his name on the map as someone to be respected and reckoned with in the middleweight division. Next up for Adesanya, a potential clash with middleweight juggernaut Paulo Costa or perhaps better yet, even a superfight with UFC light heavyweight kingpin Jon Jones in a fight the UFC has been looking to put together for quite sometime now.