Just How Great Is Israel Adesanya?
Well, UFC 271 is now officially in the rearview - and all things considered, it was a pretty strong night of fights. And while we’ll likely do a feature on one or even both of the fights that preceded the main-event - the pair of finishes scored by Tai Tuivasa and Jared Cannonier - the focus of this video will be on the middleweight championship bout between the champ Israel Adesanya, and the fighter he beat for his fourth successful defense in Robert Whittaker.
And it’ll be an interesting one because this was a pretty divisive result - and to be totally honest, I was surprised to see that after watching this one live. But, of course, the live viewing experience is never the one to lead into pen hitting paper - and obviously it was about half five in the morning Irish time - so I wasn’t, shall we say, in the best condition to make a definitive opinion on this one.
However, when I did rewatch it - it became apparent to me that Whittaker did a lot better than I had originally noticed - in fact, I do now think there’s a reasonable case for him winning three of those rounds - even if I do edge it to Adesanya. That ain’t a robbery, it’s just a damn close fight. And in it, there were quite a few interesting adjustments - from both guys - to how things played out originally.
I thought Whittaker made a much better account of himself this time around - although I did find his heavily one-handed attacks to be quite baffling at times - I know it was half-mentioned in the broadcast that he could have injured his right-hand, but I did think that his heavy reliance on his left was so pronounced as the right went on.
But those takedowns, his ability to, at the very least, keep Izzy guessing - even if he wasn’t able to devastate him and ground and pound or make some closer submission attempts - yea, I still think Bobby Knuckles did very well in there.
And those moments where he did land - particularly with his semi-dormant right hand, as well as the takedowns he got and the pair of backtakes he pulled off. Those were the moments that many will point to as his most definitive.
But I do think this was another highly impressive victory for Israel Adesanya - especially when you take into account the sheer talent of the man who stood opposite him. Whittaker is a championship-level fighter who, in many of these exchanges on the feet, was handled by Adesanya - both through his offense and his defense.
Again, the leg-kicks were great - and his overall shot selection kept The Reaper at bay in moments of momentum that his opponent would have taken advantage of had the man across from him been a Cannonier or a Gastelum. But Izzy stayed composed - and used his immense tactical knowledge to do what he had to to take home the victory.
It wasn’t a dazzling display by either man - but instead it was a high-level chess match that saw each competitor fight to the level of the man in front of them. Again, I did find some of Whittaker’s one-note approach to be a little off, but who knows what was going on - and either way, it was a far cry from the headhunting he employed in their first battle.
So yea, I had it 48-47 to Adesanya - and I think that given his position as champion - as tight as this fight was - I know the ‘you have beat the champ’ thing is BS - but for me, seeing the belt remain with The Last Stylebender seemed fitting - even if the fight could have gone either way.
For Whittaker, it’s a tough pill to swallow.
Who knows, maybe he did hurt his hand - but either way, he has no reason to be anything less than proud of the fighter he has become. I wouldn’t be against seeing a third fight between these two down the line - provided it makes sense in terms of their placement within the division - but Whittaker will certainly be forced to take on another 2 or 3 top contenders before that even becomes realistic.
As for Israel, I’m again completely and totally in awe of his ever-growing talents within the overall MMA skillset. He just looks like such a natural in there - cool, composed, and no longer bogged down by the consistent notion that takedowns and general grappling defense are a weakness.
That was true at a point, up until it wasn’t - and though Rob had some success in there - Adesanya just looked so calm in those exchanges. And I do think that the better man won it out in the end - as narrow as the margins round by round were.
And I do think that he has done enough to justify a second-placed pound for pound ranking - even with his attempt to validate his pound for pound status in mind - his loss to Jan Blachowicz.
He was good enough in moments in that fight - and in no way was he blown out of the water. And when you look at his victories as a middleweight - this latest win over his greatest threat, his destruction of Paulo Costa, nullifying Marvin Vettori, running through Derek Brunson - although it was a different less-blonde Brunson.
But in fairness, even if some fans don’t appreciate his slower and more methodical moments inside the cage - if one thing has been clear about Israel in every fight barring the war with Gastelum - it’s that he is incredibly difficult to have any form of consistent success against.
His ability to set a tone and stick to it - unfazed by everything you’re doing - along with his concise understanding of the MMA scoring criteria - even if he’s not going for the flashy KO, Izzy just always seems to be in control of the fight’s momentum. And I do think that he’s pulling away from his contemporaries into a really high spot among the best fighters we’ve ever seen.
Sure he doesn’t yet have the resumé to put him in that upper category - but I do get the sense that he’s headed in the right direction. And even if he’s in fights as narrow as the one we got on Saturday - it says a lot more about the sheer talent of Robert Whittaker than it does about any mediocrity that you may be getting off of Izzy.
Middleweight gets a bad rap - with many calling it one of the weaker divisions in the sport right now - but I think there are more than enough elite talents in there to challenge that claim with. Indeed, we’re pretty familiar with a lot of the guys in the top-10, and that may have an effect - but there’s no way to come out of the last few defense of Adesanya’s crown and not see the full package - not see a kickboxer who has truly rounded out his game.
So yea, it wasn’t the most thrilling fight of all time, but man, these two proved themselves to be on fairly similar levels - and though the win went Adesanya’s way - I have no doubt that Whittaker’s tale is far from over. For now, though, the belt stays with the great Israel Adesanya - and for me, this was a title-defense that really brought his overall reign to another level entirely.
So let’s see how Jared Cannonier deals with that in June!