ESPN’s MMA contributors break down the biggest takeaways from UFC 243: Whittaker vs. Adesanya.
Ariel Helwani welcomes the Israel Adesanya era
Israel Adesanya made his UFC debut on Feb. 11, 2018.
That isn’t a typo. He debuted against Rob Wilkinson on the undercard of UFC 221 a year-and-a-half ago.
On Saturday night, he became the undisputed UFC middleweight king.
Not since Conor McGregor have we seen someone burst through the UFC doors like this. But if you’re scoring at home, McGregor became the undisputed champ in two-and-a-half years.
Adesanya has it all. He walks the walk and talks the talk. He is a promoter’s dream. He’s a great quote and a flashy fighter.
When he was doing his unique entrance prior to the fight, I initially thought, oh no, he’s exerting too much energy. And then I remembered, he’s Israel Adesanya. The normal rules don’t seem to apply to him.
And of course, they didn’t. Once again, he rose to the occasion.
All he did was go out there and snap Robert Whittaker‘s nine-fight winning streak, become the first man to defeat Whittaker at 185 pounds and hand Whittaker the second KO loss of his career. Although Whittaker caught him here and there, it was never in doubt.
In fact, if Adesanya had 15 or so more seconds at the end of the first round, he might have finished the job in that round.
It was unbelievable, really — and even more so because he has been calling all this for years.
The beauty of it is he’s about to get bigger. Why? Because he has a chiseled foil from Brazil named Paulo Costa, who despises him and looks like something out of a Marvel comic, waiting for him. The buildup for that fight will be tremendous. The trash talk and tension will be memorable. It’s just what Adesanya needs in his first title defense.
— Francis Ngannou (@francis_ngannou) October 6, 2019
The most promising part? Adesanya seems grounded. He’s close to his parents, who appear to be great influences in his life. His team is small yet loyal and humble. Everything is in place for him to become one of the biggest stars this sport has ever seen. He has it all, and he is doing it all.
He was my breakthrough fighter of the year last year. He was on our award show and said he was happy to win the award, but he was gunning for fighter of the year in 2019.
I think he might have just wrapped that up — not to mention fight of the year (vs. Kelvin Gastelum in April), walkout of the year, coach of the year (Eugene Bareman), gym of the year (City Kickboxing) … and on and on. Get used to this, friends.
The Last Stylebender era has officially begun.
Brett Okamoto examines what’s next
Israel Adesanya, middleweight
Result: Defeated Robert Whittaker via second-round KO
Next: Paulo Costa
Sublime performance by Israel Adesanya. Robert Whittaker is a tremendous middleweight, but this was Adesanya’s fight. Yes, Whittaker had some success, and no, it wasn’t a blowout. But the fight-altering shots all belonged to Adesanya. He used his full arsenal and set traps when he needed to. The finishing sequence was a beautiful display of technique, athleticism and fight IQ.
There was a lot of respect between Adesanya and Whittaker. Now, let’s move on to a matchup with a little more heat. Adesanya and Paulo Costa do not like each other. They are both undefeated. Costa is an unstoppable force of forward aggression, and Adesanya is a crafty, clever, precise assassin. This matchup is everything you want in a championship fight. Let’s go.
Robert Whittaker tips his cap to Israel Adesanya, calling him “crafty,” and says he isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. For more UFC, sign up here for ESPN+: http://plus.espn.com/ufc.
Robert Whittaker, middleweight
Result: Lost to Israel Adesanya via second-round KO
Next: Jack Hermansson
Whittaker’s title reign will go down without an official title defense. He was the victim of one piece of bad luck after another during that time, and then he ran into the ultimate misfortune: encountering a superstar on the rise.
It’s Adesanya’s time right now. There is no question about that. But that doesn’t mean it can never be Whittaker’s time again. In his postfight interview, he mentioned seeing Adesanya again in one or two fights. It would make sense to make the first one against Hermansson, who was on a four-fight win streak until he ran into Jared Cannonier last weekend in Copenhagen.
Jeff Wagenheim on Dan Hooker‘s big night
Talk about taking an opponent out of his game. In the co-main event, Dan Hooker thoroughly dominated southpaw Al Iaquinta, which should not be unexpected, given that Iaquinta typically fights out of an orthodox stance. But “Raging Al” couldn’t do that for all but the opening minutes of the fight because Hooker landed a succession of nasty low kicks early to damage Iaquinta’s lead left leg to the point that he had to switch stances.
It was as though Hooker was playing matchmaker. Rather than fight the orthodox Iaquinta, he decided to book himself against the southpaw Iaquinta.
It wasn’t his first stab at matchmaking, and it wasn’t his last of the night. Months ago, desperate to be on this Melbourne card headlined by his friend and teammate Adesanya, the New Zealander called out Iaquinta. He knew what he was doing; Al doesn’t turn down callouts. But getting the fight was only half the battle. Hooker still had to win it, and for him, Iaquinta was a jump up in competition, ranked No. 6 in the ESPN lightweight rankings.
That’s the orthodox version of Iaquinta, though. The southpaw version didn’t look like a top-10 fighter on Saturday, and Hooker sure did, utilizing his length — he’s 6 feet tall with 75-inch reach — to make it his fight. Iaquinta is cagey, and he tried to close the distance. But once he was fighting southpaw, which began before the first round was over, “Raging Al” simply did not have the footwork to bring the rage to Hooker. That isn’t an indictment of Iaquinta as much as it’s a pat on the back for Hooker, who has won six of his past seven and has shown himself to be trouble in the 155-pound division.
One top-10 opponent vanquished, Hooker set his sights on another — and a favorable venue — right after the fight. Before he left the cage, Hooker shared with the raucous crowd a loud and clear message for No. 3-ranked Dustin Poirier. “Meet me in New Zealand in 2020,” he said, “and I’m gonna end you.”
Matchmaker, matchmaker, make us that match.