Israel Adesanya understands the media–and social media–far better than Robert Whittaker. His ability to promote a fight is undisputable.
But what will happen once the two fighters finally step into the Octagon at UFC 243?
“I’m all for Izzy selling the fight,” said Whittaker, the UFC Middleweight Champion. “That takes work off my plate.”
Whittaker is pitted against Adesanya in a Middleweight title unification fight this Saturday at Marvel Stadium in Melbourne, Australia. On paper, it appears that Whittaker, with advantages in his wrestling and elite striking, is well-positioned to put away interim champ Adesanya.
The undefeated Adesanya (17-0) has received quite a bit of the “Izzy’s great, but it’s too much too soon” treatment, especially over the past month. Adesanya has been compared to Darren Till, someone UFC president Dana White gets excited about and rushes into a title fight despite not being ready for the challenge. A win for Adesanya on Saturday would shoot him into another stratosphere, but Whittaker (20-4), who has won his last nine UFC fights, gives reason to doubt whether that will happen.
“I’m better than he is across the board,” said Whittaker. “I’m going to go in there and do me. I’m going to hit and feel where the fight goes.
“Best case, we touch gloves, I put one on his chin, and we go home early.”
Adesanya has won each of 17 fights, but only six of those wins were earned in the UFC. Whittaker admitted that the prospect of knocking off, and knocking out, the undefeated, outspoken Adesanya has a certain appeal.
“I love derailing hype trains,” said Whittaker. “I’ve done it a bunch of times. That’s going to make me very happy.”
Living in nearby Sydney, Whittaker holds a rare home field advantage in this fight.
“It’s much more comfortable,” said Whittaker. “I can stay with my family longer, I can play with my kids longer. I don’t need to leave until later, I get home earlier. So my training changes because I don’t need to fly out sooner. I can just do me.
“I’m stoked. This fight is going to be the biggest fight for this part of the world. It’s only going to bring more light to the sport and the athletes.”
The pre-fight narrative and media attention is slightly skewed because of Adesanya’s skillfulness at promoting the fight. He understands how the system works, using it to its fullest advantage. Adesanya has spoken about how he is the draw, that he is earning more money in the fight, and talked his way into people believing that he should be the favorite.
Whittaker is much more hesitant with the media. While the fight world has witnessed a lot more star-building surrounding Adesanya, the chatter about the actual fight should be centered around Whittaker.
“I haven’t had a dull fight in my entire career, and it’s not going to start this Saturday,” said Whittaker. “As for everything else, I can only be me.”