Robert Whittaker admits in one breath that his bout for the undisputed middleweight title Saturday (Sunday in Australia) against unbeaten Israel Adesanya in the main event of UFC 243 at Marvel Stadium is the biggest fight of his life.
It’s quite an admission for the UFC middleweight title holder, who will be fighting for the first time since a split-decision victory in a rematch over Yoel Romero at UFC 225 in Chicago on June 9, 2018.
Interest in Australasia in the Whittaker-Adesanya fight is intense and it’s regarded by many as the most significant ever in that region. A record crowd is expected at Marvel Stadium. The hype train has been steaming down the tracks at full speed for months.
But it isn’t long before Whittaker adds a qualifier.
“I say it’s my biggest fight to date because it’s my next one,” Whittaker said. “The upcoming fight is always my biggest. That’s how I always take it.”
It’s Whittaker’s way of saying he’s always ready and isn’t focused on a million other things, like some have accused Adesanya of doing. Adesanya is doing something right, and is 17-0 overall in MMA and 6-0 in his 20-month stint in the UFC.
He’s fought four times since Whittaker last stepped into the cage and feels it’s an advantage.
“I’ve had six fights in 18 months in the UFC and I finally got a break before this camp,” Adesanya said. “Robert has only fought once in the last two years. Activity is a powerful thing, especially when you’re under those lights, under that pressure. He’s human. I know he’s human. He’s going to feel it. He doesn’t want to let people down.
“Me, I’ve made peace with the outcome. I’m going to have fun. And when I’m having fun, I’m the best in the world.”
Not surprisingly, Whittaker sees it differently. He had to pull out of a title fight with Kelvin Gastelum at UFC 234 in February because he got ill after the weigh-in and nearly died, and as Adesanya said, because of various maladies, has only fought once in 818 days.
Whittaker, though, believes there’s a hidden benefit.
“The thing I think people don’t realize, or not thinking about, is that yeah, being out, I haven’t fought, but my brain didn’t go through all that trauma,” he said. “Mentally, I have had such a big layoff since my last fight. Obviously, I didn’t want this, but it is what it is. But I have to look at the silver lining and the positives that come along with it, and one of those is that I have been able to rest: mentally rest, physically rest and my brain hasn’t taken any significant trauma for a long time. Health is everything in life, and it is in fighting, too. I’m going to be sharp and ready because my body is rested and relaxed and ready for this.”
Many of the physical advantages rest with Adesanya. He’s 6-foot-4 with an 80-inch reach and extremely long legs. He has the ability to throw every type of strike and at incredible speed.
Whittaker, though, is the more well-rounded fighter who has repeatedly shown he is comfortable wherever the fight takes him. He’s beaten an elite striker in Uriah Hall, an Olympic wrestler in Romero (twice) and an elite grappler in Jacare Souza.
There is no area of the game in which he’s weak.
He’ll need to get past Adesanya’s jab and close the distance and fight at a middle range in which he’ll have a better chance of connecting on his shots.
Whittaker has great timing and set-ups with his takedowns, and his ability to diversify his game will keep Adesanya guessing.
But he can never relax because of the sheer number of ways that Adesanya can strike, and the accuracy with which he connects.
Bettors have played Adesanya at the MGM Grand sportsbook, and he’s become a slight favorite. He’s now at minus-130, while Whittaker is even money.
My pick is Whittaker because of his experience against elite opposition and the diversity of his game. I suspect he’ll fight with a chip on his shoulder, as well, because so many are chronicling Adesanya’s meteoric rise to prominence that Whittaker may feel he’s being overlooked.
Both men will have their moments, but look for Whittaker to win Round 5 and pull out a victory in a memorable bout.
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