MMA isn’t a forgiving sport. Many have reached the apex only to be undone by a single loss and never truly recover. Such a fate could have very easily defined Australia’s former champion Robert Whittaker after he surrendered his middleweight title to Israel Adesanya at UFC 243. But it didn’t. As we witnessed during his comeback trail – dispatching Darren Till, Jared Cannonier, and Kelvin Gastelum in spectacular fashion – Whittaker evolved to become a different animal. Sharper. Hungry. Motivated. One that refused to stay down with a renewed drive, intelligent striking, and calculating patience. And although the Reaper didn’t reclaim his belt at UFC 271, it was not – by any means – a failure on his part.
Suffice it to say, you could slice the air of uncertainty with a bread knife during the prelude of today’s title fight. The MMA world had been divided straight down the middle prior to this blockbuster event; one half convinced by the precedent set by Adesanya’s TKO victory against Whittaker back in late 2019, the other half optimistic that Whittaker now had both the requisite tools and mentality to dethrone Adesanya. For a second, it appeared as though history was indeed repeating itself when the incumbent knocked down the challenger in Round 1. Only a second. Robert Whittaker is, after all, a tough bastard to finish. Still, Israel Adesanya had managed to outstrike Whittaker by a clear margin.
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The blueprint for Whittaker’s victory had been outlined by former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jan Błachowicz, who bested Adesanya at UFC 259 (the only fighter to ever do so in professional MMA): avoid exchanging on the feet, take the fight to the ground at all cost. Which
Unfortunately, you can refine your skills to the absolute zenith of its potential, follow a perfect game plan to the tee, and still see the other guy’s hand raised instead of your own. Because MMA is also a sport inhabited by once-in-a-generation talents like Israel Adesanya, who continues his enviable reign of dominance within the UFC’s middleweight division.
“I’m looking forward to grappling, I’m looking forward to exchanging and that part of martial arts with him,” Israel Adesanya himself had told BH exclusively in a recent interview.
“Because he never felt me in the clinch or grapple at all in the first fight, so he’s going to be in for a rude awakening (like I said).”