In one of the most anticipated middleweight battles in recent years, Australia’s Robert Whittaker will meet New Zealand’s Israel Adesanya with the undisputed championship on the line at UFC 243.
— UFC (@ufc) October 1, 2019
The bad luck of “The Reaper” Robert Whittaker has been well-documented. A knee injury kept him out a year before was set to face Luke Rockhold in 2018. In a cruel twist, a case of chicken pox pulled him just weeks out from the fight in what would have been his return to Australia as champion. He then sat out nearly a year with a broken hand and just 24 hours before his second attempt to return to his homeland, he was forced out from a fight with Kelvin Gastelum with a hernia. Fans are understandably nervous, as Saturday’s contest at the Marvel Stadium in Melbourne is Whittaker’s biggest fight yet, and failing to make the fight would be considered a disaster of epic proportions.
His struggles to return to action in Australia overshadow what has been an incredible run by the fighter affectionately dubbed “Bobby Knuckles.” Since 2014, he has been spectacular with victories over the likes of Uriah Hall, Derek Brunson, and Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza. Those led to his title opportunity over established powerhouse Yoel Romero in 2017. The battle ended up being one of the best fights of the year and the two ran it back a year later in another epic contest. The fight established Whittaker as arguably the best middleweight in the world and his absence has left the MMA world clamoring to see him try to add to his legacy.
Opposing him will be the dynamic Kiwi Israel Adesanya, who has never taken a loss in 17 fights. “The Last Stylebender” was one of the biggest acquisitions by the UFC in 2018 as he rode 12 straight knockout victories going into his octagon debut. He did not disappoint upon arrival, competing four times in his first year in the UFC. That led to his 2019 campaign that has been nothing short of amazing. As Whittaker fell out of his fight in February, Adesanya was moved up to the pay-per-view headliner against the legendary Anderson Silva. The two engaged in an exciting contest, but it was only an appetizer for his following fight. With the interim middleweight title on the line, he battled Kelvin Gastelum in a back-and-forth epic that is the front runner for Fight of the Year.
— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) October 1, 2019
Outside the cage, Adesanya’s bold demeanor on the mic has helped to make him a bonafide pay-per-view attraction. Turning 30 years old just a few months ago, the New Zealand native is at the peak of his powers going into Saturday’s event. It could not come at a bigger time. The UFC rarely has a fight that warrants booking a stadium. Only legends such as Georges St-Pierre and Ronda Rousey at the height of their fame have ever headlined such cards and both events pulled in historic numbers at the time. A victory for Adesanya, and Whittaker as well, would be huge in pushing the winner towards crossover stardom.
Footwork and head movement will dictate this battle of two of the most formidable strikers in the middleweight division today. For Whittaker, the key will be to come forward and cut off the cage against the taller Adesanya. Of the two, “The Reaper” is considered to have more devastating power in a single shot and he will want to keep Adesanya on his heels as much as possible to neutralize a counter-attack. As demonstrated by Kelvin Gastelum back in April, feints and head-movement are key to out-maneuvering the New Zealander on the feet.
For Adesanya, he should look to get in-and-out with quick precise shots in the early rounds. Exchanges in the middle of the Octagon will favor Whittaker so he should look to use his reach and creativity to keep the champion off-balance. Working behind a crisp jab will be crucial to establishing the distance and keeping the fight at his range. While both men are proven in five round contests, it’s expected that Adesanya will have the advantage later in the fight as the two begin to slow down.
The winner of this fight is expected to face Brazilian powerhouse Paulo Costa in their next outing. Following the magnitude of Saturday’s event, the fight could likely end up on a tentpole event during March or even International Fight Week to capitalize on the popularity of the winner.