UFC Paris: Robert Whittaker Proves He’s Still A Top Contender, Takes Decision Over Vettori

Robert Whittaker and Marvin Vettori, UFC Paris
Robert Whittaker and Marvin Vettori, UFC Paris Ceremonial Weigh-In Credit: Jay Anderson/Cageside Press

An important matchup at the top of the UFC middleweight division went down in the famous city of Paris this weekend as the co-main event for the city’s first ever UFC card. Although both Robert Whittaker and Marvin Vettori have lost to the champion, Israel Adesanya, not only once, but twice, it had been over ten fights since either of them lost to anyone other than ‘Stylebender.’ Both men seemed to have solidified themselves as the unquestioned top-two contenders in the division coming into this fight and the official rankings showed that. With the champ facing a man who beat him twice before, albeit in kickboxing, a win in this crucial fight could theoretically earn the winner another title shot if the previous kickboxing results prove indicative of the future in MMA and Alex Pereira becomes the UFC MW champion. A fresh matchup means fresh chances for contenders who have been turned aside in the past.

Whittaker came out with his long, bouncy karate-boxing stance and attacked the lead leg of the Italian from the get-go and then follow up with strikes upstairs. For his part, Vettori came out looking to pressure his Australian opponent back to the fence but early on his punches from his southpaw stance were largely coming just short against the movement of ‘The Reaper.’ With around two minutes left in the round, Vettori tried to take down Robert through the clinch but the takedown defense held up and they separated. The head movement and footwork of the former champ stymied the offense of Vettori early and he periodically landed a variety of strikes, albeit not in combination. Everything for Robert was built off of the jab an the outside leg kick from the open stance. After the first round ended it appeared that Whittaker led by a decent margin although the fight was competitive.

Robert got off first in round two with low-line side-kicks to the knee and front kicks to the belly of his foe. A head kick attempt resulted in a slip but Marvin was unable to capitalize. This round the clinch came much quicker from the Italian but Robert shucked him off and got back to the center of the cage as the commentary recalled his takedown defense against Olympic wrestler Yoel Romero. A big right hand, set up by the jab, landed clean from Whittaker soon after, the best strike of the fight for either man so far. Marvin continued to try to land combinations by striding forward but Rob continually evaded just enough and then stunned Vettori with a right hand of his own. A blocked high kick even drew a sizable reaction from the Italian. The speed of Whittaker was thus far successful against the size and strength of Marvin Vettori. With more success came more confidence and a higher pace. For the first time, Robert was able to be the one pressing Marvin backwards due to the damage he had dealt. He soon landed some clean strikes against the fence and more stabbing kicks to the belly of his foe. The commentary highlighted a 8-to-1 live line in favor of Vettori around this point before yet another Whittaker right hand landed clean on his opponent’s iron chin right before the second round ended.

The striking flow seemed to not have any major disruptions as round three got to a start. Vettori had reset somewhat and was not yet eating the big shots he ate towards the latter half of round two, but he was not significantly making up the striking gap. Robert Whittaker’s famous right head kick landed after a minute and a half, staggering his opponent. Soon after, a knee to a ducking Marvin Vettori landed flush. Any other man would likely have fallen by now, but the chin of ‘The Italian Dream’ has been legendary since his fight with Paulo Costa last year. Robert’s flow started to become impeccable. He feinted, landed a massive straight right hand, pressed forward, slipped a telegraphed high kick, easily stuffed a single leg, and stomped on the front knee of his foe. More right hands and right roundhouse kicks were peppered throughout, but his jab, lead leg kick, and front kick must also be noted as set-up shots. Whittaker then shot a reactive double leg that surprised Marvin and took him right off his feet. As he allowed Vettori to stand up he slammed uppercuts with the aid of a single collar tie. He was feeling himself, and quite deservedly. The same mix of strikes kept coming and marking up Vettori.

The diversity of attacks throughout the fight was not anything insane, nothing unusual or unexpected in terms of specific techniques, but the timing and range of the former champion simply allowed him to land with apparent ease. Making such a terribly difficult thing as fighting look easy is truly a feat of greatness. When the judges scorecards were read the only surprise was a singular 29-28 among the 30-27s for ‘The Reaper.’

Official Result: Robert Whittaker def. Marvin Vettori via UD (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)