For UFC 243 headliner Israel ‘The Last Stylebender’ Adesanya, the dynamic striker has experienced one of the most impressive rises to stardom and Octagon success in recent years. The interim middleweight champion has rivaled the polarizing Conor McGregor’s timely route to triumph and fan appeal. Since February 2018, Adesanya has featured six separate times in the Octagon, scoring six straight victories.
The former GLORY kickboxing ace is on the precipice of undisputed gold this weekend in Melbourne, as he meets Robert ‘The Reaper’ Whittaker in a unification clash at 185 pounds. Adesanya has dispatched middleweight icon Anderson ‘The Spider’ Silva, Kelvin Gastelum, and Derek Brunson of note during his siege of the throne, conquering Gastelum to take the interim championship in a matchup for the ages in April this year.
In a five round unanimous decision win, Adesanya displayed some of the most impressive angle cutting, counter striking and distance management we’ve seen since the aforementioned Silva’s lengthy title reign. Scoring four knockdowns over the twenty-five minute meeting, Adesanya outpointed the incredibly dangerous Gastelum, who before the matchup, had toppled former UFC middleweight champion Michael Bisping, and former Strikeforce middleweight gold holder Jacare Souza.
The Kiwi-Nigerian not only remains undefeated in his seventeen fight professional-career, but he also carries over a highly decorated kickboxing resume to boot. The former GLORY middleweight champion and King in The Ring cruiserweight and heavyweight best is one of the most threatening forces at middleweight today, due to his polished standup.
The well-traversed striker had finished a whopping twenty-six opponents via strikes. Against Whittaker, the standup battle presented in quite intriguing. South Auckland born Whittaker has survived a brutal fifty minute onslaught against Cuban power-puncher Yoel Romero, refusing to be finished in both the initial clash and the rematch.
On paper, Adesanya holds more tools than Whittaker in terms of natural striking talents, with his Taekwondo and kickboxing background, ultimately edging him ahead. Whittaker, a naturally gifted boxer with heavy hands, has a highly proficient snap right high kick from the conventional stance in his arsenal.
In his victory over the previously mentioned Souza, Whittaker setup the eventual finish with the kick as the Brazilian circled away. Against Olympic wrestling ace Romero, Whittaker survived a third round assault and launched the right head kick, which would have folded anyone on the middleweight roster, not named Yoel Romero.
Adesanya’s counter striking offensive and in particular, a straight right hand may prove dividends against Whittaker, who started quick out the blocks against Romero in both meetings. The sheer damage Whittaker sustained against the Florida based wrester in truly career altering so we must consider that factor when analyzing this pairing. Saturday night also marks the first time The Ultimate Fighter victor returns to active-competition in a staggering sixteen months.