Three years after earning the Middleweight crown with a second-round knockout of Robert Whittaker, Israel Adesanya did just enough to earn a decision victory to retain his crown at UFC 271 from Houston.
Throughout the first, Adesanya was oozing confidence in everything he threw. He tossed little chip leg kicks, counter strikes, and really leaned on his seven-inch reach advantage. In the second, Whittaker showed a much more aggressive game plan, running down Adesanya, striking first and eventually landing his first successful takedown of the fight. Adesanya calmly escaped from the mat and maintained his confidence as the two continued to exchange strikes.
The third was much of the same, with the two evenly matched in strike attempts. Whittaker earned a narrow takedown when he countered a kick attempt, but yet again, Adesanya was able to pop right back to his feet.
Whittaker opened the fourth with a much more focused gameplan, with repeated sideways kicks at Adesanya’s lead leg. The champ had no problem responding, countering with big leg kicks of his own to continue wearing Whittaker’s lead leg. Whittaker took Adesanya to the ground again, this time taking his back, but Adesanya was able to rise to his feet almost immediately to escape the danger and the round.
In the fifth, Whittaker’s gameplan remained the same: look for opportunities to strike and shoot for takedowns. Whittaker earned yet another takedown, but Adesanya got back to his feet with no damage done on the ground and was able to withstand the final minute or so of the round.
Aside from Adesanya’s failed attempt at claiming two-division gold in a decision loss to light heavyweight champion Jan Blachowicz, he’s been nearly unstoppable in rise to superstardom. Adesanya was meticulous in his wins, earning decision victories over Yoel Romero and Marvin Vittori, and a technical knockout win over Paulo Costa.
Whittaker’s path back to an opportunity at UFC gold was just as grueling, earning decision wins over Darren Till, Jared Cannonier and Kelvin Gastelum before facing off with Adesanya.
For Adesanya, it appears Jared Cannonier, who earned a knockout victory over Derek Brunson earlier in the evening, is next in line for a title shot.