Tale of the Tape
Israel Adesanya, fighting out of Auckland, New Zealand
MMA record: 21-1
Betting odds: -300
Hailing from an extensive kickboxing background, Israel Adesanya holds a 10–1 record in the UFC. He previously captured UFC gold by defeating Robert Whittaker by second round knockout and now faces him once again, but with the roles of champion and contender reversed.
Adesanya is a slick striker who can adapt his stand up style based on his opponent. He has rounded out his mixed martial arts skills beyond that, but he primarily uses them as anti-grappling to keep his bouts standing. He can battle in the clinch and survive on the ground, but his game is best at distance.
In terms of technical strikers, Adesanya is up there with the very best in the UFC. He possesses a stinging jab, sharp hooks, whipping kicks, fundamental footwork and refined defense. Even more impressive is his ability to tailor his striking style depending on what his opponents show him.
Against Derek Brunson, he fought with a rangy attack that focused on long, straight strikes from distance and knees in the clinch when Brunson got close. But versus Whittaker the first time, Adesanya looked to plant his feet and throw power hooks inside to counter Robert’s charges. His pace changes as well, sometimes favoring aggression and others going for a calm and measured approach.
At range, Adesanya can throw just about everything with high level technique and solid speed. He has surprising power and can hurt you with punches, kicks, elbows or knees. Counters are a specialty of his, thanks to excellent timing and accuracy. His footwork is intelligent and adaptable, and he has a great sense of space. His chin has been sturdy, though he has been rocked multiple times in MMA and knocked out once in kickboxing.
Defensively, his striking game is fairly sound, but he can be cracked by slick counters in the pocket or pure speed. Against Kelvin Gastelum, he was hurt multiple times. One issue there was Adesanya getting tagged when he overcommitted to counters. Another was the high pace and durability of Gastelum, who got in Israel’s face and made the fight ugly. Whittaker attempted to replicate that strategy against Adesanya but it failed miserably, so expect an adjustment the second time around.
We haven’t seen much grappling from Adesanya in the UFC, which is a good thing. The best look was his lone MMA loss to Jan Blachowicz nearly one year ago. While his fundamentals were not perfect there, he generally showed proper technique. The main issue appeared to be the sheer size and strength of his opponent, who had a 20+ pound size advantage.
Aside from that, opponents have struggled mightily to do much of anything in the takedown or grappling departments against the middleweight champion. Even standout wrestlers like Yoel Romero and pressure grapplers like Marvin Vettori couldn’t get the job done.
At 32 years of age, Adensaya looks to be in the prime of his career. He’s only getting better each fight and continues to adapt his various striking styles to MMA. I expect to see continued improvement from him going forward with no signs of slowing down yet.
That said, one concern is his occasional flat performance. Against Yoel Romero and Anderson Silva he just could not pull the trigger. Against Gastelum his reflexes looked poor and his timing wasn’t the same as we typically see. Inconsistency from athletes is something that terrifies me as a sports bettor.
Look for part 2 tomorrow, featuring my breakdown of Robert Whittaker.