Both Adesanya and Whittaker are 3-0 at middleweight since their first encounter with mostly decisive wins. Adesanya did lose in one sided fashion when he attempted to move up and capture the UFC light heavyweight title versus Jan Blachowicz, but I feel that loss is being held unfairly against him. Jan had a considerable size advantage and Adesanya has done well against wrestlers and grapplers in his career. Yet there seems to be a large group convinced Whittaker’s wrestling will carry him to victory.
I do not think Adesanya’s takedown defense is anywhere close to bulletproof but I’m still not as convinced as others of Whittaker’s potential success in the wrestling department. Sure, we’ve seen him score clean and technical takedowns occasionally, but he’s never been able to do it consistently for five rounds. It’s entirely possible Whittaker gets Adesanya down here, but I just don’t think he will succeed overall where equal or better wrestlers failed.
I expect a mostly standup fight with Adesanya controlling the range as Whittaker attempts to dart in with combinations, just like their first bout. Obviously Whittaker was badly punished for that with a second round KO loss, but he really doesn’t have much other way to strike. His highly improved jab will surely be something he looks for and should have great success at times, but that alone will not win him the standup.
We saw the first time Adesanya fought with a different striking style than usual, meaning he tailored it to Whittaker’s game. Generally Adesanya likes to keep distance and utilize long, straight punches and kicks. But versus Whittaker, he looked to plant his feet and throw power hooks. That worked brilliantly and ultimately scored him the KO as Whittaker repeatedly blitzed, but surely Whittaker will make adjustments.
Whittaker fighting off of his jab more often this time would be a wise choice. Even in their first meeting that lead to some of his better moments. The less he blitzes without setup, the better, as Adesanya is clearly skilled at reading them. Not to mention, Whittaker isn’t as athletic as he once was, which significantly affects his charges. Takedown attempts from Whittaker could keep Adesanya guessing and help setup the former’s blitzes as well.
Ultimately I see Adesanya keeping the fight standing for the most part and using his superior technique and fundamentals to out-strike Whittaker. Adesanya is a legitimately technical kickboxer while Whittaker relies more on intangibles like speed and explosiveness. Whittaker has lost a step with his athleticism and has tried to make up for it with improvements to his game, but his pure technique is still significantly far behind Adesanya’s.
At distance, the champion should be able to use his straight punches and variety of kicks to keep Whittaker guesses as well as score points. In the pocket, we saw him brutalize Whittaker the first time with hooks and that potential should remain here. I certainly expect adjustments from Whittaker but he’s always had an issue getting caught on the way in like that. The problem for him is Adesanya is particularly adept at check hooks and other counters as opponents charge him.
Overall, I see ways for Whittaker to have brief moments of success with certain striking exchanges or a possible takedown. But only for that: brief moments. On the flip side, Adesanya should be better suited to outpoint Whittaker for extended periods and win rounds. Adesanya also has many more tools to work with in the striking and can change his game plan on the fly much better than Whittaker.
This is a difficult to bet in terms of a side or total given when the odds are. I do think Adesanya should be favored, but 3–1 seems steep.
The Pick: Israel Adesanya