Israel Adesanya held on to the UFC Middleweight Championship with a unanimous decision win over Robert Whittaker in their rematch at UFC 271 from the Toyota Center in Houston on Saturday.
While the fight was more competitive than their first bout, Adesanya’s ability to control distance, counter strike and defensive wrestling were too much for the challenger to overcome.
The mind games started early in this one with Adesanya turning the pre-fight glove touch into a quick game of rock-paper-scissors:
Adesanya took the early lead in the actual fighting, too. He peppered Whittaker with leg kicks in the opening round but also scored an early knockdown with a precise left straight.
Whittaker’s inability to safely close the distance was a prevailing theme throughout the early going. He was able to land a takedown in Round 2, but it didn’t take long for The Last Stylebender to work his way back to the feet.
Adesanya’s ability to control where the fight took place was the biggest story as the fight developed. Whittaker had some success when he doubled up his jab, but Adesanya met most of his attacks with a sharp counter-punching.
That advantage temporarily switched to Whittaker for a moment in Round 4. He was able to capitalize on an Adesanya mistake to take his back and attempted a standing rear-naked choke but he couldn’t get it locked in.
Adesanya had the upper hand for the majority of the fight but the rounds were just competitive enough that the judges could have had some interesting scores.
The win puts an exclamation mark on his success against Whittaker in his career. He took the belt from Bobby Knuckles to kick off his title reign at 185 pounds. Nearly two-and-a-half years later, he’s now added him to the list of challengers who have failed to take his crown.
The win is the end of a good week for The Last Stylebender. On Wednesday, his management team announced a new contract with the UFC.
Adesanya knows what he brings to the organization. He has international appeal with Nigerian and New Zealand roots and wanted to make sure that his value was appreciated.
“The thing I want to know is what’s my value to the company,” Adesanya said. “You can’t undersell my value, if you are, you’re kidding yourself. I bring so many different looks to this company.”
More than anything, Adesanya gives the UFC a dominant champion with a fan-friendly style.
He may have come up short in his attempt to be a two-division champion against Jan Blachowicz, but there’s no disputing his place as the preeminent 185-pounder in the sport right now.
With the win over Whittaker, he now has one or more wins against everyone in the top five of the division outside of Jared Cannonier.