The first run of this battle saw Whittaker dropped in the second round by Adesanya at UFC 243, a result that many fans would’ve expected to see emulated by a confident and seemingly unstoppable (at middleweight at least) Adesanya.
The Nigerian-New Zealander has suffered only one loss in his UFC career, when he stepped up to light heavyweight to take on Polish fighter Jan Blachowicz, against whom he suffered a decision loss of his own.
The result last weekend then felt like something of a foregone conclusion for the ex-champion Whittaker, a feeling that the first round did nothing to quell.
Adesanya dismantled Whittaker early on using his seven-inch reach advantage, and repeatedly punished the legs of his opponent in the first round, culminating in a knockdown for the defender as a left hand caught Whittaker at the right time.
Every judge gave the round to Israel and at that rate the fight would have been very comfortable for the champ. Whittaker however grew into the bout as the fight continued, landing 4 takedowns across the 5-round battle, the joint most a fighter has managed against Adesanya alongside Marvin Vettori.
Whittaker continued to bring a strong pace against his opponent, landing strikes throughout and in actuality, he narrowly out landed the champ in significant strikes to the head.
However, the heart and determination of the challenger won him the last 2 rounds in the eyes of 2 of the 3 judges and won him the support of fans as the bout ran into the final bell.
The decision was unanimous in favour of Adesanya, although the decision drew boos from a crowd who thought Whittaker had deserved the belt.
The statistics would hint that Whittaker and the crowd were suffering from recency bias off the last rounds, as Adesanya out landed his opponent in all but significant head strikes, and UFC president Dana White agreed with the judges’ decision.
The stage appears set for Adesanya to take on Middleweight contender Jared Cannonier, who he called out in his post-fight interview for a fight in June. Cannonier produced a stoppage victory earlier on the night and clearly has done enough to gain the champ’s attention.
Cannonier currently holds a record of 15 wins and 5 losses, a clear discrepancy when placed next to Adesanya’s stellar 22 wins and just 1 loss; but in a sport where a single well-placed strike can make and break careers, nothing is set in stone.