UFC 243: Whittaker vs. Adesanya Preview
A preview of Saturday’s UFC 243 card, set to take place in Melbourne, Australia.
Updated: Oct. 3, 2019 • 7:15 PM ET
Robert Whittaker hasn't lost an MMA bout since 2014.
UFC middleweight champion Robert Whittaker will defend the title against undefeated interim champion Israel Adesanya this Saturday at Marvel Stadium in Melbourne, Australia.
Whittaker, a New Zealand-born Australian, hasn’t fought since June 2018, when he won a close split-decision rematch against Yoel Romero. During the back-and-forth affair, Romero got the better of the exchanges late in the fight; however, due to Romero’s inability to make weight, the bout was a non-title fight. Whittaker was promoted to undisputed champion after winning the interim belt against Romero by unanimous decision in their first fight at UFC 213 in July 2017.
While Whittaker has only had three fights since 2017 arrived, largely due to injuries, he has defeated a who’s who of fighters in the middleweight division. Including Romero, the 28-year-old has victories over Brad Tavares, Uriah Hall, Derek Brunson and Jacare Souza. He hasn’t lost a fight since 2014, a TKO defeat at welterweight to Stephen Thompson.
Despite not fighting for more than a year, Whittaker (20-4) is confident and believes he has identified Adesanya’s weakness.
“No, I don’t think it was the wrestling,” Whittaker recently said via BJPenn.com. “I think it was the fact that Gastelum could put hands on him. I think people underestimate Adesanya’s wrestling.
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“Adesanya’s wrestling, he is a big guy, long arms, and he wrestles and trains in it a lot. I don’t underestimate that. But, what I took from the fight was Gastelum was able to close that gap and land shots on his chin. I am much quicker than Gastelum, taller than Gastelum, have longer arms than Gastelum. If Gastelum can hit him, I can hit him.”
Will Whittaker’s inactivity hurt him against a soaring contender in Adesanya? The Melbourne crowd will likely be split, but will Whittaker defending his title in front of 50,000 fans in Australia help or hurt him?
“I definitely believe this is a fight I can finish, and I have 25 minutes to go for it,” Whittaker said. “That is all I am going to do. I will be able to close the gap. I’m faster, hit hard and I don’t go away.”
Prior to entering the UFC in February 2018, Nigerian-born New Zealander Adesanya (17-0, 13 KO/TKOs) had a 75-5 kickboxing record and a 6-1 professional boxing record. He fought five times in the UFC in a year on his way to winning his first title against Kelvin Gastelum in his last fight, arguably one of the greatest title bouts in UFC history. En route to winning the interim title, he dominated Brad Tavares, Derek Brunson and Anderson Silva.
Adesanya is also confident heading into Saturday’s fight.
“He’s a guy I can pick apart easily,” Adesanya said during a UFC 243 conference call. “A challenge I haven’t faced before? I don’t think so.
“He just does what he does very well. There’s only a certain amount of awkwardness that he has that I haven’t seen before, but he can try to prove me wrong. From what I see, though, I’ll pick him apart quite easily.”
The 30-year-old Adesanya has quickly become a fan favorite during his meteoric rise and has a chance to become one of the UFC’s biggest stars if he wins on Saturday.
The rest of the main card on ESPN+ (10 p.m. ET start time)
Lightweight bout - No. 4 Al Iaquinta vs. No. 15 Dan Hooker
Heavyweight bout - No. 14 Tai Tuivasa vs. Serghei Spivac
Welterweight bout - Luke Jumeau vs. Dhiego Lima
Heavyweight bout - Justin Tafa vs. Yorgan de Castro
Welterweight bout - Jake Matthews vs. Rostem Akman
Welterweight bout - Callan Potter vs. Maki Pitolo
Women’s featherweight bout - Megan Anderson vs. Zarah Fairn
Fight Pass Early Prelims
Lightweight bout - Brad Riddell vs. Jamie Mullarkey
Women’s flyweight bout - Nadia Kassem vs. Ji Yeon Kim
Bantamweight bout - Khalid Taha vs. Bruno Silva