Instead of the usual big-picture set up followed by the detailed fight breakdown, this time, we’re doing something different. Israel Adesanya and Robert Whittaker fought for the middleweight title on Feb. 12th. The fight was a technical master class, human chess at the highest level. Both fighters are extremely well-coached and are two of the best strikers in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). There were plenty of stakes for both fighters, but what happened in the fight was what grabbed my attention the most. After the fight, there was plenty of discussion about the scoring of the fight and whether the rightful winner actually won. This week in The Full Nelson, I’ll be getting into what happened in this fight and in the clash of the heavyweights, Derrick Lewis and Tai Tuivasa.
Main Event Breakdown
The bigger picture of the fight was centered around the feints Israel Adesanya used. These are some sort of fake-out where the opposing fighter does not know whether a movement will turn into an attack or not, requiring a fighter to mirror every body movement between the feint and their actual strike. Adesanya is a master at feints, with hip movement, different postures, and constant stance switches which always hide what attack comes next. The angles are always different, and in combination with his otherworldly head movement, he is a handful striking-wise.
Whittaker is also a proficient striker, but a lot of his success comes from mixing up his jiu-jitsu along with wrestling as well. Robert’s triple jab was really effective in the fight, staying away from looping punches and keeping them straight for this fight. He mixed in a few takedowns and engaged in grappling situations to fight the best fight he could.
Round 1 was all Adesnaya. Whittaker came out flat which allowed for Israel to establish range, setting traps with the feints. Israel beat up Whittaker’s lead leg, making it red after the first 3 minutes. Adesanya eventually dropped him with a straight right after a feint leg kick. Adesanya has a lot of ways to get leg kicks, but his stance switch to southpaw created so many avenues for the leg kick, eventually rocking Whittaker to sleep and then going for the head.
I scored Round 2, 3, and 4 for Adesanya, all of which featured a similar tale. Whittaker landed a few takedowns and Adesanya showcased a high-level scrambling ability to get up from the takedowns almost immediately. Adesanya continued to punish Whittaker’s legs, limiting his mobility and success overall. Round 2 was the closest out of the three, with Whittaker landing a good number of hits with the triple jab. But Adesanya’s kicks just seemed to cause too much damage to ignore. Whittaker wore them well, but their effectiveness was pronounced in the fight. If Whittaker addressed them with checks or just moving out of range completely, I think he would have won what ended up being a really close fight.
The fifth round showcases the plan that Whittaker should have put out in the first place: the triple jab along with takedowns. None of the takedowns caused much damage, but with a fight that featured little damage from either side, takedowns and effective punches made the difference. Adesanya started out so hot that as the fight progressed, he became comfortable after the 4 rounds. This allowed Whitaker to easily win the 5th round and establish a game plan for a potential third meeting from these two fighters.
The fight was a showcase of easily the two best middleweight fighters on the UFC roster today. Adesanya is a puzzle, one that no one except Jan Blachowicz has managed to figure out over 5 rounds. He is one of the most dominant fighters in the UFC, his kickboxing the best that the fight promotion has to offer. His traps, feints, and accuracy is just unbelievable, with his counter punching being devastating if a fighter gets too aggressive. The key to his game are those leg kicks, slowing the fighter down too much to be effective.
Whittaker did an amazing job not showing the effectiveness of the kicks, but the damage was visible. Adesanya uses a tacit striking style full of tricks and deception. Whenever a fighter feels like they have him figured out, there are more layers to peel back. The leg kicks make the difference for Adesanya and until a fighter can provide an answer for them, “And still” is going to be uttered every time he fights.
Co-Main Event breakdown
The banger that was promised was delivered. Big time. Heavyweights Tai Tuivasa and Derrick Lewis faced off in a classic heavyweight slugfest. Both fighters are known for their power and willingness to stand in the pocket and trade. Lewis is a UFC veteran, holding the most knockouts in UFC history and providing notable power. He has fought for the title a few times, but continues to search for the belt. Tai Tuivasa is a surging heavyweight, known for his willingness to punch and stand in with anyone. He is known for his signature “shoey,” which features him getting a shoe and a beer thrown from the audience. He spits in the shoe, pours the beer inside, and chugs it, letting the foam drip on his head once he is done.
These heavyweight stars promised to “swang and bang,” and they did exactly that. The first round featured Lewis having the most success, catching Tuivasa clean with punches to the chin. Tai showcased an incredible chin in the fight, taking multiple shots in that first round that would put away most fighters, but although he got rocked, he remained in the fight, clinching when needed to create some time to compose himself.
The fight somehow got into the second round, with a takedown from Lewis in the clinch that led to devastating ground and pound. Again, all of these shots put away 90% of the heavyweights, but Tuivasa would not fall. Lewis’ spirit broke while at the same time eating large swinging overhands from Tuivasa. Eventually, after a clean elbow from the clinch, Lewis fell over. Tuivasa was so tired he couldn’t even get up the cage, leading to a delayed shoey from the top of the cage.
Image courtesy of UFC