Taking place at UFC 271, a rematch for the middleweight title will headline in Houston, Texas. One of the most highly anticipated rematches in UFC history will see New Zealand’s, Israel Adesanya look to defend his belt against Australia’s Robert Whittaker. In their first bout, Whittaker fought reckless, emotional and this led to him being knocked out early in the second round. Since then, Whittaker has bounced back with three straight decision victories, two of which have been over five rounds. Adesanya, on the other hand, has gone 3-1, being unsuccessful in his single jaunt at 205lbs against Jan Blachowicz. We will take a look at Robert Whittaker’s keys to victory in his attempt at capturing back the title. The MMASucka podcast crew breakdown the fight on the latest episode here:
Robert Whittaker’s Gameplan
When talking to Ariel Helwani, Robert Whittaker believes the blueprint is already out there as to how to beat Israel Adesanya. After ‘The Last Stylebender’ was beaten by Blachowicz (49-46 X3) in their UFC 259 encounter, Whittaker believes that ‘Patience, striking and takedowns‘ are the three things that are what ‘leads you to beat someone like Israel’.
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From what he said to Helwani, we can expect a patient, wrestling heavy approach from Whittaker, something he showed in his last fight against Kelvin Gastelum. He recorded four takedowns, the most in his career to date. Over five rounds, Gastelum was only able to land 70 total strikes on Whittaker, absorbing 169 strikes. This certainly shows improved defence and wrestling as we know that Gastelum has fast hands, power and is an efficient wrestler. ‘The Reaper’ will likely take this 25-minute experience into the UFC 271 main event and make it work for him.
As we told you, Whittaker landed four takedowns against Kelvin Gastelum in their April main event. In the first round of this bout, Whittaker landed just one takedown but was able to control his opponent for almost half of the round. He gained the takedown following a body lock. Interestingly, Whittaker was able to land the exact same takedown in the second round proving that it is one of his ‘go to’ techniques. The example below is from the first round of their bout.
Interestingly, Adesanya, Whittaker’s UFC 271 opponent was largely controlled by Jan Blachowicz and Marvin Vettori in the clinch, following a body lock. If Whittaker is going to use this technique in an attempt to take the champion down, it’s worth considering the clinch as a back-up should the takedown fail. Below is an example of how Blachowicz was able to counter off an Adesanya step in straight to get the body lock and control ‘The Last Stylebender’ against the fence.
‘The Reaper’ is also not averse to landing takedowns from the middle of the octagon, attempting to snatch a leg and drive his opponent off balance. We know he has a strong wrestling base and he needs to use this at UFC 271 to be victorious. We can see against Darren Till that he is willing to chase a takedown in order to get it, countering off a big swing from Till. We often see Adesanya get into brief, wild exchanges (this is how he knocked out Whittaker in their first bout). If Adesanya is coaxed into one of these exchanges, over-swings and looks to land the knockout blow, we could see Whittaker dump him on the canvas. Against Till, this is what happened and despite Till getting back to his feet, Whittaker again used the body lock takedown to ground his opponent.
Having had 17 UFC fights, we know Whittaker’s preferred strikes quite well. His 1-2-highkick is one of the most devastating strikes he throws and this was on show against Jacare Souza. He threw the combination, wobbled Jacare on his feet, which lead to the finish for the Aussie.
We also saw it against Kelvin Gastelum in Whittaker’s last fight. He was able to gauge his distance by flicking out a seemingly lazy jab to find his range, before committing to his favoured combination and landing hard on Gastelum, rocking the American. This technique is certainly one that he can use against Adesanya as the champion often tries to lean back and avoid strikes or parry, rather than blocking them and catching them on his arms. If Whittaker can bring Adesanya’s arms out to seemingly parry a jab, he can follow it with a straight and a high kick to great advantage.
In their first meeting at UFC 243 at the Marvel Stadium in Australia, Robert Whittaker seemed hurried, in a rush to finish things and that the moment got to him. He attempted 66 strikes, of which only 17 landed. Whittaker arguably saw the success that Gastelum had against Adesanya in their bout and looked to mimic that game plan. Against Till, he attempted just 32, landing 13 in the first round. Against Jared Cannonier he attempted 56 strikes, landing 25 (although it is worth noting that this was a three-round bout so urgency was maybe a factor). When facing Gastelum, he landed 33 of 57 strikes (again, it’s worth noting that he had 2:28 control time and a number of these strikes were ground and pound).
This, especially in the Till fight shows how patient Whittaker has been since his loss to the current champion. He’s scaled right back, looks for openings now instead of blindly throwing in an attempt to land. Whittaker himself knows that patience is a virtue in this fight so we can expect much less output from him in the first few rounds. He has 25 minutes to work and needs to manage both his output and energy throughout.
Although he may throw a similar number of strikes, he will be unlikely to throw as many big power, high energy shots. Leg kicks, jabs and teaps to the knee will likely be on the menu for Adesanya in Whittaker’s quest to recapture gold.
Who will come out on top in this one? We’ll have to wait until Saturday to find out, but one thing is for sure… we’re ready!
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