Middleweight champion Robert “The Reaper” Whittaker will defend his title in front of his home crowd against interim title holder Israel”The Last Style Bender” Adesanya to determine who will be the undisputed champion. Meanwhile in the co-main event, Adesanya's fellow teammate Dan “The Hangman” Hooker will look to continue his climb in the lightweight division as he squares off against the gritty veteran “Raging”Al Iaquinta. On paper, Whittaker vs. Adesanya is one of best title fight matchups in the history of this division.
This card has a really strong one-two combination with the main event and co-main attraction but the rest of this card leaves much to be desired, especially considering that it's a pay-per-view. The rest of the card could very well could still deliver, but at face value there isn't much here that makes me want to fork over sixty bucks of my hard earned money to watch.
For now I'll focus on what I am looking forward to – the main and co-main event – so let's dive into those, shall we?
Robert Whittaker vs. Israel Adesanya is a fantastic title fight to say the least. It's one of those matchups that jumps off of the paper and screams at you because of how talented both fighters are. Both of these gentlemen have delivered all-time great title matches in the past and I see no reason why that wouldn’t be the case when they meet to face each other. Both fighters are extremely gifted in their own unique ways so even after watching footage of both, it's been quite the task trying to predict the outcome of this fight; it's truly a tossup.
Robert Whittaker seems to prove me wrong every time he steps into the octagon. He is, by far, one of the toughest fighters I've ever seen step foot into any type of combat. He possesses an immeasurable will power that allows him to overcome odds that nearly seem impossible to conquer (refer to his last fight against Yoel Romero if you need the proof of his movie-like performance). On top of his grittiness, he's an extremely skilled fighter. Whittaker's strength in this fight will be his durability, pressure and use of combinations if he can get his offense flowing. Whittaker executes the bulk of his offense through a very potent jab and if he can get into close quarters, he has enough power to give Adesanya fits.
Whittaker also has a deceptive right head kick that he disguises behind his one-two punch combination that often breaks through or around his opponents guards, leaving them rocked or stunned. It's a technique that could possibly catch Adesanya by surprise if he has even a momentary lapse with his defense. Whittaker will have to take calculated risks to win this fight and make Adesanya uncomfortable – he cannot allow Adesanya to snipe him from the outside at a comfortable range. If Whittaker can make this a grimy fight while being defensibly sound then I believe this match can go in his favor.
Against Kelvin Gastelum, Israel Adesanya showed that he's more than capable of going through a five-round war while overcoming adversity along the way. Adesanya has a few seemingly notable upsides in this matchup that go in his favor. Compared to Whittaker, Adesanya is a much more crisp, accurate and creative striker. He can attack from all angles which makes opponents wary of rushing in because they're not sure what they may possibly get hit with. While Adesanya doesn’t appear to be as strong as Whittaker, he definitely has a speed advantage. His speed will not only help him offensively, but it will go a long way defensively to aid him in dodging, slipping punches and evading attacks. If Adesanya can find his rhythm and distance early, he could very well snipe Whittaker from the outside for five rounds (but that's much easier said than done).
Gastelum showed that Adesanya does have lapses where he allows himself to get crowded. If Whittaker is able to crowd Adesanya's space, Whittaker has the power to put him down. In order for Adesanya to leave the night as the undisputed champion, he needs to do what has made him great thus far – snipe from the outside while being alert defensively and offensively creative. If he's able to do these things effectively, I think Adesanya can outlast Whittaker in what will most likely be an arduous five-round battle.
Prediction: Whittaker is going to do everything in his power to give Adesanya hell, and I have no doubt that he'll have moments where he does that. This is a razor-close match up, but I'm going to have to go with Adesanya. I'm sure most of this fight will take place on their feet and there just isn't a scenario where I see Whittaker being able to get the best of Adesanya in what may be an all-out striking affair. If Whittaker can't mix in some take downs then I don't see how he gets past Adesanya who's much more creative and elusive on his feet. It should also be noted that Adesanya's fight with Gastelum showed his mental toughness to overcome adversity in extreme situations. I truly think it's Adesanya's time. I'm predicting a five-round war that ends with Israel Adesanya getting his hand raised in a unanimous decision.
Put the name of every man in the lightweight division into a hat, pick two random names out of a hat and the result will be an awesome fight – Dan Hooker vs. Al Iaquinta will be no different. Since moving up to lightweight Dan Hooker has been on a roll, winning five of his last six fights via stoppage. Meanwhile, Al Iaquinta is coming off of a loss to Donald Cerrone but before that he had an impressive outing against Kevin Lee that displayed how well he can pressure and be effective with his hands. Hooker has more highlight reel finishes but Iaquinta is an often overlooked talent in this stacked lightweight division and opponents rarely have anything but a hard time against him.
Standing above most of his peers, the six-foot tall Dan Hooker is a mountain in this division. Hooker is a talented striker with knockout power that he utilizes in a variety of ways. Whether it be a jaw cracking knee, a left hook, or even a guillotine, Hooker has a multitude of ways to end fights early and often. Against Iaquinta he simply needs to utilize his range and not allow himself to be pressured by Iaquinta who's never shy about moving forward. Hooker's main advantage in this fight will be his knockout power. He only needs one opportunity to land a devastating Sagat-like knee or a clean shot with his hands and this fight could be over early. But of course Iaquinta will have something to say about that.
Al Iaquinta is what most of us would call a fighters' fighter. He has a no nonsense kind of style – there's nothing flashy or exuberant about his game. Iaquinta is simply tough as hell and over the years he's grown into a very competent striker. He can deliver in volume and pressure so you can normally find him in his opponent’s face without any fear to engage. I wouldn't consider him a knockout artist so to speak, but he does possess a strong right hand that can be the beginning of the end if you let him follow it up with additional volume combinations. Iaquinta can also mix it up with leg kicks and body shots to keep his offensive game diverse. Against Hooker, his ability to pressure and get inside will be key. Iaquinta will have to be careful maneuvering his way inside, avoiding incoming knees that may fly his way. But if he can get in close range and fire off that overhand right against Hooker (who doesn't always keep his hands close to his face) then he can give Hooker all that he can handle and more. This is sure to be violent affair no matter who ends up having their hand raised at the end of the night.
Prediction: I have a sneaking suspicion that Iaquinta's grit and experience is going to lead him to victory but I'm going to go against my gut feeling and pick Hooker. The deciding factor for me is Hooker's instant fight ending ability. Even though Iaquinta isn't easy to put away, I can envision a scenario where Hooker either cracks Iaquinta with his world ending knee or hard cross that's gonna put Iaquintain all kinds of trouble. I'm predicting that Hooker gets a TKO finish in round three.
As I stated above, the two main attractions are amazing but other than that there isn't much on this card that really jumps out to me. If you have friends that are willing to split the cost of the pay per view and bring some chicken wings through for the occasion, then go for it. On the other hand, if you're paying for this on your own then just pray that the rest of the card can bring you some kind of entertainment. Unfortunately for me I'm a MMA addict so I'll be watching either way. Just swing by the Dojo Talk Podcast afterward and I'll let you know how everything turned out.
Fights to look out for:
Tai Tuivasa vs. Sergey Spivak
Brad Riddell vs. Jamie Mullarkey
Yorgan De Castro vs. Justin Tafa
Main Card: 10:00 PM on PPV Preliminary Card: 8:00 PM On ESPN2 Early Prelims: 6:15 PM on UFC Fight Pass
Michael "CerealSensei" Williams is the host of the Dojo Talk Podcast. He is an avid fight fan, author, hip hop enthusiast, and part-time gamer. You can find him roaming the Twitter streets at @CerealSensei and you can listen to the Dojo Talk Podcast on Soundcloud.