The art of counter-striking has produced some quite phenomenal results in high level mixed-martial-art in the last decade or so. The ability to time an opponents offense and then launch your own counter offensive has been brought to the forefront by some of the most recognisable names in the sports history.
Study Anderson Silva’s decimation of Forest Griffin at light heavyweight, any Conor McGregor fight besides his loss to Khabib Nurmagomedov, Cody Garbrandt’s one-sided beating of the equally impressive Dominick Cruz, and two-time bantamweight best T.J. Dillashaw. To this case study, add Israel Adesanya vs. Robert Whittaker.
It’s taken just seven fights to achieve undisputed champion status in the world’s biggest promotion for the Kiwi-Nigerian, a truly mind boggling number. The consensus among many before the date in Melbourne was quite straight forward. Whittaker survived a total of fifty minutes against Yoel Romero, becoming the nail more often than not. Surely Adesanya can’t finish ‘Bobby Knuckles’ with strikes, a tough pill Adesanya’s second round stoppage forced us to swallow.
Whittaker, the aggressor as expected, shot into striking range with a rhythm hampering front leg side kick to the thigh, and a looping, often wild left hook. Adesanya drifted wide of the shot on occasion during the first frame, countering to Whittaker’s detriment with a right hook just before the claxon. ‘The Reaper’ was on his back with a heavy landing.
The aggressive pace Whittaker set ultimately led to his demise. Adesanya once more displaying head movement reminiscent of former-foe Anderson Silva, flowed out of range and countered, this time with a check left hook, sending Whittaker stumbling to his back once more. Referee Marc Goddard had seen enough. Adesanya joins welterweight best Kamaru Usman as the second UFC gold holder hailing from the ‘Mother of Mankind’, and already has an opponent in mind for his first title defense.
Israel Adesanya vs. Paulo Costa:
After last night’s back-and-forth between the two undefeated strikers, it’s almost a foregone conclusion that Israel Adesanya meets with ‘Borrachinha’ next. Adesanya has quite lofty plans to hand Costa his first ever professional blemish; “You know who’s next. I have a heavy Ricky Martin wannabe next. Porrachina. This is my Octagon. I’m going to smash him. I want to rearrange his face.“
Costa, who was sitting cage side alongside Henry ‘Triple C’ Cejudo and head coach Eric Albarracin has called for the fight with ‘The Last Stylebender’ for some time now, despite favoring Whittaker in last night’s main event. The 28-year-old picked up a rather close unanimous decision against the aforementioned Romero last time out to seal his status as number one contender at 185 pounds, and move to 13-0 and as a pro. In terms of one punch stopping power at middleweight, Costa is rivalled by only Yoel Romero and his pressing style has been so far, smothering inside the Octagon come fight night. On paper, it’s an intriguing fight between two of the most exciting relatively newcomers the promotion has seen.
Robert Whittaker vs. Kelvin Gastelum – Darren Till Winner:
Robert Whittaker made it very clear of his intentions to return to the top of the middleweight pile after his loss last night. Speaking with Jon Anik in his post-fight interview, the South Auckland native reassured fans of an active future. “I didn’t get the W today, but I’m not going anywhere.” The 28-year-old has dropped his first defeat at middleweight, but remains a top player in the upper-echelon of a division which seems to get stacked higher each time the Octagon lands.
Kelvin Gastelum takes co-main event honours with Darren Till at UFC 244 on November 2nd. and a victory for either catapults them right back into title contention. For Gastelum, a championship matchup with Whittaker was initially scheduled for UFC 234, with an abdominal hernia and collapsed bowl forcing ‘Bobby Knuckles’ off the card on fight day. For Darren Till, the Liverpudlian makes his debut at 185 pounds, after two morale crushing losses at welterweight to first, Tyron Woodley, then MSG headliner, Jorge Masvidal.
The British championship hopeful presents an interesting proposition for Whittaker, given his history with dynamic kickers. With Adesanya facing Costa, Whittaker meeting the victor between Gastelum and Till, and Yoel Romero clashing with the surging Jared Cannonier, it’s very difficult to be disappointed if these clashes fall into place over the next calendar year.