This was a fun show. Thankfully the two main events were really good rather than just “fun”, as two Kiwi fighters did the biz, and outclassed their very capable opponents.
The main event fights were quite similar to each other, in that you had a rangy, lean New Zealander using his reach to pick off his more – let’s face it – workmanlike opponent. The most impressive was, rather predictably, Israel Adesanya, who has made a career of flamboyantly beating the tar out of less virtuoso opposition.
What was really impressive was the fact that his schlub this time was the rather excellent Robert Whittaker, who was the defending champion and had beaten the godlike Yoel Romero. UFC like their “champ vs champ” scenarios, and Whittaker had been off sick for a while, meaning Adesanya was the interim champion.
Within two rounds, Adesanya was the everything champion. Much like his idol Anderson Silva, Izzy tends to spend a few minutes timing his opponent before knacking their faces off in artistic fashion. As he did here. Whittaker never really looked comfortable, unable to overcome the reach discrepancy, and being made to miss by an elusive Adesanya, who spent most of the fight with his arms by his waist. Whittaker would reach in, miss, and then get countered. Until he was hit one too many times and the ref waved it off. Really impressive, and at the minute, Adesanya is clearly the best middleweight in the world.
While less of a virtuoso, Adesanya’s compatriot Dan Hooker very efficiently outpointed New York’s “Raging” Al Iaquinta. Again, he made Al fight at an uncomfortable distance, but this was more a case of strategy than instinctual brilliance.
The outcome was similar. Iaquinta, who is mainly very tough and managed to go the distance with a very conservative Khabib Nurmagomedov once, kept rushing in and trying to make it a brawl. At that he was more successful than Whittaker. For one, he made it the distance. But Hooker took his legs out with a succession of low kicks, meaning Raging Al had even less spring with which to leap in. In fairness, this was more of a contest, but by the time the judges had to deliberate, there wasn’t much of a choice to make.
There were some heavyweights. Man, I have written enough at this point, and you couldn’t really tell much from them other than Sergey Spivak had a really old school (like, Pride in 2000) fight with Tai Tuivasa based around head and arm takedowns, and in the fight between two lumbering heavies, Yorgan De Castro hit Justin Tafa hard before Tafa hit him hard. I’m not convinced any of them will ever be champion, mind. Undisputed or otherwise.
Main player: Israel Adesanya.