MMA Review: #701: UFC 243: Whittaker vs. Adesanya

-The line-up for this card wasn’t the best on paper, but in terms of impact this was a HUGE SHOW, breaking the UFC’s attendance record with a total of 57,127 people rocking up to see the all-Aussie main event of Robert Whittaker vs. Israel Adesanya. Biggest night in Australian MMA history? You betcha.

UFC 243: Whittaker vs. Adesanya

Melbourne, Victoria

-Your hosts are Jon Anik and Daniel Cormier. I still find it weird to have a big UFC pay-per-view with no Joe Rogan. Place indeed looks PACKED.

Heavyweight Fight: Yorgan De Castro vs Justin Tafa

Both of these big men were making their UFC debuts, and both were unbeaten in MMA although Tafa – looking similar to Mark Hunt and Tai Tuivasa – was just 3-0. On paper this looked like a likely slugfest that could go either way.

Round One begins and neither of these guys look to be in great shape. Tafa looks to close the distance right away and tags De Castro with a left, but the native of Cape Verde fires back and then clinches. They break off and wildly trade before De Castro lands a hard body kick and clinches again. They exchange some punches to the body and the pace slows down dramatically, but Tafa breaks with an uppercut. Another clinch sees Tafa land another solid uppercut, but as he pushes forward he walks right into a CRUSHING RIGHT HAND and goes down face-first, completely unconscious, Flair Flop style.

That was one of the best KO’s of 2019 from an aesthetic standpoint although obviously Tafa just left himself wide open for the shot and walked right into it. Best part was that De Castro didn’t even need to follow up, walking away like Mark Hunt when he saw that Tafa was done. Beautiful stuff and even better, the fight didn’t descend into the slop-fest I expected.

Welterweight Fight: Dhiego Lima vs Luke Jumeau

No idea how this one made the main card when the likes of Jake Matthews and Megan Anderson were on the prelims, but there you go. Lima was on a decent two-fight win streak coming in, while Jumeau – a native of New Zealand – had gone 2-1 and had won both of the fights he’d had in the UFC Down Under. The fact that he hadn’t fought in well over a year was a little worrying, though.

Round One gets underway and Lima looks like a HUGE Welterweight. He circles on the outside and throws some jabs in the early going as Jumeau just looks like he’s sizing him up, throwing nothing back as such. Couple of strong low kicks land for Lima. Anik and Cormier outright call Lima’s brother Douglas – the Bellator champ – one of the best WW’s in the world which is surprising. Pace remains slow here with Lima just landing jabs and low kicks. Lima takes an eye poke and Marc Goddard has to call time to have him checked over, but he’s okay. They restart and Lima continues to pick at the Kiwi from the outside with Jumeau struggling to land any offense of his own. Lima’s defense has really improved from his early UFC days. Nice counter left lands for him as Jumeau tries to fire a combo. Round ends shortly after. 10-9 Lima.

Round Two and Jumeau presses forward right away, but takes a jab to the body. Good leg kick from Lima drops him for a second, but he pops right back up. Kick from Jumeau is caught and Lima takes him down to guard, where he lands some quick strikes. He decides to let Jumeau up, and then when the Kiwi throws another kick Lima catches it and shoves him down. Clinch from Lima but Jumeau separates quickly. Left hook connects for Lima. Jumeau keeps stalking him but he just can’t land anything cleanly. Stinging counter left lands for Lima. Low kick lands again and Jumeau’s left leg looks a mess. Lunging right into an uppercut suddenly wobbles Lima, but he recovers quickly and manages to fire back. He definitely got rocked there though. Low kick from Lima is countered by another right hand, but seconds later Jumeau gets taken down again. Good shots land on the ground for Lima and he looks for a guillotine right before the round ends. 10-9 Lima.

Round Three and Lima cracks him with another leg kick right away. Combo also connects for the Brazilian. He lands another leg kick, but Jumeau fires back with a hook to the body. Couple of jabs land for Lima as he keeps on circling, and the crowd are getting a bit annoyed with the slow pace now. Beautiful right hand connects for Lima. Couple of shots glance for Jumeau as he pushes forward but Lima’s okay. Takedown attempt from Lima is defended, but with two minutes to go time’s running out for Jumeau. Flurry from Jumeau sees Lima catch him with some cleaner punches on the counter. Jumeau defends another takedown well, and then forces Lima onto the defensive with some punches. Round ends on the feet. 10-9 Lima, 30-27 overall.

Judges somehow end up with a split decision, 29-28 Jumeau (?), 29-28 Lima and 29-28 for Dhiego Lima to pick up the win. Well, thank god for that – if Jumeau had won then that might’ve been the worst decision of all time, as he barely did a thing throughout and just got picked apart. Fight wasn’t great to watch even if Lima’s performance was technical and measured, as Jumeau just couldn’t put any meaningful offense together at all.

Heavyweight Fight: Tai Tuivasa vs Sergey Spivak

Tuivasa had garnered a lot of hype in 2018 after his win over Andrei Arlovski, but he’d lost to Junior Dos Santos and Blagoy Ivanov since and so this was his chance to rebound. Spivak looked like a much more favourable opponent for him, as he’d lasted barely a minute against Walt Harris and just didn’t look all that at all.

Fight begins and the crowd are massively behind Tuivasa. Leg kick from Tuivasa drops Spivak immediately, but he lets the Moldovan back to his feet. Spivak looks like a blown-up 205lber. Punches land for Tuivasa and he throws another low kick, but Spivak tackles him to the ground. Tuivasa scrambles towards the fence and looks to stand, and then shrugs Spivak off him to escape. Strong left hand connects for the Aussie. Right elbow follows. Weird headlock takedown puts Tuivasa down, but he pops up and lands a flurry on Spivak as he covers up. Another takedown lands for Spivak off a low kick, and he lands in half-guard. Side mount follows and he goes for the Mark Coleman neck crank, but Tuivasa just powers free and stands. Big haymaker misses for Tuivasa. Beautiful headlock takeover from Spivak puts the Aussie on his back again, and he lands some punches as Tuivasa tries to power free again. Spivak goes for the neck crank again but once more Tuivasa slips out and stands. This fight is sloppy as hell. Another takedown follows for Spivak and Tuivasa’s looking tired. His half-guard is totally open too. Round ends with Spivak on top. 10-9 Spivak.

Second round and a heavy overhand right misses for Spivak. He throws out some more punches and then gets an easy takedown to half-guard. Tuivasa gets his back to the fence and manages to stand, landing an elbow to separate, but Spivak’s looking more confident now. They exchange some punches and then clinch, but Tuivasa breaks free. Another low takedown sees Spivak dump Tuivasa onto his back and this time he lands in side mount. Full mount now for Spivak and he looks to set up an arm triangle. Decent elbows land for Spivak and he’s busted Tuivasa open around the eyes. Ref could probably stop this as Tuivasa’s in trouble, but Spivak locks up the arm triangle anyway and then moves out to the side and chokes him unconscious.

Really impressive win for Spivak as he dealt well with Tuivasa’s power, had no issues in taking him down, and once he was on top he managed to find the submission eventually. Fight overall was a bit sloppy – especially when Spivak was just allowing Tuivasa to roll free of those neck crank attempts – but it’s Heavyweight MMA I guess. Tuivasa’s still got potential, but unless he works on that ground game ASAP I’m not sure he’ll ever reach it fully.

Lightweight Fight: Dan Hooker vs Al Iaquinta

After his horrible loss to Edson Barboza in 2011, Hooker had bounced back by beating James Vick, and so this was his second attempt to break through into the elite at 155lbs. Iaquinta was coming off a loss to Donald Cerrone and was clearly looking to rebound himself, but I wondered how he’d deal with Hooker’s insane reach and range.

First round begins and Iaquinta circles on the outside as Hooker takes the centre of the cage. Leg kick opens for Hooker. Right hook glances for Iaquinta and then he takes another sharp low kick. Iaquinta looks like he’s struggling to find his range due to Hooker’s height. Another low kick lands for Hooker. He keeps pawing with his jab to set these kicks up, too. Good right hand lands for Al in a brief exchange, but he appears to be hurt off a combination in response. More low kicks follow and Iaquinta goes down off one, but pops back up immediately. Weird moment follows as the ref calls a low blow from Hooker, but Iaquinta refuses to stop and takes him down off the caught leg. Hooker drops some big elbows to the head in defense though, and Al is hurt. He keeps trying for the takedown but gives his neck in the process, and from there Hooker finds himself in mount. He takes the back from there and goes for a rear naked choke with a body triangle for good measure, but Iaquinta defends. Good job from Al to slip free and he escapes to his feet with about 45 seconds to go. He takes another hard leg kick right away though and a second drops him. He’s getting pulverised on the feet here. Big swings miss for Al and Hooker ends the round with a stiff jab. 10-8 Hooker for me as Iaquinta got tooled in all areas.

Second round and Hooker starts smashing Al with his jab right away. Faked takedown leads to a solid right hand from Iaquinta and he tries to get into range, but eats a superman punch in the process. He’s still really struggling to get inside. Hooker seems comfortable to just jab at him and land with the low kicks. Another low kick stops a takedown attempt and Iaquinta’s leg is looking bad now. Decent combination connects for Iaquinta but Hooker takes it well, almost leaning backwards to not take the shots flush. Couple more hooks connect for him, but another low kick hurts him. Every time he switches away from southpaw he’s eating those kicks. Takedown attempt is blocked by Hooker again, but Iaquinta tries a different variant only for the Kiwi to somehow defend that too. Beautiful combo lands for Hooker, and then he drops Iaquinta HARD with a right hook! Elbows land for Hooker from the top, but he doesn’t go too crazy, just content to land some hard shots from half-guard. Al manages to attempt an ankle lock, but it fails and that’s the round. 10-9 Hooker.

Third round and Hooker opens with a big overhand right that has Al wobbled again. Hooker just looks so confident here. He continues to snipe at Iaquinta, glancing on a high kick but landing a couple of nice long punches. Iaquinta’s nose looks busted up. Nice counter left elbow lands for Hooker as Iaquinta tries to get inside. Decent body kick from Al but Hooker makes him pay with a heavy combo. Single leg is easily blocked by the Kiwi. Solid right hand lands for Iaquinta as he rushes forward, but Hooker comfortably circles back out of range. Iaquinta’s face is a mess now, bleeding from multiple cuts. He keeps on swinging, but he’s just not finding the right range. Seconds to go and more jabs land for Hooker before he drops Al again with a low kick. More jabs end the round as Hooker counters smartly. 10-9 Hooker, 30-26 overall.

Judges have it 30-27, 30-27 and 30-26 all for Dan Hooker in what was probably a career-best showing for him. He just used his length to the maximum effect here, basically destroying Iaquinta’s leg and constantly hitting him with jabs and long punches without taking much damage in response. Dude is clearly one of the top guys in the world at 155lbs right now and given what happened in the fight after this one (another show of course….) he could well find himself with a title shot by 2021. This was awesome.

UFC World Middleweight Title: Robert Whittaker vs Israel Adesanya

This was of course a unification match, as Whittaker – who’d last defended his title in June 2018 against Yoel Romero – had been on the shelf for the majority of Adesanya’s rise, as the Last Stylebender had beaten 4 opponents since that time. His last fight of course had been the instant classic with Kelvin Gastelum that saw him capture the interim title, but this was definitely his biggest test to date. Despite that, I was picking Adesanya to win in this one – Whittaker hadn’t fought a pinpoint striker since Stephen Thompson knocked him out in 2014, and I just felt like he was a bad match for the Reaper.

We get an all time classic entrance for Adesanya here, with three dudes in army fatigues (complete with pre-Covid-19 masks) doing the Haka before the Stylebender dances with them on his way to the cage. Insane that a challenger would be that confident, but this dude is a different breed entirely.

Round One and the crowd are AMPED. Couple of jabbing side kicks to the leg open things for Whittaker, but when he charges in he almost eats a counter. Left hand glances for Whittaker and Adesanya has to dodge a flurry soon after. He’s almost just dodging the punches like Prince Naseem Hamed than anything. Big right hook glances for Whittaker. Couple of jabs connect for Israel as he remains elusive on the outside. Decent counter left lands for Adesanya. Fans seem more behind Whittaker but he’s struggling to find his target with his punches. Head kick from Israel narrowly misses. Another one glances to counter a low side kick. Whittaker is landing punches now, but only at the very end of them, and he’s missing a lot too. Big flurry glances for Whittaker. Adesanya’s defense is phenomenal. Seconds to go in the round and Adesanya drops Whittaker HARD with a right hand, but the buzzer sounds to save him, wow. 10-9 Adesanya as Whittaker was more active, but just didn’t land all that much.

Round Two and Whittaker seems recovered, and he quickly comes in with a flurry that doesn’t quite land, again taking a counter. Another flurry does land but Israel quickly circles out. Stiff jab lands for Whittaker as does a right hand, but he’s still overreaching somewhat. Adesanya is looking like Anderson Silva now, but Silva in his prime. Jab connects for him and he dodges more punches. He lands another right hook counter and Whittaker looks wobbled again, going backwards. Head kick glances for Adesanya and he tries to flurry, but Whittaker covers up well. Nice combination from Israel and he dodges another combo. He’s doing so well to dodge as Whittaker isn’t exactly slow. Big combo from Whittaker ends in a high kick, but Adesanya takes it well. Nice right hand from Israel. More big swings for Whittaker but Adesanya counters on him with a CLEAN LEFT HOOK that drops him, and he quickly seals the deal this time with some shots on the ground.

Amazing showing from Israel Adesanya; Whittaker just kept overreaching with his punches, and Adesanya went from just dodging them to countering with hooks in particular, and when it landed cleanly it was OVER. Incredible to see him pick Whittaker apart like that but he really does look like the new version of Anderson Silva with his pinpoint accurate – but unorthodox – style, and who knows how long he can hold onto the title? This was in every possible way a star-making performance, literally from the second that he walked into the arena to the moment he claimed the title.

-Post-fight Adesanya calls out Paulo Costa, and we’re still waiting for that one! Hopefully later in 2020 on FIGHT ISLAND. And then we cue the highlight reel.

Final Thoughts….

Overall this was a decent enough show; Lima/Jumeau was the only slower fight and it wasn’t bad per say. However, as a top-level UFC PPV it was definitely lacking, especially in comparison to other shows in 2019 like UFC 235, 238 and 241, and the promotion should really look to put bigger stars on show next time they do a big Aussie stadium show. It’s worth checking this one out for Hooker’s showing and the crowning of Adesanya, but apart from that, it’s a bit forgettable really.

Best Fight: Hooker vs. Iaquinta
Worst Fight: Lima vs. Jumeau

Overall Rating: ***1/4

Until next time,

Scott Newman: