This time, the roles will be reversed from their first fight in 2019, when Whittaker was the champion and Adesanya the challenger. At the time, Adesanya was the ascending interim champion looking to establish himself as the premier middleweight in the sport.
He has done that now. A failed attempt to grab the light heavyweight belt has sent him back to his more comfortable division, but he is still the top dog among 185ers.
Israel Adesanya comes into the fight as a fairly large favorite at nearly 1-3 odds. It makes sense given the result of his first fight with Whittaker. He finished Bobby Knuckles in the second round without much trouble.
For one, there are several reasons Whittaker wasn’t at his best on that night. He had been out of the Octagon for more than a year and was coming off an emergency hernia surgery that canceled a scheduled bout with Kelvin Gastelum.
That brings us to another reason this fight could spell trouble for the champion. Gastelum is the closest analog for what Whittaker brings to the table. He’s a well-rounded wrestler with good striking, and the challenger gave The Last Stylebender a good fight.
It was tied on three judges’ scorecards, 38-38, before Adesanya won the final round 10-8. Gastelum laid the groundwork for what it will take to beat Adesanya at middleweight. Whittaker at his best is capable of pulling off that game plan with better efficacy
Derrick Lewis gets the opportunity to fight in front of his hometown Houston crowd once again. It didn’t go so well last time at the Toyota Center, as Ciryl Gane gave him a one-sided beating for the interim title.
He’ll be looking to put in a much better performance against Tai Tuivasa, and the matchup is much better suited for him to do so.
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Tuivasa’s fighting style is the kind Lewis loves. The Australian is going to stand in front of the 37-year-old, and the two are going to throw bombs until someone goes down.
The only interesting factor that could change things is the prospect of Lewis choosing to wrestle. He’s known for his striking, but compared to Tuivasa, he’s a good enough wrestler to make his path to victory a little safer.
Even if that’s his game plan, it’s hard to see him sticking with it. These are two brawlers at heart, and Lewis’ extensive history of knockouts is hard to bet against here