The UFC had a fun fight night card last weekend, with a new contender emerging for the Middleweight division. That title will be on the line this weekend at UFC 271, from the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas.
We have a colossal title fight in the main event, as Robert Whittaker looks to take back his title from the man who stole it from him, Israel Adesanya. A clash of fan favorites is set up in the co-main as Heavyweight sluggers Derrick Lewis and Tai Tuivasa go at it.
Israel Adesanya vs. Robert Whittaker II (MW)
Israel Adesanya (21-1, 10-1 UFC) got back on track with a decision over Marvin Vettori after his first professional loss to Jan Blachowicz in an ill-fated move up to Light Heavyweight. Prior to that, Adesanya was on a twenty fight unbeaten streak, with two title defenses to his name. He has secured has cemented himself as one of the greatest strikers to ever enter the Octagon, now seeking to cement his legacy by moving up a weight class and becoming a double champion. His record holds fifteen knockouts on it brought on by his unorthodox and impressive striking, polished after a storied career in GLORY Kickboxing. His massive 6’4 frame grants him a heavy range advantage, but will not be as apparent here in his move up to Light Heavyweight. Adesanya uses amazing kickboxing to dominate his opponents from range and up close, delivering elbows and knees, along with punches down the middle. “The Last Stylebender” has been absolutely thrilling to watch with his high pace and his cardio has held up, winning five-rounders against Brad Tavares, Kelvin Gastelum, and Romero (though that’s not the best example of his cardio). Adesanya has impeccable takedown defense and uses it to keep the fight exactly where he wants it and his striking can give him one punch (or knee/kick/elbow) knockouts with his precision or he can decimate his opponent with a thousand strikes.
Robert Whittaker (23-5, 14-3 UFC) went on a stellar eight fight unbeaten run at Middleweight before losing his title to Israel Adesanya last October. He got back on the right track with three decisions over Gastelum, Darren Till, and Jared Cannonier, repositioning himself as the #1 contender. The Reaper has incredible kickboxing with amazing combinations and separation strikes, utilizing his expert footwork and lightning quick lead left hook. He brings fight-changing power with both of his hands and kicks as well as being able to pressure or counter-strike with the best of them when the time is necessary. In the bout with Till, he showed just how calculated and technical his striking is, bringing volume, technique, and power behind his hands. Whittaker rarely has to worry about grappling with his iron-clad takedown defense, but he brings defensive jiu-jitsu and quick scrambling in case should he be grounded.
Both fighters have made improvements since the last bout, and I definitely expect this fight to go different than the first match. Both fighters are through and through strikers, so I see this playing out entirely on the feet. Whittaker is more likely to attempt to bring the fight to the mat, particularly after the knockout loss in the first fight, but Adesanya’s takedown defense should keep the bout standing. Whittaker will try to work his jab and time his pocket entries, but I see the superior strike versatility and range management from Adesanya winning out. I am expecting a more patient showing from Adesanya, and see him outworking Whittaker in a decision.
My Pick: Israel Adesanya via Decision
Derrick Lewis vs. Tai Tuivasa (HW)
Following his title shot defeat to Daniel Cormier and a subsequent loss to JDS, Derrick Lewis (26-8, 17-6 UFC) scored two decision victories, showing considerable improvements in his grappling and cardio. From there, “The Black Beast” went on to finish Alexey Oleinik in the second round to tie the all-time KO record, then brutally knock out Derrick Lewis to take the record. This set up an August clash with Ciryl Gane for the interim title, though Gane dominated the fight en route to a third round knockout. He got back on track in December, knocking out Chris Daukaus. Lewis is one of the few fighters on the UFC roster who cuts to the 266-pound limit and is shown through his style. He hits incredibly hard and while he is a slower fighter without much of a ground game, he can end the fight with one good shot. Just ask Alexander Volkov, who was dominating their UFC 229 fight until the very last minute of their fight.
Three straight victories gave Tai Tuivasa (14-3, 7-3 UFC) a shot at Junior Dos Santos and the top of the Heavyweight division, but was on the chopping block after suffering three straight finishes. He came up big with his back against the wall, knocking out Stefan Struve in the first round. He has put together a nice win streak since, knocking out Harry Hunsucker, Greg Hardy, and Augusto Sakai. “Bam Bam”, as the moniker suggests, has some serious power in his hands but also has some style points to back him up, showing in his flying knee KO and brawling style. Tuivasa isn’t just a massive power puncher who lumbers around the cage like so many are at 265 pounds, with surprising agility for his physique and clips at a high volume with the gas tank to match it.
This is perfect matchmaking with two brawlers who have little regard for anything but the knockout. Tuivasa is riding a nice win streak showcasing his colossal KO power, while Lewis cemented himself at the top of the division knocking out Daukaus in his last outing. Tuivasa keeps the higher pace in the cage, with a high volume and surging ferocity when he senses a finish. Lewis will sit on the back foot and look for a power counter to end the night early. This is a close matchup and either fighter could get it done with just one shot, but I favor the experience and durability of Lewis.
My Pick: Derrick Lewis via Knockout
Jared Cannonier vs. Derek Brunson (MW)
My Pick: Derek Brunson via Decision
Kyler Phillips vs. Marcelo Rojo (BW)
My Pick: Kyler Phillips via Submission
Nasrat Haqparast vs. Bobby Green (LW)
My Pick: Nasrat Haqparast via Decision
The main card kicks off at 10 PM EST, with an astonishing ten preliminary fights at time of writing leading up to the main card.
Categories: UFC Predictions