UFC 271 took place last weekend in a sold-out arena in Houston Texas and had its fair share of eventful and uneventful moments in the main event. UFC 271 had massive consequences for the middleweight and heavyweight divisions. The middleweight division found itself a new title-contender to challenge for Adesanya’s title that he managed to hold on to by the grace of the judges. The big boys in the heavyweight division had a thunderous shift, making the top 5 rankings very interesting for the coming year.
Before I start rambling about the main event of the night, I would like to recap the tremendous fight between Derek Brunson and Jared Cannonier. This two-round slug fest had almost no dull moments and kept fans on the edge of their seat from the start. The striking was strong for both fighters from the start. Derek Brunson, known mainly for his grappling, stood toe to toe with Jared Cannonier and his hard shots. Brunson looked particularly strong landing the most significant strikes and landing 2 takedowns, getting 2 whole minutes of strong ground control time where he almost managed to submit Cannonier via rear-naked choke after landing hard and dazing shots. Fortunately for the nearly unconscious Cannonier, the bell went off and the second round was underway. The second round started with all the momentum in the world for Derek Brunson. Brunson was keen to finish off what the end of the round took from him, but Cannonier had other plans. Cannonier found his footing from the slow start and near finish and started landing hard shots on a Derek Brunson whose cardio seemed to be getting drained viciously by the pressure and many failed takedown attempts. In an exchange of fists near the end of the round, Brunson took a brutal uppercut that saw him severely hurt. The wounded Brunson was taken down by a strong Cannonier who proceeded to drop some of the most devastating ground and pound elbows I have ever seen as elbows connected hard with Brunson’s head which bounced off the canvas and into the following elbow. The stoppage was called quickly after, and the “Killa Gorilla” Cannonier called for his shot at the title as he sat in the top 3 of the middleweight division with back-to-back finishes against two strong contenders.
The next fight was between the #3 ranked heavyweight Derrick Lewis and #11 Tai Tuivasa. The young and surging Tuivasa was to face the “Black Beast” and knockout king Derrick Lewis in a fight many knew would not go the distance. The first round was a shocking back and forth. Derrick Lewis displayed some amazing wrestling, setting up trips left and right to drag Tuivasa to the canvas, likely in an attempt to get dominant positions for ground and pound or at the very least tire out Tuivasa by making him carry his weight. Tuivasa did well to get back up on his feet and trade shots back and forth with Lewis. Both heavyweights traded heavy blows and managed to absorb equal damage, but Lewis took the first round with his dominant control time, but not it is not like winning rounds matters when the fight ends the very next round. The second round started and the two big boys went at it again going blow for blow, but Tuivasa ended up getting the favorable position with his opponent’s back against the cage where he ended up in a final exchange with Lewis. Tuivasa landed strong, short punches hard on the chin
of Lewis and got into a clinch where he then threw a sharp elbow into Lewis’ jaw. Apparently when a 260+lb heavyweight throws an elbow at the corner of your jaw, you pretty much just die. Lewis was quickly slumped over and heavily hitting the canvas after the brutal elbow in one of the cleanest knockouts that I have seen in such a high-level fight in a while. Tuivasa now has an argument at a title contending fight and possibility at a title shot by next year. Tuivasa being only 28, has a lot of time to develop still and may be better off taking just another top ranked opponent in the top 5 before being fed to other monstrous heavyweights such as Ciryl Gane, Miocic, or even Ngannou. My preferred opponent for Tuivasa would be the winner of the Aspinall vs Volkov fight which takes place next month which would see Tuivasa face another young and surging fighter in Aspinall or a high ranked veteran in Volkov.
The last fight and the fight that annoyed me the most was the rematch between current middleweight champion Israel Adesanya and former champion Robert Whittaker. This long-anticipated rematch had almost every analyst wondering how it would take place. Those who thought the fight would go to decision thought correctly as the improved and patient Whittaker brought a tactical fight to the champion. The exact methods of scoring in MMA are fairly understood and the details deserve an article of their own if I ever feel like writing that. The first round saw Whittaker taking a much more patient approach against Adesanya, not lunging and exposing his chin like he did in the first fight. Adesanya and Whittaker held a constant back and forth for 5 rounds with Whittaker fighting off his back foot like always and Adesanya being forced out of his counter striking comfort zone into his slightly more “aggressive” outside striking skillset. The striking was even in the first with Adesanya finding success with the lead leg kick due to the vulnerability of Whittaker’s karate style stance and Whittaker finding a home with his sharp jab that routinely snapped back the head of Adesanya. The champion landed the most significant event of the first round with a sharp jab that landed on the chin of an off-balance Whittaker, which sat him on the canvas for all of half a second before the Australian got back to his feet. The second-round went in favor of Whittaker who landed the most significant strike with a hard left hook and went 1/1 in his takedown attempts against the champion and 52 seconds of control time. The striking was even but the significant strikes of Adesanya all include his kicks from long range which managed to be checked except for the leg kicks. Whittaker showed significant improvement in his exiting of exchanges, using his lead hand shoulder to cover his chin during exchanges from Adesanya’s check hooks. The third round went similar to the second with the two exchanging blows evenly Whittaker with his sharp jab and Adesanya with the leg kick. Whittaker managed to land another takedown and earn himself some ground control time. The fourth round saw Whittaker land more significant strikes, more takedowns, and even get himself a submission opportunity after taking Adesanya’s back. Adesanya stayed the same, getting stung with jabs while moving in and sticking to leg kicks from range. The final round went clearly to Whittaker, who stayed even with striking and controlling position for over a minute. The fight went to decision where the judges scored the fight, following the UFC’s 10 point must system, 47-48, 47-48, and 46-49 in a unanimous decision for Adesanya.
Now clearly the Judge who scored the fight 46-49 (Mike Beltran) was smoking crack to think Whittaker only won one round. But aside from the one judge being a dunce, the decision has sent waves through the MMA community as analysts and fans of both fighters try to defend or attack the decision. The clearly biased commentary by Daniel Cormier and Michael Bisping was appalling and both should be fed to Francis Ngannou. The fight was at best a draw for Adesanya whose positional aggression did almost nothing for him except allow him to land leg kicks every now and then. Whittaker managed to control range, land takedowns, and attempt submissions over the whole fight while Adesanya did not really do much. Now I will say I have a bias towards Whittaker, but the point still stands that the decision was not correct or anything close to unanimous in favor of Adesanya. Whittaker did do enough to win which as he said so himself in his post-fight interview. It seems that with this result, Adesanya will go on to face Jared Cannonier sometime this summer, but I do not see Cannonier putting up too much of a fight considering Whittaker nearly took Cannonier’s head off just over a year ago. I am not going to say the judges were motivated to favor Adesanya, but I will say that the UFC has almost no incentive to keep their most marketable fighter as the champion, especially considering his new “lucrative” contract deal. Enough of me being annoyed as I have been since the fight. I hope to see Whittaker back in a championship fight soon. I expect him to be matched against 1 or 2 fighters before that, likely Marvin Vettori or Paulo Costa, who Whittaker will likely run straight through.