Casual fans looking at ways to dethrone UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya may think they have it all worked out, but former champion Robert Whittaker says their assessment isn’t quite as easy as it’s made out to be.
With Adesanya’s world-class striking helping him to the 185-pound title, then helping him maintain his position as the undisputed middleweight champ, many fans have suggested the key to victory lies in taking the former kickboxing ace off his feet and dragging him into a grappling battle on the mat.
But, as Whittaker told Submission Radio ahead of their world title rematch at UFC 271, that idea is nothing new. It’s executing that idea that has proved impossible for every one of Adesanya’s opponents so far.
“People are saying, ‘you’ve just got to get him on his back’. Then why hasn’t anybody done it?” he asked.
“If it’s that simple, why has nobody in the history of Adesanya’s career just taken him down and held him down for five rounds? Why? Because he’s f**king hard to take down! You know what I mean?
“He is a nightmare to take down. He’s got long limbs, he’s got long arms, and I’m pretty sure he works a little bit of wrestling defense. I have an inkling that that’s what he does, he works a little bit on his wrestling defense because he’s so good at striking he doesn’t want to get taken down.
“So, when I see people just like, ‘Oh, it’s simple, just take him down,’ yeah, it is simple. You know what else is simple? Go and get a piece of paper, write down a game plan and say, punch him in the chin. That’s a simple gameplan that is a surefire way to win. It’s a little harder to pull off when you have all the factors of a title fight going through there.
“Because remember, where it’s not like a gameplan where you give to someone and then all they have to do is execute that game plan on a dummy that isn’t moving, that isn’t trying to actively counteract whatever the hell it is you’re doing.”
Whittaker says it is possible to dethrone Adesanya, and he plans to prove it when the pair face off for a second time at UFC 271. Adesanya finished Whittaker to dethrone him from the top of the 185-pound division and has been perfect at middleweight ever since.
But his one foray up to the light heavyweight division resulted in his lone UFC defeat as he was outmuscled and outpointed by then-champion Jan Blachowicz.
Whittaker was a very interested observer of that matchup, and hopes he can use his learnings from that bout to put him in position to reclaim his title in his rematch with Adesanya on February 12.
“Obviously when he lost to Jan, everyone knew he was beatable then, cause he got beat,” he stated.
“I could see some angles that Jan could capitalize on that I thought, you know what, maybe I can capitalize on those as well. And again, when he fought Vettori I thought the same thing. I saw places where Vettori took advantage, spaces where Vettori took advantage of, and I thought, well, I can do that better.
“That’s not to say that he’s got huge gaping holes. He’s the champion for a reason, he’s bloody good at his craft. But I just feel like I have a skillset that if he slips up, I’m going to take everything away from him. And I look to try and make him make a mistake.”
And, while the casual fans simply think the key for Whittaker is to take Adesanya down, the Aussie says his aim is much more focused on producing a complete performance.
“I want to utilize my entire skillset,” he said.
“I wanna make him feel uncomfortable. I want him to get confused because of how many weapons I’m throwing at him.
“But of all of that, if I could just get in there and perform, and know that I did my best and I managed to display my best, then I’ll leave a happy man.”