UFC 243: Analysis and Predictions

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Robert Whittaker vs Israel Adesanya

Whittaker (Champion) (20-4) (-125)

Adesanaya (Interim Champion) (17-0) (+105)

Middleweight Championship Bout

There are a lot of reasons to be excited about this title unification bout between Robert Whittaker and Israel Adesanya.  Whittaker has been on an absolute tear since moving up to middleweight, and Adesanya is undefeated so far in the UFC.  The only thing that makes me nervous is the fact that Whittaker has had to pull out of several title fights in the last few years, and I hope disaster doesn’t strike again for this one. 

Whittaker has won his last 9 fights in a row, which includes 8 since moving up to middleweight.  Ever since moving to middleweight he has been a completely different fighter.  He has stated in interviews that his chin has been substantially stronger since moving to middleweight.  He felt that that he was dehydrating himself so much making 170 that it was literally causing a reduction in brain fluid.  His last two wins were absolute barn burners against Yoel Romero.  In those fights Whittaker looked fast, accurate, and unbelievably resilient against the otherworldly power of Romero.

Adesanya has been equally impressive since coming to the UFC.  He has a perfect 17-0 record in MMA.  In just a year and a half of being in the UFC he has fought 6 times and notched victories over top middleweights Brunson, Silva, and most recently Gastelum.  His interim title bout with Gastelum was a fight of the year candidate.  In that fight, Adesanya went into the 5th round even on the score cards and on shaky legs.  He then proceeded to put on a striking clinic, dropping Gastelum three times in the round.  It was an amazing fight and set the stage for this unification bout.

It’s hard to picture this fight being anything but a stand up striking war.  Whittaker is certainly the more well-rounded fighter, and I believe he would be smart to go for takedowns and clinch work.  However,  I think he has fallen in love with his striking, and he’s going to want to show the world that he can outstrike the former Glory tournament champion.

There are a lot of reason to believe Whittaker can have a lot of success striking in this bout.  He has outstruck all of his recent opponents.  This can be misleading though.  Whittaker has never faced an opponent with the size, speed, and skillset of Adesanya, and I believe this is going to catch him off guard.  From what I can tell, the last person Whittaker fought who was a true striker by background was Stephen Thompson in 2014.  He lost that fight by TKO.

Expect the range and speed of Adesanya to be the story of this fight.  In the first round he is going to land jabs, switch kicks, and maybe a wheel kick that’s going to have Whittaker confused, stunned, and unsure of how to approach.  I think Adesanya gets his timing down somewhere in the 3rd and lands with a big head kick.

Adesanya by 3rd Round KO

 

Al Iaquinta vs Dan Hooker

Iaquinta (#5 Ranked) (14-5) (+115)

Hooker (#15 Ranked) (18-8) (-145)

Lightweight Bout

The UFC lightweight division is so incredibly deep that it’s a big deal anytime two ranked opponents face off against each other.  Both of these fighters are at interesting points in their career and this fight will lead to many more interesting matchups down the road.

“Ragin” Al Iaquinta has become more and more of a household name now that he’s fought Khabib Nurmagomedov, Kevin Lee, and Donald Cerrone in back to back to back fights.  He may have only gone 1 - 2 in that stretch, but was impressive in his upset of Kevin Lee, and in going the distance with Nurmagomedov.  His fight with Cerrone reminded us that while Al Iaquinta is a talented striker, he still may not be on the same level as some of the elites of the division.

The New Zealander Dan Hooker will have the hometown advantage behind him going into this fight.  Since moving back up to 155 lbs in the UFC he has been an impressive prospect, stumbling only once against Edson Barboza back in December of last year.  At 29 he still seems to be developing and improving with each fight.  He’s an extremely tough and resilient fighter, so it’s exciting to think about where he could be in a few years if his skills continue to develop.

This is a really tough fight to predict and I think the Vegas betting lines accurately reflect that.  Al Iaquinta is unquestionably a high level talent, but it seems like his limitations have become much more transparent after recent outings.  He comes from a wrestling base, but rarely uses it.  He is a solid striker, but struggles with range against the bigger fighters in the division. 

I think that there is a good chance you’re going to see this fight play out similar to the Iaquinta’s fight with Cerrone.  I think Hooker can keep Iaquinta at range and do a lot of damage while Al tries to close distance.  Both of these fighters are incredibly tough and I think this is going to be a long bloody war of attrition.  Both fighters are going to land and both fighters may get dropped at some point or another.  I think Hooker edges this fight out by volume of strikes landed.

Hooker by Unanimous Decision

 

Tai Tuivasa vs Serghey Spivac

Tuivasa (#13 Ranked) (8-2) (-300)

Spivac (Uranked) (9-1) (+240)

Heavyweight Bout

Tai Tuivasa has been a frustrating heavyweight to follow over the last few years.  He’s an entertaining and charismatic fighter who was on the cusp of a title run, but is now coming off two straight losses.  He started his UFC career with 3 straight wins, including one over journeyman Andrei Arvloski, and his two recent losses have been to  Junior Dos Santos and Blagoy Ivanov.  

Serghey Spivac for his part is a relatively unknown fighter in the UFC promotion.  I actually struggled to find much information about him for the purposes of writing this article.  What I can tell you is that he had a rough UFC debut, losing to Walt Harris by first round knockout.  He’s a very young MMA fighter at 24 so he may rebound stronger from that first loss.

I feel like the UFC is throwing Tai Tuivasa a bone with this fight.  Tuivasa has fought very strong competition through his last several fights, the promotion realizes he’s a big drawn to the Aussie crowd, and they’re wanting to rebuild him.  Spivac was recently TKOed by a fighter who I would regard as a tier below Tuivasa skill-wise.

I’m expecting Tuivasa to shine in this fight.  He’s going to demonstrate that his striking is on a different level and put away Spivac inside the first.  Shoeys on the house.

Tuivasa by 1st Round KO

 

Holly Holm vs Raquel Pennington

Holm (#3 Ranked) (12-5) (-210)

Pennington (#6 Ranked) (10-7) (+168)

Women’s Bantamweight Bout

 Holly Holm vs Raquel Pennington is a fight between two female bantamweights searching for direction in their careers.  Both of these women are extremely talented, but both have lost to division champion Amanda Nunes.  Pennington is coming off a win over Irene Aldana back in July, and Holm is coming off a brutal head kick KO loss to Nunes in the same month.

 This is such a difficult fight to predict because I believe both fighters are talented, but in very difficult places in their careers.  It seems like Holy Holm was contending for a title every other fight for the last few years, but with her loss to Nunes, she is likely far from another shot.  Holm has openly talked about retirement, and if she gets a decisive win in this fight I wouldn’t be surprised to see her hang up the gloves.  On the other hand, if Pennington gets a big win here, and a couple more down the road, I can see her getting another crack at Nunes.

 Stylistically I tend to believe Holm can win in standup exchanges with most female fighters.  That said, I’m really not sure what Holm’s confidence level or chin is going to look like coming off her KO loss.  I’m also worried this could be a really slow and plodding fight.  Holm has historically been a very defensive fighter, and I figure this will be in full force coming off her loss.

 I don’t feel great about it, but I’m taking Holm in this fight.  I believe she wants to get in one last big win before hanging up her gloves.  I’m expecting a very slow fight with 3 extremely close rounds.  I think Holm Edges out a decision in a fight that gets a lot of activity on mmadecisions.com.

 Holm by Split Decision

Fight PreviewsJustin Wingard