When Israel Adesanya entered the Ultimate Fighting Championship a little less than two years ago, there seemed to be far more hype associated with him than substance. That is no longer the case.
“The Last Stylebender” arrived at the summit as the undisputed middleweight champion with a second-round stoppage of pound-for-pound stalwart Robert Whittaker in the UFC 243 main event on Saturday before a record crowd of 57,127 at Marvel Stadium in Melbourne, Australia. Whittaker bowed out 3:33 into Round 2, his reign atop the 185-pound weight class at an end after 660 days.
Adesanya allowed “The Ultimate Fighter: The Smashes” winner to lead the dance for much of the first round, then turned his aggression against him. Whittaker wandered into a counter right hand in the closing seconds of the opening period, hit the deck and might have met his demise there if not for the bell. Adesanya rattled him again early in the second round and later engaged him at close range in the center of the cage, uncorking a compact counter left hook that connected on the chin. Whittaker collapsed to the canvas, where a short burst of follow-up punches resulted in the stoppage.
In the aftermath of UFC 243 “Whittaker vs. Adesanya,” here are five matches that ought to be made:
Israel Adesanya vs. Paulo Henrique Costa: In possession of a perfect 18-0 record, Adesanya now shifts from hunter to hunted. The City Kickboxing star has risen rapidly through the ranks, his scintillating technical knockout of Whittaker capping a seven-fight tear that has taken him to the top of the UFC’s middleweight division in just 20 months. Adesanya, 30, continues to show signs of development, as his last four wins have come with an increasing degree of difficulty. That trend does not figure to change with his first title defense. The undefeated Costa moved to moved to 13-0 at UFC 241, where he took a unanimous decision from Yoel Romero on Aug. 17.
Dan Hooker vs. Paul Felder: Hooker put together a near-flawless performance in the lightweight co-headliner, where he outstruck Serra-Longo Fight Team’s Al Iaquinta to a surprisingly one-sided unanimous decision. “The Hangman” swept the scorecards with 30-27, 30-27 and 30-26 marks from the judges and distanced himself further from the epic beatdown he suffered at the hands, feet, knees and elbows of Edson Barboza in December. Free from the weight cut that hampered him at 145 pounds, Hooker has compiled a 6-1 record since returning to the lightweight division. Felder last competed at UFC 242 on Sept. 7, when he wound up on the right side of a contentious split decision with the aforementioned Barboza.
Dhiego Lima vs. Belal Muhammad: Lima has effectively resurrected his career since he endured a three-fight losing streak between Dec. 2, 2016 and April 14, 2018. The two-time “Ultimate Fighter” finalist extended his run of consecutive victories to three with a split decision over Luke Jumeau in a three-round welterweight showcase that felt far more lopsided than the scorecards indicated. Lima took away his counterpart’s base with a series of savage kicks to the lower leg, executed two takedowns and outlanded him by better than a 2-to-1 margin. Muhammad last appeared in September, when he submitted Takashi Sato with a rear-naked choke in the third round of their UFC 242 pairing.
Sergey Spivak vs. Sergei Pavlovich-Maurice Greene winner: A significant underdog against native son Tai Tuivasa, Spivak turned the tables on the oddsmakers with his second-round technical submission of “Bam Bam” on the main card. Tuivasa lost consciousness in the clutches of an arm-triangle 3:14 into Round 2. Spivak lasted less than a minute with Walt Harris in his promotional debut, so little was expected of him in his sophomore effort inside the Octagon. The 24-year-old Moldovan undermined Tuivasa’s plans with repeated takedowns, suffocating top control and damaging ground-and-pound before closing the deal with the choke. Spivak, now 10-1, has finished all 10 of his professional victories, six of them via submission. Pavlovich will confront Greene at UFC Fight Night 162 on Oct. 26 in Kallang, Singapore.
Ji Yeon Kim vs. Molly McCann-Diana Belbita winner: Kim thwarted Nadia Kassem on the undercard, as she cut down the Australian Top Team representative with second-round punches. Referee Jim Perdios rescued Kassem 4:59 into Round 2. Kim was relentless in her pursuits, slowly chipped away at her counterpart’s resolve and let fatigue do the rest. Damage piled up on Kassem to such a degree that she began turning away from punches in the second round. A pair of vicious right hooks to the body were more than she could stomach, drove her to the mat and made a winner out of Kim. McCann and Belbita on Oct. 18 will square off under the UFC on ESPN 6 banner in Boston.