A dream scenario is about to play out in the UFC’s return to Marvel Stadium.
Back in November 2015 (when the venue was known as Etihad Stadium), the UFC set an attendance record that still stands today when Ronda Rousey headlined UFC 193 against Holly Holm. Over 56,000 fans were in attendance to see Holm land the “head kick heard around the world.” It would be Rousey’s last pay-per-view headliner as a champion.
Both men are icons in Oceania. Whittaker was born in New Zealand and raised in Australia, while the Nigerian-born Adesanya moved to New Zealand at an early age. Expect raucous cheers all around when these two make their entrances for a titanic clash that wouldn’t have felt right taking place anywhere else.
In other main card action, Al Iaquinta looks to stifle Dan Hooker’s rise up the lightweight ranks, Australia’s Tai Tuivasa defends home court against Sergey Spivak in a heavyweight bout, New Zealand’s Luke Jumeau faces the resurgent Dhiego Lima at welterweight, and heavyweights Justin Tafa and Yorgan De Castro make their UFC debuts.
What: UFC 243
Where: Marvel Stadium in Melbourne, Australia
When: Saturday, Oct. 5. The two-fight early preliminary card begins at 6:45 p.m. ET and will air on UFC Fight Pass and ESPN+, followed by a four-fight preliminary card on ESPN2 at 8 p.m. ET. The five-fight pay-per-view main card begins at 10 p.m. ET and is available for purchase exclusively through ESPN+.
First, let’s address the intangibles.
Ring rust? Robert Whittaker has been on the shelf for almost 500 days. But considering his reputation for unwavering discipline and preparation, and the fact that he’s very much in his prime at 28 years old, it’s doubtful that Whittaker will be affected by the time off. If anything, it could benefit him as it relates to our second X-factor.
Damage? Whittaker is coming off of back-to-back five round wars with Yoel Romero, and the second fight was even more physically taxing than the first. How many dome-rockers can one take from Romero and not only live to tell about it, but continue to compete at the highest level of the sport against elite strikers? This factor is harder to dismiss. Whittaker can take a licking – we know this. It’s just scary to think how much mileage he already has on him, and how much more will be added in his fight with Adesanya.
“The Last Stylebender” is arguably the best pure striker in the UFC, regardless of weight class. A dazzling amalgamation of blinding speed, spider limbs, sharp technique, and endless swagger, Adesanya is unlike any opponent Whittaker has fought before. He doesn’t have the dynamite hands of the hulking Cuban – no, what Adesanya does have is precision. One gets the sense he could nail the off-switch that Romero was so close to finding.
There was a lot to like about Adesanya’s win over Kelvin Gastelum. He showed that he wasn’t all sizzle, that he could work his way out of bad situations, and most importantly, that he could take a hit. Adesanya’s face was a swollen mess the last time he exited the Octagon, and it won’t look too pretty after Whittaker lands a few shots either.
Adesanya will have to prove he has one more gear to keep up with the relentless Whittaker. “The Reaper” is a fast starter, and he rarely gives his opponents a moment to rest. He’ll be just as successful coming forward as Gastelum was and is a bigger threat to finish the fight. His underrated wrestling could come into play as well, giving Adesanya one more thing to worry about.
Whittaker’s wins over Romero were so impressive, it’s foolish to count him out against anyone. I fully expect him to be at his best against Adesanya. But I think we’ll see the best Adesanya yet on Saturday, as well, and the brash challenger will ascend to the throne.
This is a big step up in competition for “The Hangman.”
Yes, Dan Hooker has navigated his way through the lightweight division against high-quality opponents like Gilbert Burns, Jim Miller, and Ross Pearson, but he’s yet to prove that he can take out a current top-10 contender. As good as he is on his feet, Hooker looked overmatched by Edson Barboza. He rebounded with a win, and Iaquinta represents a second chance for Hooker to prove he’s worthy to challenge for a title in the future.
Long and lanky, Hooker is difficult to deal with at range, and Al Iaquinta could find himself having similar problems to those he experienced in his recent loss Donald Cerrone. However, Iaquinta is great at fighting through adversity and finding ways to close the distance, even if it means suffering a few scrapes and bruises. He’ll look to punish Hooker’s body, draining the taller fighter’s gas tank so that he can outpace him in the third.
Should be an exciting, close contest here. I’m leaning towards Iaquinta.
Sergey Spivak isn’t the most mobile heavyweight, which is probably why the matchmakers have put him up against shoey enthusiast Tai Tuivasa.
“Bam Bam” rose fast up the heavyweight ladder, and a win over Andrei Arlovski had officials convinced that the 26-year-old was ready to keep fighting veterans. That resulted in him being exposed by Junior dos Santos and Blagoy Ivanov, two fighters who’ve respectively held titles in the UFC and the World Series of Fighting. Tuivasa is a talent for sure, blessed with agility and natural KO power, and he just needs more seasoning to put it all together.
He’ll be challenged by Spivak, who brings good size and strength into this bout. Spivak mixes techniques well, and while he doesn’t excel in any one category, he’ll put Tuivasa’s clinch work to the test. If Tuivasa underestimates him, he’ll get sliced up by Spivak’s knees and elbows in close.
Tuivasa needs a bounce-back performance and should find it here. Don’t overthink this one. Tuivasa by knockout.
Dhiego Lima is a tough one to figure out. He’s got great size for a welterweight and counters well, especially with his left hook that has emerged as a consistent weapon. In his last two wins, he showed the promise that once had fans wondering if he could follow in the footsteps of big brother Douglas.
He also has a bad habit of letting his opponent dictate the pace, which is exactly what Luke Jumeau will try to do, especially with what’s certain to be a large contingent of Kiwi supporters spurring him on. Jumeau makes good use of combinations to score points, which isn’t easy against the evasive Lima. Another attribute in Jumeau’s favor is a strong chin. He won’t be discouraged if Lima pops him a few times in round one and puts him down on the scorecards, so this will be a real test to see if Lima’s recent success is a mirage or something substantial.
Fortunately for Lima, he appears to be maturing and learning to make the most of his physical gifts. He’ll have a considerable reach advantage on fight night, and that will aid him in beating Jumeau to the punch for three rounds.
Lima by decision.
The second of two heavyweight bouts on the main card, don’t expect this tilt between Justin Tafa and Yorgan De Castro to last too long either.
Tafa and De Castro are going to surprise people with how quick their reactions can be. They’re both short and stout heavyweights who like to counter, so expect a low-volume affair that should favor the more diverse striking of De Castro. On the other hand, Tafa’s willingness to go to the ground could benefit him here, even though De Castro showed strong takedown defense in his Contender Series upset of Alton Meeks.
Inexperienced heavyweights are near impossible to predict (the two have less than 10 combined pro bouts between them). In this situation, leaning towards the slightly more battle-tested De Castro to pick up a first- or second-round knockout win is a reasonable bet.
Pick: De Castro