On Saturday night at UFC 243, Israel Adesanya announced himself as one of the very best fighters on the planet by dismantling Robert Whittaker en route to a second-round TKO. It was a star-making performance, and one that already has fans stretching their imaginations to envision what heights “The Last Stylebender” can achieve. The big one, of course, is Jon Jones, whom Adesanya has eyed for some time.
The Jones-Adesanya saga began in March, when the light heavyweight champion told TMZ he believed he and Adesanya would fight “one day.” Adesanya agreed, saying he’d like to defeat another GOAT (having already beaten Anderson Silva). Jones then challenged Adesanya to come face “The King of the Jungle.”
What had started out as friendly banter between two champions quickly grew to full-blown beef. Adesanya fired back at Jones, calling him a “c*nt” and saying Jones is just jealous because he hasn’t had the profesional problems that Jones had inflicted upon himself. Now, Jones appears to be genuinely upset with Adesanya and ready to fight. And that’s exactly what should happen next.
If there’s anything MMA history should teach us, it’s that windows close very quickly, and things that seem inevitable rarely are. MMA history is littered with superfights that never materialized, and Adesanya-Jones is a fight with a ton of heat right now, one that easily could fall by the wayside in a few months.
Moreover, it’s the rare superfight that doesn’t hold up either division. Light heavyweight is eternally stagnant, forever depressed by the weight of Jon Jones’ greatness. After Adesanya’s demolition of Whittaker, middleweight is similarly barren. Most top 185ers have left the division in search of greener pastures at 205 pounds, and the only man who stands in line is Paulo Costa, a great fighter coming off a narrow win over Yoel Romero. Costa was cageside for UFC 243, but has yet to truly resonate with fans.
By all conventions of meritocracy, “Borrachinha” deserves a title shot. But meritocracy so rarely lives in this sport, especially when it stands in the way of good business. And Jon Jones vs. Israel Adesanya would be damn good business. It is two undisputed champions who’ve never truly tasted defeat and who genuinely don’t like each other, but are charismatic enough to deliver more than promotional histrionics. The build up would be tremendous. It’s a fight that could carry a world promotional tour and sell out Cowboy Stadium. That’s probably why Dana White already has said it’s something the UFC is interested in doing, and this is one of those times his instincts are spot on. With Adesanya solidified as the next big thing, now is the time to strike while the iron is hot.
“Borrachinha” is a very serious threat to Adesanya, and he’s also a guy whom fans won’t demand to fight for a title. If “The Last Stylebender” decides to do his championship duty and defend his title, it’s exceedingly possible he loses the belt – and the UFC loses its superfight entirely. And to be frank, Costa-Jones is a fight no one is clamoring for. Jones-Adesanya already is.
Should Adesanya move up and take his place in history as another middleweight defeated by Jones, he can then return to the 185-pound division to begin his reign in earnest. “Borrachinha isn’t going anywhere. But should the unthinkable happen and Israel bend styles to upset the current pound-for-pound king, the UFC has another bonafide superstar on the order of Conor McGregor. A fight with Stipe Miocic no longer seems so crazy.
The defining feature of truly legendary MMA fighters is they strain credulity. They are so spectacular at their craft, they show fans things they never thought possible and in turn encourage them to dream wildly about what’s possible. Israel Adesanya is one of those fighters, and the UFC should choose to dream along with him right now.
UFC 243 Quotes
“I held my fist up. That’s stupid. I should have punched him until the referee jumped on him. I guess the referee saved him on that one.” - Israel Adesanya on hurting Whittaker at the end of the first round.
“Any guy trying to get in on a tall fighter has to close that gap, and I was having a lot of success doing so. I was hitting him. In that first round, I was hitting him, I was hurting him, I was doing work, I was doing damage. I felt really good out there, I felt like I was controlling the fight. And then I just got caught.” - Robert Whittaker after the fight, perhaps needing to rewatch footage to see what happened.
“When I put my hands on his head, his body – he’s going to feel it a lot. I fear he can die in the Octagon, for sure.” - Paulo Costa on his potential matchup with Adesanya.
“By the time this kid gets his confidence together I’ll probably already be in the heavyweight division. I don’t need to wait till 2021 to start believing in myself.” - Jon Jones poking the new champion.
Up: Israel Adesanya. It’s hard to imagine a better start to a UFC career. In just 20 months, Adesanya went from exciting debutante to undisputed champion and breakout star. Not to mention, the Whittaker fight was one of his easiest in the UFC. The sky is the limit for Adesanya.
Up: Eugene Bareman. Adesanya’s coronation was as much a celebration of the fighter as it was his team, City Kickboxing. The New Zealand gym has been steadily rising in the global consciousness, and now they have a full-blown UFC champion. The ease with which Adesanya dispatched Whittaker showed his team’s preparation for what should have been the toughest test for “The Last Stylebender.”
Bareman is one of the best coaches in the the game and has a shot at getting a second champion later this year.
Down: Robert Whittaker. “Bobby Knuckles” was an excellent champion who had been on one of the best runs in middleweight history. But on Saturday night, he was completely outclassed, and he fought in a manner that didn’t give him the best chance to win. Also, Whittaker has now been dropped four times in his previous two fights. The former champion was gracious in defeat, but may need to reevaluate some things.
Up: Dan Hooker. Welcome to the big leagues, Mr. Hooker. With his domination of Al Iaquinta, Hooker announced himself as a legitimate top end lightweight that’s fully rebounded from his shellacking by Edson Barboza. His call out of Dustin Poirier might not get him anywhere, but he’s due for a big time fight.
Down: Tai Tuivasa. Tuivasa was given a showcase opportunity to rebound from a couple of bad defeats, and instead, he found himself upset by one of the biggest underdogs on the card. Now he’s lost three in a row and is in danger of getting cut from the organization.
Here’s a name you should remember; Garth Harriman. That’s because he’s apparently the only person on the planet, aside from direct family members, who thought Luke Jumeau beat Dhiego Lima on Saturday night. Per MMADecisions, all 18 MMA media members paneled awarded the fight to Lima, with 17 of them awarding 30-27 scorecards. Harriman’s decision was so bad, Lima is appealing the commission. That’s right, in a fight he won, the elder Lima brother is bothering to appeal because it was such an obvious mistake. That’s impressive.
Fights to make
Israel Adesanya vs. Jon Jones. Realistically, Adesanya likely faces Paulo Costa next. But for the reasons listed above, Jones is the fight that should be made. Plus, Adesanya has had a torrid pace in the UFC so far, and he should get some time off. A long build up for a spring superfight would afford him just that opportunity.
Robert Whittaker vs. the winner of Kelvin Gastelum-Darren Till. Whittaker will look to get straight back to contention, and this is the shortest path that doesn’t mean a trilogy with Yoel Romero. Till is a compelling matchup, and Gastelum and Whittaker already were set to fight once. Let’s see how that would go.
Dan Hooker vs. Paul Felder. After squeaking by Edson Barboza, Felder said he’s only looking for top guys. With his win over Iaquinta, Hooker is now that. Lightweight is still bottlenecked at the top, but the winner of this one could start clearing that up.
Al Iaquinta vs. the winner of Jared Gordon vs. Charles Oliviera. Iaquinta has lost three of his last four. He could be in line for a serious step down, but if he’d prefer to stay busy with ranked guys, Oliviera seems like the best fit for him.
Sergey Spivak vs. Aleksei Oleinik. Spivak is coming off a technical arm-triangle choke, so might as well pair him up with the “King of Squeeze” and see who constricts who.