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Hot Tweets: Israel Adesanya vs. Robert Whittaker 2 and the future of the middleweight division

UFC 243: Whittaker v Adesanya Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

The second pay-per-view event of 2022 goes down tonight when UFC 271 takes place in Houston. The main event is a middleweight title rematch between Israel Adesanya and Robert Whittaker and the rest of the card is filled with competitive matchups and a plethora of interesting storylines. As such, we got a ton of questions this week so let’s try to get to as many as we can.

Israel Adesanya vs. Robert Whittaker

I do no think Robert Whittaker is overrated at all, but I also think this line is close to perfect. In fact, I think you could probably move it even further towards Adesanya and it would be alright. Again, that’s not a knock on Rob, and it’s not even saying that Adesanya is that much better, it’s just the reality of this matchup: I think it’s incredibly tough for Whittaker to win.

I did a big breakdown on the rematch here which I’d recommend if you want my full thoughts, but in summary, it all boils down to Whittaker not being able to consistently generate effective offense. Adesanya’s length allows him to keep things at a longer range, where he can attack with kicks, something Whittaker struggles to defend. Whittaker needs a way to navigate inside against Adesanya and he doesn’t really have the best pressuring footwork so that’s a tough ask from him. Whittaker can have moments of success, but I don’t see a path for him to build a winning game plan out of those moments. Adesanya is too good at adjusting and has too many things in his favor in this matchup.

Bobby Knuckles is game as hell, and doesn’t want to go out like he did in their first encounter, so he may make it to the final bell, but this feels to me like a fight where Adesanya is simply ahead of him from pillar to post. Adesanya by Unanimous Decision.

What happens if Whittaker loses?

If Whittaker loses convincingly tonight, I’m not sure what he does next. We’ve seen many situations like this before, where one person has two clear losses to the reigning champion, but usually in those instances that fighter can change weight classes or, at least has a number of “legend” fights available to him. Unfortunately for Whittaker, I’m not sure either of those options exist.

Whittaker is a former welterweight and so the inclination will be for him to cut down to 170 again, but I’m not entirely sure he can make the weight again, or that he’d want to. He’s not a big middleweight but he’s also not tiny and dropping to 170 would likely require serious effort. Similarly, I don’t really think is an option for him either. Whittaker would be tiny at the weight class and I can’t really see him beating behemoths like Jiri Prochazka and Magomed Anklaev.

Whittaker’s best bet may be to simply wait for Adesanya to move up to light heavyweight. Eugene Bareman said this week that Izzy is not done with 205 yet and that the next time they move up, it will be to do so permanently. Personally, I think 2022 is the last year we see Adesanya compete at middleweight because he won’t really have anyone to face after 2-3 more title defenses, and because he will want to clear the way for his friend Kamaru Usman to chase his own legacy with a second title. My official prediction is that Adesanya competes three times this year (tonight, and then two more) and then announces a return to 205, vacating the title. Then Whittaker takes on Usman for the vacant middleweight strap.

GOAT status check

Assuming Adesanya defeats Whittaker tonight, he will have four successful middleweight title defenses and have held the belt for 860 days. In contrast, Anderson Silva has 10 middleweight title defenses and held the belt for 2,457 days, the longest title reign in UFC history. Adesanya is going to need to do a crapload more to even get in the conversation.

This topic gets brought up all the time, in part because this sport and its fan base lacks any real sense of history or historical context and in part because the UFC only has three promotional arrows in their quiver and one of those is “Fighter X is the greatest fighter we’ve ever seen.”

There only semi-rational argument for Adesanya being considered the middleweight GOAT over Silva is the drug test failures Silva had later in his career two which I have two equally important responses. First, drug testing is idiotic and arbitrary and doesn’t create super humans any more than eating healthy and exercise does. Second, he never failed a test during his prime or title reign, nor did people generally talk about him being juiced. He began failing tests only when he was 40 years old and coming off a traumatic leg break. There is no real evidence that he was gassed up during his incredible run and in fact, he fought four people who failed drug tests during that time (two for non-PEDs).

Look, it’s fine for people to be stoked on Adesanya. He’s a great fighter and he’s probably already locked down number two on the all-time middleweight list (which really is a testament to Anderson who held the title for so long it prevented a number of other incredible fighters from making a stronger claim to the position) but Adesanya has a LONG way to go before he’s in the conversation. He’s in literally the same position Chris Weidman was in before Weidman got rinsed by Luke Rockhold! Three title defenses and 889 days as a champion, and we weren’t talking about GOAT for Weidman then. Let’s just enjoy Adesanya and circle back on the GOAT talk in a few years.

Derrick Lewis vs. Tai Tuivasa

Probably the winner of the Alexander Volkov-Tom Aspinall fight in March, but you never know and that’s why this fight is so important. Right now, the heavyweight division is possibly as open as it has been in years. Francis Ngannou is about to undergo surgery and won’t return to action until the fall or winter, if he ever returns at all. There is already talk about an interim title fight between Stipe Miocic and Jon Jones, and while that does seem like the most obvious next step, betting on Jon Jones to sign a fight contract and to not do something idiotic/horrible before then that will remove him from the fight is never a safe bet.

If Tuivasa wins, he becomes a top-5 guy in the division, on a five-fight win streak and could find himself sneaking into an interim title shot if things break right, and the same is true for Lewis. If they are less lucky, than the winner is still likely to get the Volkov-Aspinall winner and that bout will almost certainly be a bona fide title eliminator.

Jared Cannonier vs. Derek Brunson

Yes, because Adesanya wants to fight the winner. Adesanya has been openly courting a matchup with Cannonier for some time now (I honestly don’t know why he’s so into it, but whatever) and he has also said that he’s down to rematch Brunson and end the Blond Brunson winning streak. Given that, plus the fact that there aren’t a lot of other good contenders available for Adesanya at 185, and a win for either man tonight should lock up a title shot for them. The only thing I could see getting in the way of that is if Whittaker wins, in which case the UFC will certainly go for a trilogy fight. Or, there’s one more possible wrinkle . . .

Derek Brunson needs a publicist

Ultimately no just because the UFC is thin on middleweight options for him and Adesanya will want the fight if Brunson wins tonight, but HOLY SH*T was that a questionable thing for him to say. Seriously, I have no idea what prompted him to throw that out there but it’s about the worst possible thing he could’ve said. The UFC HATES giving retiring fighters title shots and even if Brunson assures them he was just fooling around, that thought is now out there. Again, the circumstances surrounding everything mean it probably won’t come back to bite him in the ass but if it does, no one can be that surprised. In which case, it will be the most Derek Brunson thing of all time: shooting himself in the foot entirely unprompted and in the most critical possible moment. The man certainly knows his brand.

Alexander Hernandez vs. Renato Moicano

Yes, probably. Hernandez, a guy the UFC likes, had a legitimate gripe. It made absolutely zero sense that he was on the early prelims when Kyler Phillips vs. Marcelo Rojo (a fun fight but come on) was on the main card. He let it be known that he that it was garbo (again, it was), and when the Alex Perez-Matt Schnell fight got cancelled, the UFC shifted some stuff around and get us to the outcome we should have been at all a long. As they say, a closed mouth don’t get fed, and now Hernandez is eating.

Bobby Green vs. Nasrat Haqparast

I think this could be a very excellent fight but it’s also a Bobby Green fight so there is every chance that Green keeps things unnecessarily close and loses a split decision. He’s like Jorge Masvidal if Masvidal never went on that reality show and had his epiphany about baptizing people.

As far as getting ranked with a win, I doubt it. There is almost no way that either Green or Haqparast will get ranked in the true rankings, the MMA Fighting Global Rankings, and I doubt they even squeak into the top-15 of the UFC rankings given how stacked the division is and the recent losses both men have suffered. However, if either man goes to Bellator in the near future, they will immediately be top-5 Bellator lightweights. The getting big name part would be a no go over there though.

Alex Perez vs. Matt Schnell

Yes, because it’s the choice he felt was best. In situations like this there is no objectively right or wrong answer, it’s entirely about what you are comfortable living with. The truth is, regardless of the blown weight, Schnell was probably going to lose this fight because he is not as good as Alex Perez. However, he certainly doesn’t think that and in his last fight he fought another guy who missed weight and then lost (though it was overturned to a No Contest after Rogerio Bontorin failed a drug test). Being functionally 1-2 in his last two fights, and with that lone win being a split decision, it’s probable that a loss tonight, regardless of the circumstances, would have gotten Schnell his walking papers. Now Schnell will get another chance to have his day and do so in a manner he considers even. That is the only thing that matters.

UFC 271 Gambling

If you’re looking for some bets for UFC 271, well you are in luck! This week MMA Fighting introduced a new gambling guide that will run every Friday moving forward. Give that a read for some inspiration. However, in the spirit of friendship and togetherness, let me say a few things about parlays.

Parlays are, largely, bad bets. There is a reason that casinos love parlays and it’s not because they like seeing their patrons win. Parlays offer the allure of a big payout but the reality is the lines offered are no better than the straight wager lines, they are simply bundled together, which offers the higher pay but also pushes the risk profile a commiserate amount. That means the house is keeping their same odds and the same vig. So that means the only real benefit to a parlay is convenience. Realistically, if a bet is good enough to put in a parlay, it’s good enough to bet straight up.

However, people love parlays, and I can’t blame them. They are undoubtedly fun and, if you use them appropriately, they are no worse than any other bet. Personally, I mostly use parlays as a tool of convenience, meaning that I fill parlays with wagers that I think are still mathematically valuable but that would ultimate pay out a relatively small sum. For instance, when Valentina Shevchenko fought Lauren Murphy she was a -700 favorite which implies an 87.5% win probability for her. In reality, Shevchenko was like 98% to win that fight, meaning that Shevchenko’s line had value, but it would only pay a pittance. So instead parlaying that bet with other positive value, low yield bets saves time and doesn’t drop my own odds any.

Similarly, if I’m just looking for more action on a card, I may parlay together lines that I think are appropriately set, because it’s a break-even bet statistically but allows me to be engaged with fights I may otherwise not have any vested interest in. I also never parlay underdogs (they already have high yield) and I usually restrict it to two or three teamers, unless I’m just trying to light some money on fire.

Anyway, that’s my spiel on parlays. Do with it what you will. But if I was putting together a main card parlay (again, not something I would advise) I’d have Adesanya and the Over on the round total for the Green-Haqparast fight. All the other odds are pretty tight and so, were I a betting man, I’d lay straight on them.

Thanks for reading and thank you for everyone who sent in Tweets! Do you have any burning questions about things at least somewhat related to combat sports? Then you’re in luck, because you can send your Hot Tweets to me, @JedKMeshew, and I will answer them! Doesn’t matter if they’re topical or insane. Send them to me and I’ll answer the ones I like the most. Let’s have fun.

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