The UFC Paris co-main event is a massive high-stakes match-up between two of the top three contenders at middleweight. Former champion Robert Whittaker will likely place his #1 rank up for grabs when he touches gloves with Marvin Vettori, and the only complaint fans have about this one is that it’s not scheduled for five rounds.
Both men have most recently lost to the current 185lb kingpin, Israel Adesanya. In Whittaker’s case, the result was a largely debated one amongst fans. While this was Whittaker’s last outing, Vettori has managed to raise his stock since, defeating another former challenger in Paulo Costa, showcasing his fighter’s mentality by accepting the fight regardless of Costa’s botched weight cut.
Whittaker and Vettori are looking for a way back to the belt, and this, the highest level of challenge in the division outside the gold, is both a big step up for the winner and a devastating setback for the loser.
The former champion will enter the fight as the -243 favorite. This means it will cost a wager of $243 to win $100 on him.
Robert Whittaker has a very unique style. Sort of a cross between boxing and Karate, he stands long and wide like a Karateka with an incredible burst in and out, but he plants on the lead and throws with torque like a boxer. The biggest difference in this matchup will be his range and kicks, where Vettori typically works at kickboxing range, mostly using his hands with a particularly good body kick, Whittaker can use weapons like his blitz, sidekicks and snapkicks to hit Vettori one step further away.
Whittaker is an orthodox fighter and Vettori a southpaw, so Vettori’s signature left body kick will be available, but on the flip side, Whittaker also has a devastating round kick, although its usefulness has been primarily to the head. Neither man has innate power in their hands like some of the other middleweights such as Costa and Jared Cannonier, but both make up for that in different ways. Vettori is relentless, and the finishes on his record typically come from breaking his opponents down with pressure, either wilting them with consistent boxing or forcing them to succumb to a submission as they fade. Whittaker delivers strikes like a point fighter, but in doing so, he sets up his biggest moments, such as forcing opponents to move into big head kicks or into the path of a wide and big hook. He does throw wide in these instances, but it’s expert setups that make up for any telegraphing.
Vettori stands very square in his stance, and his punches tend to come from his shoulders rather than his hips. This is one of the reasons his power may be a drawback but what it allows him to do is never over-commit and lets him punch in big combinations while moving forward. He doesn’t always mix in his kicks and knees, but he is superb at chaining his boxing into elbows when he is letting loose on his opponent, especially trapping them between himself and the cage in close range.
What we will likely see is Vettori looking to press the pace, he needs accumulation, whereas Whittaker will look to counter, land for points and set up big strikes. Vettori will control the center of the octagon, and Whittaker skirts the cage, but for him it will be important to utilize direct strikes up the middle to keep Vettori at bay. His jab and lead sidekick are key weapons but he also needs to land something significant early in order to get Vettori’s respect, because otherwise Vettori’s pressure knows no bounds. At the same time this means he will, and has often walked onto shots, electing to block or roll with them rather than evading.
In terms of grappling, we have Whittaker with more of a jiu-jitsu base, he has developed good takedowns but not on the level of Vettori and Vettori usually has better success with holding opponents down. What we do see from Whittaker however, is that while many opponents tend to get back to their feet, he will choose the movements to take them down intelligently in order to edge out rounds, and the channel he offers them to escape exposes their back where he will attack rear naked chokes. For Vettori, he has more of a mauling style where he will sit in the guard and utilize powerful head pressure to keep them defending and flat.
Neither Whittaker nor Vettori has ever shown a weakness in their gas tanks, but facing each other, I give Vettori the edge. That being said, while I think that could play a factor in Vettori wearing down Whittaker over five rounds, I don’t see him breaking Whittaker down enough over three to see his usual success.
Contrastingly, with Vettori’s style of pressing forward in a square stance, I do think that Whittaker will be able to draw him into walking onto some of Whittaker’s big shots and making the most of them win out the fight on elusiveness, counters, and big moments.
Wrestling could play a factor, but I think that if Whittaker stays on his bike, constantly circling, he can avoid getting caught on the fence for Vettori’s clinch and using sidekicks to the knee and body, he can force Vettori to maintain a respectable distance.
Prediction: Robert Whittaker to win (-243 odds at MyBookie)