Leading up to his middleweight title fight at UFC 243, Israel Adesanya rather infamously stated that he once sat in the nosebleeds, but come fight night, he was going to make Robert Whittaker’s nose bleed.
And then he did it.
And he did more than that.
Adesanya defeated Whittaker by knockout at 3:33 in round two to unify the two titles and crown himself the undisputed UFC middleweight champion.
Rather than wear the belt around his waist, he put it on the shoulder of his mother as his family joined him in celebration of his achievement.
Adesanya showed his lighter side in the moment before bringing out the bold, brash personality that his fans have grown to love in his post-fight interview with Jon Anik.
“I’m real petty, you know that, Jon,” Adesanya said. “I remember everything like an elephant, and like I said, I was in the nosebleeds, and now I made his nose bleed.”
Adesanya said he planned for everything Whittaker could throw at him, but this fight was about showing his skills on the biggest stage.
“They said I have no knockout power,” Adesanya said before breaking into sarcastic laughter and flexing his muscles.
The walkouts contrasted the personalities of both fighters. Adesanya’s flashy dance routine was followed by a stoic walk from “The Reaper.”
Then, the cage door closed, and it was time for business.
Whittaker was the first to bring aggression, looking for the oblique kick that found success against Yoel Romero. Adesanya opted to evaluate his opponent early — a common theme for the interim middleweight champion. Whittaker took advantage of the approach with quick bursts into range that allowed him to land punches.
Adesanya began opening up his kicks toward the final minute of round one. One head kick was particularly close to the target of Whittaker’s head, but “The Reaper” got his hand up in time to block it.
Right at the buzzer, Adesanya landed a round-changing right hand. He dropped Whittaker before the horn sounded and had the champion staggering back to his corner afterward.
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Whittaker, nose bloodied, did his best to recover in the moments between rounds one and two.
Whittaker continued coming forward, and Adesanya showed that his evaluation paid off. “The Last Stylebender” was working shots off of the counter and managed to hurt Whittaker once again.
Both fighters showed their flexibility, tossing quick head kicks back and forth.
Then, the finish came.
Whittaker bounced back into the pocket and stayed too long. The two exchanged close blows, but Adesanya’s landed cleanly. He blasted the champion with a left hook that sent him reeling after eating a shot of his own. It only took a few ground and pound shots for Marc Goddard to pull “The Last Stylebender” off, signaling the end of Whittaker’s reign.
“That’s a nice one that he caught me with, but look at the return,” Adesanya said as he watched his handiwork on the big screen inside Marvel Stadium. “I eat it and then I give it back two times. That’s a two-piece right there … I can take it and I can give it back. I don’t like to get hit, he’s right. It’s stupid to get hit. I’m not that tough. I am tough, but I’m smart. At the end of the day, me and my team, we’re smart.”
Before his interview came to a close, Adesanya turned his attention to second-ranked middleweight Paulo Costa who sat cageside, egging him on for a fight.
For Whittaker, the loss was his first since Feb. 22, 2014, against Stephen Thompson. It also broke his undefeated streak at middleweight, which was at eight before Adesanya brought it to an end.
In front of a crowd that vocalized its support throughout the process leading up to this fight, “The Reaper” assured everyone that the loss doesn’t mark the end of the road.
“My hat’s off to Adesanya, a great striker,” Whittaker said. “I thought I was doing pretty well until you get caught, but, hell, I’m only 28. I’ll see him in a fight or two, yeah?”
He thanked everyone who helped him get to this fight before delivering an impactful set of words to the Melbourne crowd.
“Honestly, this is the best I’ve ever felt,” Whittaker said. “Didn’t get the W today, but I’m not going anywhere.”
Shane Connelly is a journalism student at Penn State with a passion for sharing the stories of MMA fighters.