July 5, 2018

Test Time: Israel Adesanya Has Dangerous Dance Partner In Brad Tavares

By Raphael Garcia

There’s something to be said for properly booking a rising mixed martial arts talent. Bellator MMA is doing it with Ed Ruth and Aaron Pico. Pico got off to a shaky start, but Ruth has flourished, showing the promise and poise to be a true contender in the near future. This is why so many questioned the UFC’s decision to match Israel Adesanya against Brad Tavares in the headlining bout of the TUF 27 Finale event.

Adesanya does go into this fight with a wealth of combat experience in his back pocket, boasting a 50-5-2 kickboxing record, a 5-1 boxing record, and a 13-0 mixed martial arts one. However, he’s stepped into the Octagon twice, where he has looked good, but not spectacular. And while many observers recognize Adesanya as a true prospect with an immeasurable ceiling, those critics also believe that Adesanya should get time to fully develop his skill set before being thrust into the upper echelon of the middleweight division.

But instead, the UFC went in the opposite direction. Adesanya is going from fighting two widely unknown fighters in Marvin Vettori and Rob Wilkinson to a Top 10 competitor in Tavares. Tavares has a resume that includes much tougher talent than Adesanya has faced at this point in his career. He has defeated the likes of Thales Leites, Elias Theodorou, Nate Marquardt, and Lorenz Larkin, and he’s riding a four-fight win streak. He’s also been in the UFC for eight years, a fact that catches many by surprise. Tavares has had a strong run in the UFC so far, and he is near the top of this weight class for a reason.

Even more important from Adesanya's perspective is that it is very difficult to look exceptional when fighting the Hawaiian. Tavares has only been stopped twice in his career, once by Tim Boetsch and the other by current UFC Middleweight Champion Robert Whittaker. Tavares has the grappling and striking skill set to handle himself against any type of fighter. Adesanya is in for a very tough test, but that is not where the conversation ends.

As mentioned, Tavares is currently ranked in the top 10 of the UFC's middleweight divisional rankings. Adesanya is unranked. What happens if he wins this matchup? Would the UFC book him against fighters ranked below him, after he has vaulted to a place of prominence in the weight class? Do you slate him against the likes of Chris Weidman or Kelvin Gastelum, two fighters on the verge of title shots? Do you match him with an even more dangerous veteran in David Branch? Leading up to this weekend’s fight, Adesanya has taken shots at Yoel Romero, one of the most dangerous fighters in the sport today, so clearly, he believes in himself. And yes, Adesanya could surprise everyone and pull off a big win, but we are talking about heralded veterans with a wealth of experience who are at the top of their respective games. Adesanya hasn’t shown the MMA chops thus far to suggest that he prepared for that group of fighters.

With this matchup, the UFC has booked Israel Adesanya into a position where if he wins, he will likely only be booked in tough fights for the foreseeable future. And he’s facing a very tough opponent in Brad Tavares this Friday at the TUF 27 Finale. From the UFC's perspective, a loss would not set him back very far, and the organization needs a personality such as his to bubble up to the top sooner rather than later. But from Adesanya's perspective, it's high risk, with the high reward coming with even more risk. It remains to be seen whether he’s truly ready to pass this test, and all the ones that may follow, at this stage of his young career. For his sake, as well as the UFC, let's hope so.






The Ultimate Fighter 27 Finale takes place July 6, 2018 at Pearl Theater in Las Vegas, Nevada.


Click HERE for more TUF 27 Finale Pre-Fight Analysis


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