October 4, 2019

UFC 243: Robert Whittaker vs. Israel Adesanya Is Nearly A Decade In the Making

By Michael Ford

This weekend at UFC 243, the Ultimate Fighting Championship will crown an undisputed middleweight champion when Robert Whittaker steps into the Octagon to face Israel Adesanya. It's an intriguing style matchup between one of the promotion's most technically proficient strikers and one of its most innovative. But beyond what will happen after Bruce Buffer begins his catchphrase spiel, this event will be of deeper import, because it represents the culmination of nearly a decade of work on the part of the UFC to develop the Australasian market and its talent pool.

The UFC 243 main event features a New Zealand-born Australian and a Nigerian-born New Zealander doing battle for a world title in an Australian football stadium. If someone had asked UFC President Dana White back in February 2010 what the dream would be for staging fights in this locale, this would be it. UFC 110 was the promotion's first foray into the land down under, but its success made it an important piece of the promotion's "World Domination" international expansion initiative. Tickets for the event sold out on the first day, and White made frequent mention of how rabid the fanbase there was. Along with the UK, Australia was circled on the map as a country that could be a hotbed of UFC support. But while the UK had Michael Bisping, Australia had yet to find its "hometown" superstar to rally around.


So perhaps it wasn't surprising that in 2012 the UFC chose those two countries to showcase for an international season of The Ultimate Fighter, subtitled The Smashes. The lone Australian standout was Whittaker, who became the winner at welterweight, but unlike Bisping, who had to move down a weight class to truly reach his potential as a fighter, Whittaker had to cut fewer pounds, and move up to middleweight.

What followed Whittaker's switch to 185 pounds has been a consistent arc of improvement in every aspect of his game, and although injuries have somewhat derailed his ability to utterly dominate the weight class, an 8-0 record and a middleweight belt validate his evolution into a world class competitor, if not a pound-for-pound stalwart. And he is doing so while flying the Australian flag.


Whittaker's opponent Adesanya, on the other hand, has had a more rapid rise to his perch, attaining gold just six fights into his UFC tenure. He hasn't had the benefit of a carefully cultivated promotional push; he's just capitalized on every opportunity to step up to greater levels of competition and exposure. And now he headlines a pay-per-view as a box office draw for a stadium show that could deliver the UFC a top 5 attendance number. (Let’s not forget that the highest live attendance for a UFC event was in this very venue for UFC 193.) "The Last Stylebender" is a brash fighter with a flashy, fan-friendly style, and with the eyes of the world on him, an exciting championship win could elevate him to the next tier of MMA stardom.

If one were to consider the possibility that the UFC has more to gain from one fighter winning than from the other, it would appear that Israel Adesanya, who can both string together highlights for the reel and talk a good game, is that choice, above the oft-injured Robert Whittaker. But really, this fight is a win-win. The UFC has developed the region and provided the fans there with fighters and fights worth paying attention to. And the promotion is now giving them a big-time main event featuring the two hottest middleweights on the planet, who happen to both represent Oceania nations and fly their flags. Here in the States, the significance of the main event is being largely overlooked, but rest assured, that isn't the case in Australia, and for us watching on PPV, we can expect to feel that atmosphere crackling through the screen. That should make Dana White and the rest of the UFC brass very happy.


UFC 243
Robert Whittaker vs. Israel Adesanya (UFC Middleweight Championship)

UFC 243: Whittaker vs. Adesanya takes place October 5, 2019 at Marvel Stadium in Melbourne, Australia.

Click HERE for more UFC 243 Pre-Fight Analysis


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