Israel Adesanya completed the quickest rise to stardom in modern UFC history on Saturday, knocking out Robert Whittaker with a two-punch combination in the second round in their unification bout at Marvel Stadium in Melbourne, Australia, to become the undisputed middleweight champion in the main event of UFC 243.
In his seventh UFC fight, which have come in the last 20 months, Adesanya established himself as one of the sport’s biggest stars with a devastating knockout of Whittaker.
Whittaker was trying to leap in and land a shot throughout the fight to counteract Adesanya’s height and reach advantage. Adesanya stayed cool and slipped out of punching range and consistently caught Whittaker.
He dropped Whittaker with a second left in the first round, and it seemed as if Whittaker were saved by the bell. But there was no saving him in the second round, as Adesanya not only showed good boxing skills but the power to go with it.
Whittaker threw a hook and Adesanya ducked out of the way and landed a right hand that wobbled Whittaker. He came back with a left that dropped Whittaker and quickly finished it.
It was only a month shy of four years ago when Adesanya sat in the stands in the same venue and watched Holly Holm upset Ronda Rousey at UFC 193 in 2015. Adesanya imagined himself making the walkouts and hearing the crowd that night as a way to prepare for when he’d fight for the belt himself.
He made that memory come true on Saturday with a magnificent performance.
“[In 2015], I was in the nose bleeds, and now I made his nose bleed,” Adesanya said.
Whittaker had questioned Adesanya’s toughness before the fight and said Adesanya didn’t like to get hit. Whittaker vowed he’d put hands on Adesanya and it’d be a different outcome than it had been previously.
Adesanya, though, showed the chin that got him through a difficult outing with Kelvin Gastelum to win the interim title at UFC 236 in April.
“That was a nice one he caught me with, but look at the return,” Adesanya said in the Octagon as he watched a replay of the finish. “I eat it and I give it back in return, 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 dumb.”
Whittaker, who had to pull out of a fight in February because he underwent emergency surgery after the weigh-in for UFC 234, was fighting for the first time since a victory over Yoel Romero 16 months ago.
He was never really able to get on track.
“I thought I was doing pretty well until I got caught,” Whittaker said.
To this point, Adesanya seems to catch them all. He’s 18-0 with 14 knockouts overall and 7-0 with three KOs in the UFC.
He called out unbeaten Paola Costa for his first title defense.