Israel Adesanya defeats Robert Whittaker again to retain his Middleweight title (Photo: @UFC/Twitter)

Israel Adesanya has defeated Robert Whittaker for the second time to retain the UFC Middleweight championship in a close, competitive fight.

In their highly anticipated rematch, Israel Adesanya (22-1, 11-1 UFC) retained his UFC Middleweight title by defeating Aussie foe Robert Whittaker (24-6, 14-4 UFC) in a fight much different to their first encounter.

The win takes the Nigerian-born Kiwi one step closer to building his own legacy as one of the greatest Middleweights of all time.

The two men first met in October of 2019, when Adesanya made quick work of Whittaker, knocking him out in the second round to first claim the UFC Middleweight title.

In the lead-up to the rematch, questions rose in regards to if Adesanya could handle a rejuvenated and improved Robert Whittaker who was riding a three-fight win streak.

Those questions were definitely answered, as Adesanya controlled the fight on the feet and shut down Whittaker’s attempts to wrestle.

As expected, Whittaker was a lot more patient than the first fight. Instead of charging in recklessly, he waited on the outside to provoke the champion to come to him.

In answer to this, Adesanya used feints and leg kicks to force a mistake from Whittaker. The latter was used to great effect as Adesanya landed 11 of his 29 leg kicks in the first five minutes.

Later in the first round, Adesanya feinted a left kick and came down the middle with a left hand that sent Whittaker down to the canvas. However, the Aussie was quick to bounce straight to his feet.

Midway through the second round, Whittaker gave Adesanya the first taste of wrestling. Unfortunately for the former champion, the takedown landed close to the fence, making it easier for Adesanya to get up.

Adesanya continued to use feints to keep Whittaker on the outside, but the Aussie answered back with counter jabs when his opponent eventually came inside.

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In round three, Whittaker started to charge with his jab. This approach was criticised by UFC commentator Michael Bisping, who felt Whittaker was becoming “too predictable” in his left-heavy approach.

Whittaker secured another takedown in the centre of the cage later in the third, an attack that was seen as Whittaker’s best chance to hold the Adesanya down. The control was ultimately not enough, as ‘The Last Stylebender’ walked to get to the cage after a scramble and got back to his feet.

The fourth round saw Adesanya again chopping Whittaker down with leg kicks before the Sydney native scored yet another takedown. Although Israel got up to his feet, Whittaker took his back and almost locked in a rear-naked choke, The New Zealander was able to escape the dangerous position after fighting Whittaker’s hands, however.

Leading up to the final round it was clear that Whittaker needed a finish to reclaim the Middleweight title. Although he landed some decent strikes on the feet, the former title holder resorted to his wrestling by shooting to the cage. This is where the action ultimately ended as the fight went the distance.

After a closely contested five rounds, Israel Adesanya was announced as the winner by unanimous decision (48-47 x2, 49-46).

When speaking to Daniel Cormier, Adesanya said that he was aware of Whittaker’s improvements and overall game plan.

“He had been working on his boxing,” Adesanya said.

“I tried to get his leg, because I hurt his leg. But once he realised it was hurt, he was really tentative, but kudos to his boxing team and his boxing coach.

“I knew he was going to try and copy Jan’s homework, but I’m the big dog in this yard. So he couldn’t take me down at all.”

To wrap up his post-fight interview, Adesanya acknowledged Jared Cannonier’s win earlier in the night in hopes of a June showdown against him.

“I know June doesn’t have a pay-per-view yet,” he told.

“I know the underdog Jared Cannonier just did some work tonight. So I’m p*****g in this cage next time in June, watch me.”

Robert Whittaker on the other hand, felt that his output was enough to win the fight

“I know I started a bit rocky in that first round but I feel like I took every round after that,” Whittaker told Cormier.

“It is what it is, but you know what they say don’t leave it in the hands of the judges.

“I mixed it in well, I fought my heart out. I’m happy that I fought and left it all out here, but I’m gutted. I thought I did enough, I thought I took that.”

Despite his disagreement with the decision, Whittaker praised the champion, acknowledging that both me are two best Middleweights in the world.

“I’m not gonna take anything away from Adesanya, he’s the champ. He beat me for the second time now,” he said.

“We’re the two best in the world, I know this, he knows this, we know this.”

While Adesanya appears to have an imminent meeting with the aforementioned Cannonier, the next move for Whittaker appears less clear.

A number of potential opponents do stick out however, including fellow contenders Marvin Vettori (18-5-1, 8-3-1 UFC) and Sean Strickland (25-3, 12-3 UFC).

For all of the results from UFC 271, click here.

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