UFC best bets: Adesanya vs. Whittaker

February 8, 2022 11:09 PM

UFC 271 takes place in Houston on Saturday with preliminary bouts beginning at 6 p.m. ET and the main card commencing at 10 p.m.

This fight slate offers 15 bouts featuring athletes from Oceania to Kazakhstan. The main card is populated with five exciting bouts featuring combatants with varying physiques and fight arsenals.

Israel Adesanya (-280) vs. Robert Whittaker (+ 230)

Middleweight (185 pounds) Championship

Adesanya is a most accomplished kickboxing talent who is incrementally developing his take-down defense and grappling. He enters this rematch after having defeated in sound fashion three of the most decorated, accomplished middleweights alive in Paulo Costa, Mad Marvin Vettori and Yoel Romero.

The sole loss in his career came last March when he jumped up to fight then-champion Jan Blachowicz at light heavyweight in an experiment that will likely not occur again.

At middleweight, Adesanya’s fluidity of defensive movement is uncanny. His precision striking and kicking are cobra-like in their speed, quickness and delivery. Fighting in Houston in the 30-foot cage will help Adesanya, who uses deft athleticism to control distance in order to dominate opponents from afar.

Adesanya took the title from Whittaker in October of 2019. Whittaker made no excuses for that performance, but he could’ve. 

Whittaker entered that fight after recovering from a hernia. The fight also came after two famously physical and depleting title defenses against Romero, who was at the prime of his MMA career and a physical freak. Whittaker was mentally and physically drained for his title defense against Adesanya, yet took on the added pressure of competing in front of a home crowd in Australia.

The Whittaker in that bout in no way resembled the Whittaker who competed before or after.

On his way to this rematch, Whittaker has had to defeat three top contenders. His mastery of Hapkido, Gōjū-ryū karate and BJJ coupled with his durability and granite jaw are his best assets. Whittaker must use every skill against this matrix-like opponent and present it in a way that forces Adesanya to hesitate, which means he must shoot in on Adesanya, even drag him to the ground, where he would have the advantage.

In their first bout, Whittaker opened -180 then closed + 110 as many in the MMA community were aware that Adesanya was going to be a firm test for Whittaker, who was finished in the second round. This bout opened Adesanya -260, and the price has slowly risen to current pricing. 

The Whittaker who enters the cage Saturday night will far exceed in confidence, motivation, performance and determination the Whittaker we saw that night in 2019. Monitoring.

Total in this fight: 4.5 rounds Over -130

Derrick Lewis (-180) vs. Tai Tuivasa (+ 155)

Heavyweight (265 pounds) Co-Main Event

Lewis is ranked third in the division and has earned his place as a legitimate top-tier heavyweight in a division in which the top talent is only about five athletes deep. Based on Lewis’ performances, he belongs after Francis Ngannou, Ciryl Gane and Stipe Miocic.

Lewis will struggle to make the 265-pound limit, but in the cage this big man is unusually athletic, explosive and packs profuse power in any fist, elbow, knee or kick he hurls. Lewis’ right hook is famous and as Angelo Dundee would always warn, “Never hook with a hooker.” Fortunately for fight enthusiasts, that’s exactly what Lewis’ opponent is going to do.

Lewis’ biggest challenge — besides making weight — is to maintain his explosiveness after eight minutes or so transpires in a fight. In this fight and with an opponent who may take the center of the cage and trade with Lewis, we may not even need all eight of those minutes.

Tuivasa, ranked 11th, is another rotund man who until recently didn’t train with the vigor of a top challenger. But he has improved his training regimen and beaten his last four opponents.

Unfortunately for Tuivasa, those victories came against fighters who are journeymen at best and in no way resemble the level of combatant Lewis has faced — and finished — in the cage.

This event is in Houston, Lewis’ hometown, and is being held within a year of his defeat in the same cage to Gane. Lewis has said he’d like to give Houston a different performance this time, and I take that to be quite serious.

Lewis’ experience, the fact that this is a three-round fight and understanding that Tuivasa will fight him at his strength all force me to believe Tuivasa is simply over his skis in this one.

Total in this fight:1.5 rounds Under -180

Jared Cannonier (-165) vs. Derek Brunson (+ 145)

Middleweight (185 pounds)

This bout not being the co-main event is confounding as it may be the most competitive fight on the card.

Unless these two slow dance for 15 minutes and lull the crowd to sleep, the winner most likely will face Adesanya next, provided the champion retains his title Saturday night.

Brunson, the fourth-ranked middleweight, arrives with momentum, experience and determination. A Division I wrestler at his core with a black belt in BJJ, Brunson has superior cardio for a cat 38 years old. He uses unrelenting forward pressure to engage opponents then force them to compete with his superior wrestling.

Brunson’s striking has improved over the years and he has won his last five bouts, albeit against mid-tier middleweight talent. That’s where I believe the difference in this very closely contested wrestler-vs.-striker matchup lies.

Cannonier has found a home at middleweight after having competed at heavyweight and light heavyweight. He has the beard to absorb strikes from the division’s most powerful athletes, and he moves with fluidity, employs constant movement and mixes diverse arm and leg striking in order to keep opponents upright, off balance and susceptible to damage.

Cannonier’s ability to thwart the Brunson forward pressure, his clinch attempts and take down attack are the keys to this bout. Provided Cannonier can keep this fight standing, he is in a very advantageous position, especially the longer the fight goes.

Total for this fight: 2.5 rounds Under -120

Lewis -180/Cannonier -165 two-fighter parlay: + 1.48 units

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