There’s no question Israel Adesanya is one of the game’s fastest rising commodities right now, but Robert Whittaker isn’t convinced “The Last Style Bender” is as good as he or many others think.
Adesanya had a considerable hype train following him when he arrived in the UFC, due to his highlight reel striking abilities, which he honed during a 75-5-1 run in pro-kickboxing. In addition, the Nigerian born fighter had gone 11-0 in MMA fights before signing with the UFC.
Well, aside from a tightly contested, split decision win over Marvin Vettori in his second UFC bout, Adesanya has been pretty impressive in the Octagon. Thanks to a decision win over the legendary Anderson Silva at UFC 234 earlier this month, Adesanya has been tapped to fight Kelvin Gastelum for the interim middleweight title at UFC 236, April 13th.
The reigning middleweight champ, Whittaker, talked about Adesanya in length during a recent episode of his Grange TV podcast. While doing so, “Bobby Knuckles” had this to say (quotes via MMA Fighting):
“When you look at the poster it says Gastelum vs Adesanya, four versus five, but one, two, three aren’t in the equation,” Whittaker said. “Gastelum’s a great fight for [Adesanya] to fight. I would’ve liked to see him fight Romero or Rockhold or Weidman. I think they’d give him a lot of trouble.”
“I think that Adesanya isn’t as good as he thinks he is,” Whittaker said. “I think he’s very good – very, very good – and I have a lot of respect for his skillset, 100 percent. He’s a dangerous guy. But I don’t think the pedestal that he’s on is as high as everyone else thinks it is, as he thinks it is. I think his fight with Anderson Silva was the first time his stand-up capabilities were put to the test with someone with similar stand-up capabilities. . .”
“I don’t think Adesanya’s striking is as good as he believes. it is. It’s very good. I’m not saying his striking is bad, it’s very, very good – but I just don’t think it’s as good as he thinks it is. The times Adesanya’s looked very good is against people that don’t have the greatest striking.”
Now, Adesanya boosters are very likely going to disagree with Whittaker here, and there’s no question that many pundits/observers do believe the hype tied to the rising star’s striking is justified. But, many have argued that Adesanya hasn’t been thoroughly vetted yet in the Octagon, in terms of facing a top tier wrestler/grappler or a series of world-class contenders.
Derek Brunson was an NCAA Division II All-American wrestler, and Adesanya squashed his takedowns before taking him out. Further, Adesanya has defeated the likes of Silva and longtime contender, Brad Tavares. But few would argue his MMA resume matches Whittaker’s or the other top contenders at this juncture. By the end of 2019, perhaps all that will have changed.