There is a strong chance UFC 243 proves to be just another UFC PPV card, but it’ll always be remembered for much more in Australia. Not only was It a PPV in Australia, it featured a pair of stars from the region headlining for he middleweight title. Don’t be surprised if it gets highlighted in the future as the official beginning of Israel Adesanya’s reign as middleweight kingpin. At this point, it looks like his reign could be a long and transcendental one.
Israel Adesanya: Unmistakably the biggest winner of the evening, Adesanya had the look of a fighter on his way to meet his destiny from the moment he began his walk down the tunnel. He was there to capture gold and nothing anyone did was going to stop him. Typically a slow starter, Adesanya was able to get his range in less than a round, flipping the script in a hurry as it looked like Robert Whittaker was about to take the opening frame. Instead, Adesanya dropped the champion only for the bell to save Whittaker from having the fight stopped there. Didn’t matter. Adesanya picked up where he left off, picking apart Australia’s first UFC champion with apparent ease, seeming to know the end was going to be coming sooner or later. When it did come, it came off Adesanya responding to a heavy punch from Whittaker. Who would have guessed when Adesanya debuted in February 2018, Adesanya would be a champion by this point? Even better for him, he appears to relish his role as champion, easily sliding into the role with a callout to Paulo Costa and his critics. Anyone else get the feeling we’re about to have the most vocal champion at 185 than we ever have?
Daniel Hooker: Who would have guessed this is where Hooker would end up when he decided to move up to lightweight? The Kiwi owned a pedestrian 3-3 record at featherweight and has never been a great athlete. Now, the former professional kickboxer has since gone 6-1 since making the move and now owns a victory over a top ten talent in Al Iaquinta. Even more impressive, the contest was never particularly close, Hooker picking apart Iaquinta’s legs and keeping him at bay with his jab. Iaquinta made some adjustments in the second, but Hooker adjusted himself and put Iaquinta on his ass before the round was out and it felt like the contest was over from that point. Hooker was wise enough to call out Dustin Poirier after the contest. There’s no guarantee the fight happens – Poirier already responded on Twitter with a no – but starting beef with someone as respected as Poirier can only magnify Hooker’s profile.
Serghei Spivak: No one expected the Ukrainian big man to end up this way. He was supposed to be fodder for Tai Tuivasa to get back. Instead, Spivak spoiled the potential rebound by exploiting a hole that no one had previously gone after aggressively: his ground game. The performance shows mental toughness as Spivak was shellacked in his previous contest, not to mention intelligence given the strategy. I knew he had a decent ground game. I just didn’t think he could get opponents to the mat in order to pull it off. Given Spivak’s youth, it’s unlikely he’s peaked either. In just one performance, Spivak has given us reason to pay attention to him.
Dhiego Lima: For the third contest in a row, Lima put together a tight strategy that led to victory. Confidence seems to be the biggest factor in Lima’s success, showing no signs of being rattled as he had been in the past. Luke Jumeau had moments of success. Didn’t matter. Lima stuck to his strategy of attacking the legs and occasionally hitting a well-timed takedown. It seems doubtful Douglas’ younger brother will reach the same level of his brother, but that doesn’t mean he can’t have a solid career at this point.
Yorgan De Castro: Despite looking like he’s severely undersized for the heavyweight division, De Castro has effectively taken out two opponents significantly larger than him in the first round, the victim this time around being Justin Tafa. Maybe it’s time we all stop underestimating the heavy hitter from Cape Verde. Before we all get too excited about De Castro, it is worth noting each of those opponents had three contests under their belt when they fought him, but it still has to count for something. Plus, he took home an extra $50K.
Callan Potter: Potter has no business winning a UFC contest. And yet, he did just that. Refusing to wilt under the punches of a much younger Maki Pitolo, Potter pressed forward with an intense determination, eating all of the punches Pitolo threw at him like they were Twinkies. Given how Potter was steamrolled in his UFC debut in February, I can’t see how a logical person would have seen this coming. I have a feeling this is one of those as-good-once-as-I-ever-was type situations as Potter is well past his physical prime, but I didn’t even think he had that in him. Major props to the Dan Kelly protégé.
Brad Riddell: It’s hard to find many recent UFC debuts better than Riddell’s. The former kickboxer laid on a hell of a beating onto Jamie Mullarkey, leaving many to wonder if he had delivered a 10-7 round on his fellow debutant in the final round. Credit goes to Mullarkey for staying in there to help make Riddell look like such a beast, but Riddell never let up either despite pushing a heavy pace. Even better, he showed he has a ground game, something none of us were sure he had. It’s still too early to know what his ceiling is, but Riddell certainly has my attention at this point.
Jamie Mullarkey: It’s rare when you can lose so badly to a debutant and end up in the winner’s column. And yet, that’s what happened to Mullarkey. He didn’t have a bad performance himself. The first two rounds were pretty damn competitive and Mullarkey even hurt Riddell at one point in the third. It’s just that Riddell was so damned impressive that he ended up blowing a game Mullarkey out of the water. I may be more excited to see where Riddell is going, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a strong interest in Mullarkey’s development either.
Megan Anderson: There’s no doubt Anderson heard the criticism about how she had no ground game following her loss to Felicia Spencer. Anderson made it a point to take the fight to the ground where she eventually found a triangle choke off her back to finish off Zarah Fairn dos Santos. I’m not about to be buying stock in Anderson becoming a dominant ground fighter – no matter how shallow women’s featherweight is – but it’s nice to see her respond positively to criticism. Props to the Aussie for sticking it to her critics… including me.
Ji Yeon Kim: It appears I had given up on Kim too early. After several lackluster performances, I had decided to move on from Kim. As soon as I did, she puts on what was easily the most impressive performance of her career. Impressive enough I’m willing to overlook her missing weight, something I usually strictly enforce. It could be argued she stopped Nadia Kassem twice, as the referee stopped what appeared to be a finishing sequence to put Kassem’s mouthpiece back into her mouth. Kim may have turned the corner.
Khalid Taha: I saw some on Twitter questioning whether Taha is on his way to becoming a star with his second stoppage win in a row. I’m not ready to go that far, but there is no denying that Taha is developing into one of the better action fighting youngsters on the roster. Takedown defense has long been his Achilles heel, but he showed he’s been working on it by stuffing several of Bruno Silva’s takedowns. His arm-triangle choke was a nice little surprise too as Silva was thought to be the better ground fighter. It’s easy to lose sight of Taha amidst the deep pool of talented young 135ers, but he’s worth remembering. Worth noting though, like Kim, Taha missed weight, slightly staining this performance.
Robert Whittaker: To his credit, Whittaker handled his defeated to Adesanya with nothing but class. Whittaker is the type of dude that you can’t help but like even when he’s coming off a humiliating loss. I wouldn’t say his loss to Adesanya was humiliating, but it also didn’t do him any favors either. His early aggression was promptly negated with a single punch to close out the opening round and Whittaker never seemed to recover. Whether there was any panic in him from that point on, it never felt like he was going to get a sniff of victory. The loss also puts an end to one of the more disappointing reigns in UFC history, though most of that is due to fate than anything Whittaker did. Despite winning the interim belt over two years ago – eventually becoming the official champion when GSP retired – Whittaker didn’t notch a single official defense with injuries to himself and a miss in weight by Yoel Romero negating what would have been a successful defense. Whittaker himself pointed out he’s only 28, so he could easily get back on the horse. However, it’s hard to remember a repeat champion who lost the belt in such a definitive manner who regained their gold.
Al Iaquinta: Aside from a brief period in the second when Iaquinta was finding success with his overhand, it’s hard to point out any other positives for him. He struggled to close the distance and couldn’t complete a takedown. In fact, Hooker was able to turn some of Iaquinta’s takedown attempts into submission opportunities. Even when Iaquinta was beginning to find success, Hooker found a way to stifle it. The loss will probably knock Iaquinta out of the top ten – perhaps permanently – and out of title talks. I’d be surprised if Iaquinta is no longer a viable test, but it appears we may have put too much stock in his loss to Khabib Nurmagomedov and his second win over Kevin Lee.
Tai Tuivasa: Almost a year ago, Tuivasa gave a former world champion a run for his money before getting put away due to his own recklessness. His performances have gotten progressively worse, culminating in him dropping a what was supposed to be a gimme. Instead, Tuivasa looked like he had never grappled a day in his life against Spivak before being choked to sleep. After opening his UFC career with three consecutive wins, the big man is now on a three-fight losing streak. I don’t think Tuivasa is in danger of being cut just yet as he’s still very young and marketable, but it’s conceivable one more might do it. Who would have thought this is where Tuivasa would be as of a year ago?
Luke Jumeau: I would have liked to have put Jumeau in the neither category as he didn’t perform horribly. The reason why I couldn’t give him that leeway is this is a fight he could have won. He hurt Lima in the second round and was unable to capitalize. Then, in the third round, it felt like he should have been pushing the pace. Instead, Jumeau let Lima continue to tee off from range. Perhaps Jumeau didn’t have the oomph to kick off with his legs after the damage Lima did to him, but It still didn’t appear he pushed it the way he should.
Justin Tafa: There were some things I like out of the youngster, but all of that was overshadowed by the brutal one-punch KO he ate. Those type of KO’s can send a career on a downward spiral that few rarely recover from. Tafa’s loss to De Castro was only the fourth fight of his career, so it’s possible his career is going to be short circuited before it even begins. I obviously hope that isn’t the case and there’s fighters like Alistair Overeem who can take those type of blows and come back just fine. The issue is that Overeem appears to be the exception.
Rostem Akman: There wasn’t a lot to take out of Akman’s performance. He isn’t a great athlete. That ended up really being highlighted against the uber-athletic Jake Matthews. He isn’t a particularly skilled striker either as he let Matthews outstrike him handily and Matthews isn’t known for outpointing opponents on the feet. Overall, it just doesn’t seem like he has the skills to fight in the UFC.
Maki Pitolo: I’d say nobody had a more disappointing evening than Pitolo. The UFC did everything in their power to gift wrap the Hawaiian a victory in giving him Potter and Pitolo found a way to piss it away. I’m not going to fault him for not being able to KO Potter. He launched some bombs that Potter ate. But the lack of defense? The inability to push off the undersized Potter from the cage? Pitolo completely flushed away a golden opportunity.
Zarah Fairn dos Santos: For about 15 seconds, it looked like dos Santos might have been able to pull off the first upset of the night, putting Anderson on the ropes off the bat. Anderson recovered, took the fight to the ground, and dos Santos was never really in the fight again. Even worse, dos Santos ended up being submitted by a fighter whom many considered to have one of the worst ground games in the organization. Even if Anderson has committed herself to improving that aspect, it’s still not a good look for dos Santos.
Nadia Kassem: Though there isn’t a lot of positive to take out of Kassem’s performance, it could be argued she has improved quite a bit. That’s how raw the young Aussie is. Nonetheless, though she showed some needed aggressiveness, there was also recklessness aplenty as Kassem didn’t connect on nearly enough of her strikes in addition to allowing Kim to easily counter her. Kassem has enough physical skills she could be an action fighting mainstay, but I don’t see that coming if she remains with her current camp.
Bruno Silva: I’d been hearing a lot about Silva’s living with Henry Cejudo and how the double-champ was rubbing off on him. I don’t buy that. Otherwise, Artem Lobov would be a world beater. I’m not going to say Silva didn’t have some good moments – he controlled Taha for most of the second round – but I didn’t see any major improvements to make me believe Silva is on the fast track to the top the way many of the conversations I heard seemed to indicate.
Referees: I was going to point out several, but figured it was easier to lump them in given there were numerous questionable calls. From the inability to deduct points for multiple shots to the groin to stopping fights at inopportune times to return a mouthpiece, the referees were unable to find any light shed on them in a positive light. Even Marc Goddard, typically one of the best in the business, could be questioned for letting Riddell’s beating of Mullarkey go on as long as it did.
Jake Matthews: I don’t want to rip too badly on Matthews performance as it looks like he wanted to test out his standup, but he should have been able to truck over Akman. What we got was a tepid kickboxing contest that Matthews himself admitted wasn’t very entertaining. In a night where almost all the results had crystal clear winners and losers, Matthews’ performance was forgettable in a way that made it impossible for me to declare him a winner.