Israel Adesanya’s reign as undisputed UFC middleweight champion began on October 6, 2019 when he knocked out Robert Whittaker at the 3:33 mark of Round 2. The two meet in a rematch in a bout that serves as the main event of the UFC 271 pay-per-view card. Despite his dominant win in the first fight, Adesanya is looking to put an end to questions about who is the better fighter when he faces Whittaker for a second time.
One thing Adesanya is using to motivate himself ahead of the rematch is the fact that Whittaker expects to be in a different headspace in February.
“I think I hated him so much, I wore myself out,” Whittaker told ESPN in mid-December. “And now I’ve done a 180 and I don’t hate him anymore; he’s grown on me a little bit. He’s just doing his thing and good on him for that.
“It was more than [just] his comments, I let the fans and everything outside the Octagon get in my head as well. I’m sure I got in my own head a little bit too much; it is what it is.”
“He’s accepted his loss,” Adesanya said on his YouTube page (via MMA Fighting) when speaking about Whittaker’s change in attitude. “He finally admitted that I was in his head, and he was emotional, and I was like, ‘Yeah, you finally admitted what I was saying this whole f-cking time.’ So that makes me take him seriously. He’s accepted that, so that makes me take him seriously that okay, he’s got a point to prove, as well. He’s been training, he’s motivated. That gets me up in the morning to shut him up again worse than the first time. That’s what gets me motivated.”
Adesanya has defended the 185-pound title three times since defeating Whittaker. He has decision wins over Yoel Romero and Marvin Vettori and a TKO win over Paulo Costa in those bouts. He also fought for the UFC light heavyweight crown since he defeated Whittaker, but failed to unseat Jan Blachowicz in that matchup. Whittaker is 3-0 since his loss to Adesanya. The ex-champ has decision wins over Darren Till, Jared Cannonier and Kelvin Gastelum.
UFC 271 takes place at Toyota Center in Houston, Texas on February 12, 2022.