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Whittaker: Only fighters can ‘understand’ Adesanya’s performance, but fan ‘backlash’ is his fault

Robert Whittaker says Israel Adesanya’s UFC 276 performance is under appreciated.

UFC 271: Adesanya v Whittaker 2 Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC

Israel Adesanya picked apart Jared Cannonier at UFC 276, extending his unbeaten streak at middleweight and having his fifth successful title defense. The champion was dominant, but there were many fans — and even celebrities from cage side — that criticized his performance.

Robert Whittaker, the former champion who has faced him twice, came to his defense and heavily praised Adesanya’s skills.

“I think Adesanya is the best defensive striker in the game,” Whittaker told Submission Radio. “His body was built for it and he knows how to utilize that skillset to the absolute highest ability.

“And yeah, that’s the sort of fight it was. Adesanya just fought defensively, safe, did what he needed to do to win. And mate, what more can you ask? Like, he got the W that way. I think people are gonna find it very hard to dethrone him, just because of the way he fights and the style.”

Whittaker said Adesanya’s performance can only be fully appreciated by fellow fighters, but says the criticism and fallout from it was basically from him building up unrealistic expectations.

“I guess it wasn’t what he sold it to be,” Whittaker said. “You know, they set up (that) there was gonna be this and that and this and that. Then none of that came through. And that’s always the problem and the risk of talking it up like that.

“There is definitely an element of underappreciation there. Nobody bar the fighters, nobody bar him can truly understand what was going on in there and what was happening,” he said. “And the thing is though, the backlash is from him talking it up. And what do you want? The way they were both speaking on it and then they both just didn’t deliver that – which is fine.

“You know, it’s much easier to handle criticism with a W than an L. And at the end of the day winning is what matters. But you did this to yourself,” Whittaker laughed. “Yeah, you did it to yourself.”

Could Adesanya have turned things up a little more? Definitely. He’s that good. At the same time, prioritizing winning over everything else is also an understandable approach, as millions of dollars are on the line with how UFC champion’s contracts are structured.