The Real Winners and Losers from UFC 243
Drop the interim tag: Israel Adesanya is now undisputed. In a packed Marvel Stadium in Melbourne for UFC 243 on Saturday, Adesanya knocked out Robert Whittaker in the second round to unify the UFC middleweight championship and ascend to the top of the promotion.
Adesanya's counter hooks were devastatingly accurate. Whittaker came in hot but ate the clean returns. Now he holds the gold and will lead the middleweight division into 2020 as one of the most marketable in the sport.
In the co-main event, Dan Hooker swept the scorecards against Al Iaquinta. Distance management and clean strikes allowed him to cruise to the victory. But did he really win?
That is what we are here to determine. We will look at UFC 243 from a different perspective to determine who the real winners and losers are coming out of Melbourne. Those fighters who lost more than a fight or picked up even more than a victory.
Shall we begin?
Winner: Israel Adesanya & the UFC's Pursuit of a New Star
Israel Adesanya has backed up everything he has said and then some. In the process, he has gained a position as one of the UFC's biggest stars. After his second-round KO of Robert Whittaker, the sky is the limit.
The UFC searches for new stars all the time, but the sport is brutal. It will invest in someone with a high ceiling, only to see them come up short in fights. It is difficult to predict who will take the mantle of stardom. When Adesanya arrived, the promotion saw his potential. And now he has won the title—in dominant fashion—it can celebrate having another bankable star.
Perhaps even more important is that Adesanya has global appeal.
A Nigerian-born New Zealander who has charisma for days. He appeals to the North American audiences with his brashness. He gets a lot of love from his homeland and Australia. And should the UFC decide to go to Africa, Adesanya will be a star there too along with other notable fighters with African backgrounds like Francis Ngannou and Kamaru Usman.
On the world stage, this could not have been any better for Adesanya and the UFC.
Loser: Robert Whittaker
Deeming Robert Whittaker a loser is not a criticism. Bobby Knuckles is one of the best middleweight champions we have seen, and he has given us all incredible fights.
Whittaker is a loser because the fashion of the fight's ending will, unfortunately, be unkind to the perception. History sometimes forgets incredible fighters, and Whittaker may be on that path in the eyes of the larger casual fanbase.
Whittaker was unheralded coming up through the ranks. He got the interim title while Michael Bisping, with a huge fanbase, sat on the sidelines. When Georges St-Pierre won the middleweight title, he chose not to unify it with Whittaker. Instead, Whittaker took another fight against Yoel Romero that lacked name value for the casual audience.
After UFC 225, Whittaker was once again gone for more than a year. In the shadows, away from the consciousness of fans.
The biggest fight in Australia's MMA history was set, and it was his opportunity to shine. He did not have to win, but a five-round war would have won over a lot of those who had forgotten him. Instead, Adesanya dominated the action on the feet and put him away within two rounds.
The hardcore fans will still ride with Whittaker—as they should. But the audience that makes stars will disregard what he has accomplished. At 28, he is still young and will have the opportunity to right the wrong, but in the immediate aftermath, it is a massive blow.
It's an unfortunate reality.
It was billed as the biggest fight event in Australia's history, but the reach of the event extended beyond Melbourne. This night was about all of Oceania.
The audience poured in for the Australia vs. New Zealand title fight between Whittaker and Adesanya, but native sons and daughters helped to fill out the card out from top to bottom. As MMA Junkie reported, the crowd was the largest in UFC history, with more than 57,000 in attendance.
The fans showed up and put on a display to highlight how much the sport has grown from the days of Elvis Sinosic, who laid the groundwork for those who followed.
Adesanya's star power will only get bigger after the incredible victory, and it will only help to grow MMA in Oceania, both in terms of future athletes and with its audience. Where other nations may get visits from the UFC with low-level Fight Nights, Australia is becoming a destination for megafights.
Ronda Rousey vs. Holly Holm. Whittaker vs. Adesanya. They will not be the last. Marvel Stadium will play host to more major title fights in the future. Oceania has developed into a hotbed for the UFC, and the fans continue to build it up.
It is a destination for big fights, and fans are going to continue to be treated to amazing bouts for the foreseeable future.
Loser: Dan Hooker
If not for the post-fight interview, Dan Hooker may not have checked in on the loser list.
The fight itself was lackluster. It wasn't expressly bad, but it was nothing memorable. Hooker breezed past Al Iaquinta on the scorecards. Iaquinta couldn't get inside the range to threaten Hooker. The win moves Hooker forward in the division, but it wasn't a performance that got anyone thinking about him being a contender.
That is disappointing given he has a 6-1 record at lightweight.
Then came the post-fight interview. Fighters calling their shots is a great thing. More fighters need to do it. So why was Hooker's bad? Because it was done under the guise of trash talk and felt unauthentic.
Hooker called out Dustin Poirier to meet him in New Zealand in 2020, saying he would "bust his face up." That is a stellar fight at 155 pounds, but Hooker should leave the histrionics to those who are good at them. It was almost comical how fake it was, and Hooker almost smiled enough to break character.
It wasn't the best fight. Nor was it a memorable call-out. The good news is he is a good fighter who made a call-out that will lead to a hell of a fight.
Loser: Tai Tuivasa
Sergey Spivak was not supposed to win this one. He was here to rehab Tai Tuivasa and give the exciting scrapper an emphatic win. The message never got to Spivak.
Tuivasa did a lot of things poorly in this fight, but nothing was worse than giving Spivak the arm-triangle choke to finish the contest.
As Tuivasa was down on the canvas, Spivak landed heavy ground-and-pound. Spivak took the open space and got an arm-triangle. But he was trapped against the fence and couldn't pass to finish—until Tuivasa inexplicably shifted his body away from the cage. That gave his opponent the space to move to side control and tighten the choke. Tuivasa went to sleep.
This loss was extremely damaging for Tuivasa. If anyone had hopes he could move back into contention, those were dashed with how he performed in one of the most favorable matchups the UFC could have given him. And to show the lack of technical awareness was even more damning.
A brutal loss all the way around.
Winner: Megan Anderson
Cris Cyborg is no longer in the UFC, but the organization has not shut the doors to the featherweight division. That meant, despite recent poor performances, this was a huge fight for Megan Anderson.
She did exactly what she needed to do.
Anderson has long been considered one of the next top fighters at 145. She has shown flashes of top-end skills and matured as a competitor. Her grappling deficiencies have been an issue, but featherweight is such a shallow division that she was never too far out from a potential title fight. She just needs finishes.
Against Zarah Fairn dos Santos, Anderson got a triangle choke in under four minutes.
The submission highlighted that she is trying to address her issues. The win highlighted that she is still one of the top options at featherweight. Should the UFC thrust her into a fight against Amanda Nunes? No, but it should continue to invest in Anderson as a potential threat to that crown.
With Cyborg out of the way, Anderson is right on the doorstep. Her UFC 243 finish got her back on track.
UFC 243 Full Card Results
UFC 243 Main Card
- UFC Middleweight Championship: Israel Adesanya def. Robert Whittaker by KO at 3:33 of the second round.
- Dan Hooker def. Al Iaquinta by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-26).
- Sergey Spivak def. Tai Tuivasa via technical submission (arm-triangle choke) at 3:14 of the second round.
- Dhiego Lima def. Luke Jumeau by split decision (28-29, 29-28, 29-28).
- Yorgan de Castro def. Justin Tafa by KO at 2:10 of the first round.
- Jake Matthews def. Rostem Akman by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27).
- Callan Potter def. Maki Pitolo by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28).
- Brad Riddell def. Jamie Mullarkey by unanimous decision (29-27, 30-26, 30-26).
- Megan Anderson def. Zarah Fairn dos Santos via submission (triangle choke) at 3:57 of the first round.
UFC Fight Pass Prelims
- Ji Yeon Kim def. Nadia Kassem by TKO at 4:59 of the second round.
- Khalid Taha def. Bruno Gustavo Aparecido da Silva via submission (arm-triangle choke) at 3:00 of the third round.