UFC 271: Previewing Adesanya-Whittaker 2 and the Rest of the Card

Tom Taylor@@TomTayMMAContributor IIJanuary 31, 2022

UFC 271: Previewing Adesanya-Whittaker 2 and the Rest of the Card

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    UFC 271, the promotion's second pay-per-view of 2022, is less than two weeks away, and excitement is starting to build.   

    The card, which goes down on February 11 in Houston, will be topped by a middleweight title rematch between reigning champion Israel Adesanya, and the man he knocked out to win the belt back in 2019, Robert Whittaker. The pair fight out of New Zealand and Australia respectively, and will not be the only fighters from the Oceanic region fighting on the card.

    In the co-main event, Whittaker's fellow Aussie Tai Tuivasa will take the toughest test of his career when he steps into the Octagon with Houstonian heavyweight Derrick Lewis — who holds the record for most knockouts in UFC history.

    The card will also feature a high-stakes middleweight showdown between top-ranked contenders Derek Brunson and Jared Cannonier, which could earn the winner a crack at the title. Beyond that, the lineup will feature appearances from a mix of veterans, contenders and rising prospects alike. 

    Keep scrolling for a crash course on the card's most compelling scraps.

    UFC 271 Main Card (ESPN+ pay-per-view, 10:00 pm ET)

    Israel Adesanya vs. Robert Whittaker

    Derrick Lewis vs. Tai Tuivasa

    Jared Cannonier vs. Derek Brunson

    Kyler Phillips vs. Marcelo Rojo

    Bobby Green vs. Nasrat Haqparast

    UFC 271 Prelims (ESPN+, 8:00 pm ET)

    Andrei Arlovski vs. Jared Vanderaa

    Alex Perez vs. Matt Schnell

    Casey O’Neill vs. Roxanne Modafferi

    Carlos Ulberg vs. Fabio Cherant

    Ed Herman vs. Maxim Grishin

    UFC 271 Early Prelims (UFC Fight Pass, 6:00 pm ET)

    Mana Martinez vs. Ronnie Lawrence

    Alexander Hernandez vs. Renato Moicano

    AJ Dobson vs. Jacob Malkoun

    Douglas Silva de Andrade vs. Sergey Morozov

    Jeremiah Wells vs. Mike Diamond

Israel Adesanya (21-1) vs. Robert Whittaker (23-5)

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    The first time Israel Adesanya and Robert Whittaker met; the outcome was pretty decisive. Adesanya lit his rival up to a second-round knockout win, usurping the throne in the process. 

    It was a bit of a disappointing showing from Whittaker. The Aussie entered the cage with Adesanya on a nine-fight win streak, and had recently survived two grueling wars with the terrifying Yoel Romero. People just expected a little more from him. 

    In the UFC 271 main event, the Aussie will have the opportunity to prove he's capable of more. He earned that opportunity with a trio of decision victories over Darren Till, Jared Cannonier, and Kelvin Gastelum, three of the most dangerous fighters in the division.

    There's plenty of reason to believe Whittaker will perform better this time around. He's looked better than ever in his last three fights, even if finishes have eluded him. Adesanya, on the other hand, has looked increasingly vulnerable, particularly in his early 2021 decision loss to Jan Blachowicz at light heavyweight and his subsequent decision victory over Marvin Vettori back at middleweight, throughout which he was taken down seven times. Whittaker is a great striker, and one of the best wrestlers in the division, and could conceivably beat Adesanya any number of ways. 

    Then again, the champion is the favorite for a reason. He made Whittaker look average the first time they met, and has found a way to win 21 of his 22 mixed martial arts bouts, defeating the likes of Derek Brunson, Anderson Silva, Gastelum, Whittaker, Romero, Paulo Costa, and Marvin Vettori (twice). Outside of his lone loss to the much bigger Blachowicz, which was fairly competitive, he's looked just about unbeatable.

    Will it be another decisive win for the champ? An upset for the former king? Or will we get the competitive scrap many fans expected the first time these two titans of the middleweight division met in the Octagon? We'll just have to wait and see.

Derrick Lewis (26-8) vs. Tai Tuivasa (14-3)

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    Jeff Bottari/Getty Images

    Derrick Lewis is always must-watch television. Inside the Octagon, he's feared for his staggering knockout power, which he's used to thump the likes of Alexander Volkov, Curtis Blaydes, Aleksei Oleinik, and most recently, Chris Daukaus. Outside the Octagon, he's loved for his personality, and his habit of delivering memorable lines at press conferences and in interviews.

    It's hard to imagine a better dance partner for Lewis than Australia's Tai Tuivasa.

    While the Aussie hasn't picked up quite as many knockout wins as Lewis—nobody in UFC history has—he's proven that he has plenty of power himself, snuffing the likes of Stefan Struve, Greg Hardy and Augusto Sakai. He's never shown any reluctance to brawl either, and that's unlikely to change against Lewis. Tuivasa is also adored for his personality outside the cage, having shooeyed his way into the hearts of fans the world over (if you still don't know what a shooey is at this point, we can't help you).

Other Attractions: Derek Brunson's Title Run

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    Jeff Bottari/Getty Images

    At the end of 2018, it looked like Derek Brunson (23-7) had hit his ceiling. He'd beaten some good guys, but after back-to-back losses to Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza and Anderson Silva, he looked like he was destined for gatekeeper status heading into 2019. 

    At the start of 2022, he's probably one win away from his first shot at the UFC middleweight title. Since his losses to Souza and Silva, he's won five consecutive fights. He's looked particularly good in his last three, battering Edmen Shahbazyan to a TKO, grinding Kelvin Gastelum to a decision, and suffocating Darren Till to a submission. 

    If Brunson gets by Jared Cannonier (14-5) at UFC 271, his claim to a title shot against the Adesanya-Whittaker winner will be just about undeniable. But it won't be easy. Cannonier, who previously fought at heavyweight and light heavyweight, is riding an impressive decision win over Kelvin Gastelum, which separated him from a decision loss to Whittaker. We haven't seen him stop anyone in a while, but he's proven he's very capable of doing so, with finishes in 11 of his 14 victories. And if he's able to derail Brunson's win streak in February, he could conceivably earn a title shot himself.

    The stakes of this fight are massive, and the outcome couldn't be less certain.

Best of the Rest

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    Jeff Bottari/Getty Images

    Andre Arlovski (32-20) vs. Jared Vanderaa (12-6) 

    Andrei Arlovski is an ageless wonder. The 42-year-old Belarusian made his UFC debut in November of 2000, right after George W. Bush defeated Al Gore in the presidential election. Almost 22 years later, he is still fighting in the Octagon—and winning. When he steps into the cage with Jared Vanderaa on the UFC 271 undercard, he'll be looking for his third consecutive victory, after beating Chase Sherman and Carlos Felipe by decision last year.

    You never know with heavyweight fights, but this looks like a very surmountable challenge for Arlovski. Vanderaa has gone 2-2 in his four fights, and frankly doesn't look like he'll amount to much. Time will tell if the aging veteran can turn back the clock once again. 

    Roxanne Modafferi (25-19) vs. Casey O'Neill (8-0)

    This is going to be a great fight.

    Roxanne Modafferi, the UFC's No. 12-ranked flyweight, is one of the most experienced fighters in women's MMA, and remains a tough challenge for all but the division's best fighters. On the UFC 271 undercard, she'll meet the undefeated Casey O'Neill, who is one of the most impressive young contenders in the division.

    It's a classic veteran versus prospect scrap, and it's going to tell us a ton about where both women stand in the division at this stage of their respective careers.

    Carlos Ulberg (3-1) vs. Fabio Cherant (7-3)

    When Carlos Ulberg earned a UFC contract with a knockout win over Bruno Oliveira on Dana White's Contender Series, it looked like he was destined for big things. The kick-boxing specialist, a training partner of UFC middleweight champ Israel Adesanya, was clearly dangerous, and had looks and personality to boot. Then he was battered to a second-round knockout by Kennedy Nzechukwu in his UFC debut. 

    On the UFC 271 undercard, Ulberg will have the chance to redeem himself against Fabio Cherant. The American is on a losing streak, having been submitted by Alonzo Menifield and knocked out by William Knight in his last two fights, but he has proven himself to be a slick submission specialist when things are going his way. Don't take any bathroom breaks during this one.