The Ultimate Fighting Championship returned Saturday to a sold-out Toyota Center in Houston, Texas for another raucous night of MMA action. The pay-per-view main card delivered with gruesome wars and dramatic knockouts, and culminated with a five-round battle for the middleweight championship.
The main event slot drew a rematch of UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya (22-1) and Robert Whittaker (23-5). Their first meeting took place in Melbourne, Australia in October 2019 and was the most attended event in the promotion’s history. Despite the massive home-field advantage, Whittaker succumbed to a vicious Adesanya knockout and lost his belt.
Having earned himself another crack at Adesanya with an impressive string of three wins against top contenders, Whittaker looked to avenge both his championship and losing in front of scores of his compatriots.
Adesanya entered UFC 271 on a streak of his own — three dominant title defenses at 185, with each win serving as a showcase of improvements from the last. Sharing the Octagon once again with his fellow Oceanic rival, Adesanya aimed to leave little doubt to his status as champ.
Adesanya came out sharp in the first round, maintaining a strategic distance between himself and the dogged Whittaker. Adesanya began investing early in an onslaught of low leg kicks, and punctuated the round by dropping Whittaker in the final minute.
Whittaker improved in the second and third rounds, where he made use of a stinging uppercut when the two entered the pocket. Whittaker also employed his ground game, landing two takedowns in that span.
Whittaker may have been able to find gaps in Adesanya’s takedown defense, but the champ’s improvements in the wrestling department were evident. A critical element to his failed title bid at light heavyweight against then-champion Jan Błachowicz (28-9) last year, Adesanya proved he could escape Whittaker after being taken down, avoiding any damage and long stretches of control time.
The bout became closer when Whittaker turned up the heat on Adesanya in the fourth and fifth rounds from both the feet and in grappling exchanges. Whittaker continued to out-land the champion in head strikes with help from his uppercut, and had a legitimate choke attempt as he straddled Adesanya’s back in the fourth.
Despite Whittaker’s late surge, the judges unanimously favored Adesanya, for they had him the victor of three rounds, or four in the case of one scorecard. Easily Adesanya’s most spirited title defense yet, “The Last Stylebender” nevertheless excelled.
Winning earlier on the main card was Jared Cannonier (15-5), whose brutal stoppage of Derek Brunson (23-8) makes him Adesanya’s clear-cut next opponent.
UFC 271’s co-main event featured two colossal power threats in Derrick Lewis (26-9, 1 NC) and Tai Tuivasa (15-3). Lewis, the all-time UFC knockout leader, met an equally dangerous Tuivasa, who entered the bout on a four-fight knockout streak.
Lewis got back into the win column in December with a first-round knockout of Chris Daukaus (12-4) — the first win since his defeat in the interim title bout against Ciryl Gane (10-1) last year in his hometown of Houston. On Saturday, Lewis looked to return to the title picture and redeem himself in front of his home crowd.
Tuivasa burst onto the heavyweight scene with a combination of flashy knockouts and post-fight antics that quickly made him a fan favorite. Tuivasa’s signature celebration includes climbing atop the cage and drinking a beer from a shoe, adding the term “shoey” to the vocabulary of every UFC fan.
A fight destined to stay out of the hands of the judges, Lewis and Tuivasa began with both men displaying reverence for each other’s power. As he had hinted in the leadup to the fight, Lewis showed a willingness to wrestle, and scored takedowns of Tuivasa using a slick inside trip, and later a hip throw. Lewis used the positions to drop bombs, but Tuivasa’s chin and clinch defense held up enough to surive to the horn.
Round two saw Tuivasa engage with more kicks, with Lewis looking to counter. Lewis threw caution to the wind and rushed in and caught Tuivasa flush with multiple uppercuts. The strikes hurt Tuivasa as he scrambled in retreat toward the fence. Lewis followed him there, keeping up his pressure with a massive knee as the pair reached the fence.
Tuivasa flipped the script with his back against the fence by throwing counters and refusing to be put down. Soon, Tuivasa reversed the position and began to tee off on Lewis. An all-out brawl had begun.
As the two separated, Tuivasa landed a big right and, entering the pocket again, put Lewis on wobbly legs with a sharp left. Tuivasa pounced, pinning Lewis upright against the cage. From there he cocked back and threw a punishing right elbow that sent a slumped Lewis face first into the canvas.
Entering the night at number 11 in the heavyweight rankings, Tuivasa’s clean knockout propelled him to steal Lewis’ number three by night’s end. “Bam Bam” is now cemented in the upper echelon of the most prolific division, and could draw any one of the top five in his next outing.
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