LAS VEGAS — After Marvin Vettori took apart Kevin Holland on April 10, there was a lot of speculation that the Italian deserved the next crack at the UFC’s middleweight title.
But a week later in the same cage, Robert Whittaker seemed to, at least for the moment, end Vettori’s dreams. Whittaker outclassed Kelvin Gastelum and scored a unanimous decision, winning by a count of 50-45 on all three cards Saturday at Apex.
UFC president Dana White, who did not attend Saturday’s show, told Yahoo Sports by text that an Adesanya-Whittaker rematch “makes sense.”
And while no one can belittle Vettori’s accomplishments, it doesn’t nearly match Whittaker’s. In his last three fights, Vettori has defeated Karl Roberson, Jack Hermansson and Holland. Whittaker has beaten Darren Till, Jared Cannonier and Gastelum.
With all due respect, that’s like comparing the heart of the Dodgers’ order to that of the Pirates. There is no comparison.
“I’ve fought nothing but No. 1 contender fights,” Whittaker said.
Whittaker showed yet again why he’s one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world, able to fight and excel in any position. His striking carried the day in this fight, as he was extremely accurate and busting Gastelum up repeatedly.
He mixed in just enough kicks, particularly high kicks to the head, that Gastelum could never be comfortable. When Gastelum was aggressive, Whittaker would counter him perfectly. He threw brilliant combinations and even used a bit of his wrestling.
It was a performance reminiscent of his championship days, as he was on top in all facets.
“I’m a little sore, because that was a hard fight,” Whittaker said. “
He looked surprisingly off-kilter in his loss to Adesanya and was knocked out in the second round. “This fight, I expected it would go this way. It was a hard fight; he’s a hard fight.”
It’s a defeat that has haunted him since and one he deserves the opportunity to avenge. He’s won 12 of his last 13 and has beaten a who’s who of the best middleweights in the world. Among his victims, in addition to Till, Cannonier and Gastelum, were Yoel Romero twice, Ronaldo Souza, Uriah Hall and Derek Brunson, among others.
No one in the division other than Adesanya has a résumé even approaching Whittaker’s. Vettori’s passion and charge up the rankings is a compelling story, and in many divisions, it would be enough to earn him the shot.
The other option here would be to have Whittaker face Vettori in a contender’s match, but that wouldn’t be fair to Whittaker, who has done everything asked of him, and more.
“I like Marvin, but he still has some things to do,” Whittaker said. “He hasn’t faced those guys in the top three, even top five yet.”
Adesanya-Whittaker II is the fight to make, with perhaps Vettori facing No. 2 Paulo Costa. That would then set up a little tournament, as it would pit the division’s top four against each other in matches with high stakes.
Whittaker has a lot of distance to cover to change the outcome of the fight, but Jan Blachowicz, the UFC’s light heavyweight champion, may have given him a blueprint on March 6 when he defeated Adesanya in a light heavyweight title fight.
Blachowicz won the fight with takedowns in the final two rounds, keeping Adesanya on his back for long stretches in both stanzas.
Wrestling is one of Whittaker’s strengths, and it’s an area where he legitimately could change the look of the fight.
Adesanya isn’t an easy guy to get to the ground, and he’ll doubtlessly work hard on his wrestling knowing that his future foes will have watched the Blachowicz fight and attempt to seize on that.
Whittaker said before the fight that if he gets the rematch, he has something up his sleeve for Adesanya. Asked if he felt in the rematch he needed to mix in wrestling more, Whittaker was coy.
“It wouldn’t be a secret if I told you, would it,” he said. “ ... I do know I will give the fight the attention it deserves and needs. I’ll speak to my team to see what we need to do and I’ll work as hard as I can.”
He said he’ll be ready to fight again by the fall, and said he hoped for a packed stadium in New Zealand for the rematch.
Wherever it lands, the fight needs to happen. These two guys at this point have lapped the field and a rematch is one of the sport’s most compelling bouts.
Nothing else at this point makes much sense.
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