MMA fighting

UFC 271 Predictions – MMA Fighting

Israel Adesanya and Robert Whittaker have dutifully gone their own way since their first fight, but as it turns out, all paths have led them back to each other.

For most of the past three years there has really been no doubt as to who the two best middleweights in the world are and they once again have the chance to jockey for the top spot on Saturday when they come up against the main event of the UFC championship. 271 at the Toyota Center in Houston.

Adesanya made short work of Whittaker in their first encounter at UFC 243, completely dominating the action before dropping Whittaker for good in the second round and taking the middleweight belt. A healthy lineup of challengers awaited, so few called for an immediate rematch with Whittaker despite “The Reaper” having a solid resume at 185 pounds. There was even a time when it looked like Adesanya might leave the division without ever facing Whittaker again, although Jan Blachowicz had something to say about Adesanya’s light heavyweight plans.

As Adesanya cleaned up the upper ranks of the middleweight division, Whittaker continued to do damage in his own right, scoring wins over Kelvin Gastelum, Jared Cannonier and Darren Till. The former champion has spoken publicly about how a better understanding of how to take care of his mental health has benefited him while showing the same tenacity and grit in the cage that took him to a UFC title.

Simply put, while neither man was openly campaigning for this rematch, their performances gave the matchmakers no choice but to fire him.

In other main card action, perennial heavyweight contender Derrick Lewis seeks to stave off the rise of Tai Tuivasa, Derek Brunson and Cannonier meet in a contest that will likely determine the next challenger for the middleweight title, Alexander. Hernandez also fights Renato Moicano in such a big lightweight bout for the first preliminaries to contain, and lightweight veteran Bobby Green takes on Nasrat Haqparast.

What: UFC 271

Or: Toyota Center in Houston

When: Saturday February 12. The five-fight prelims begin on ESPN+ at 6 p.m. ET, followed by the four-fight preliminaries on ESPN and ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET. The five-fight main card begins at 10 p.m. ET and is available exclusively on ESPN+ pay-per-view. Bets available on DraftKings Sportsbook.


(Numbers in parentheses indicate that World MMA Fight Rankings)

Israel Adesanya (1) vs. Robert Whittaker (2)

I’m not as convinced as some experts that Israel Adesanya is an unsolvable puzzle for Robert Whittaker. In fact, it would sincerely surprise me if this second meeting went the same way as the first.

Call me a sucker, but I’m buying into the narrative that Whittaker wasn’t himself at UFC 243. It’s not a 20/20 step back either, there were plenty who questioned Whittaker’s aggressive approach against Adesanya at the time it was happening. By the time the bell rang for the fateful second round, it seemed almost inevitable that Whittaker would walk into a sniper shot from Adesanya and that’s exactly what happened. We don’t know if the best version of Whittaker beats the best version of Adesanya, but it wasn’t the best version of Whittaker, which we know based on his appearance before that fight and his performance since.

That said, Adesanya should clearly be favored against any 185er in a standing battle. His kickboxing acumen has translated beautifully into the world of MMA and when you add in his adaptability and absurd counter-strikes, it’s extraordinarily difficult to stand up and trade with him without messing things up first.

Whittaker took to wrestling with passion, so expect him to incorporate that into his offense more than he ever has in the past. The threat of the takedown alone is key to disrupting Adesanya’s rhythm, although getting his butt to the mat is a whole other story. As Adesanya pointed out, Whittaker isn’t the same height as a Jan Blachowicz, so he’ll have a much harder time pressuring Adesanya with his fight.

However, this improved element of Whittaker’s game is a big part of why this match will play out differently, even though the end result will still be in Adesanya’s favor. Look for it to recall Kelvin Gastelum and Marvin Vettori’s falls with Adesanya as the challenger drags the champion down in several entertaining bursts while trying to limit him against the fence.

I doubt Whittaker can control the pace for five rounds and I think there will be too many separating moments where Adesanya separates Whittaker and stings him with precision strikes. It’s Adesanya who will land the most damaging strikes in a fight I expect to go to 25 and he’ll earn a compelling yet competitive decision.

Take: Adesanya

Derrick Lewis (4) vs. Tai Tuivasa (14)

Tai Tuivasa might be ready for a top 5 spot. But I don’t have the guts to call him.

I have seen this story too much. A heavyweight looking to move up the division gets into a fight with Derrick Lewis in the hopes that a victory will reignite their push for a title. Chris Daukaus just went through this process and it didn’t end well for him.

Lewis is simply unassailable when facing all but the most elite competition. It’s not a diving board, it’s a huge jagged rock in the water that many have tripped over and have nothing to say but facial fractures.

You have to like Tuivasa’s attitude though. From his walkouts to his interviews to his (unfortunate) shoe ritual and relaxed fighting style, he’s not someone who’s overwhelmed by the bright lights. That’s a major factor when you face a fighter of Lewis’ caliber in his hometown on pay-per-view. It won’t take much for Tuivasa to win over the crowd, that’s for sure.

Swangin’ and bangin’ was promised and frankly, you don’t mess with the master of this discipline, so this should be a fun, short fight that probably won’t make it past the second round (and that might be a conservative estimate). Lewis falters when he has to play someone else’s game, so if Tuivasa approaches this fight tactfully, he can win; if he just wants to throw some leather, I go with Lewis by first-round knockout.

Take: lewis

Derek Brunson (6) vs. Jared Cannonier (4)

Do we dare to doubt the power of Blonde Brunson?

Maybe it’s the bold choice of hair color or maybe it’s a shift in fighting philosophy, never mind we’ve seen a serious resurgence of Derek Brunson who seemed headed for status keeper before picking up five straight wins, including lopsided victories over Darren Till, Kevin Holland and Edmen Shahbazyan. He’s been a cut above and now he’s one fight away from a well-deserved title shot (and maybe another crack at Israel Adesanya).

And yet I’m going with Jared Cannonier. Like Tai Tuivasa, I still don’t know if Brunson has that mentality to get over the hump when the stakes are at their highest (or close anyway). It’s not fair to judge Brunson on his past failures, but the truth is he didn’t fare well against the top 5 and that’s what Cannonier is.

Outside of a loss to Whittaker, Cannonier has looked like a beast since stepping down from heavyweight, his power remaining as he shed the extra weight. He has some of the best flurries in the division and as smart as Brunson is, I predict Cannonier will catch him. More than one time.

It might not be the first flurry that takes Brunson down, but Cannonier will find that chin enough times to rock his opponent and finish him in the second or third round.

Take: Gunner

Alexander Hernandez vs. Renato Moicano

Alexander Hernandez better be ready for his close-up.

After raising anger in a recent interview with MMA Fighting about his relegation to the early preliminaries, “The Great” was pushed back from the card even further than expected after William Knight vs. Maxim Grishin was demoted due to lack of Knight weight by a UFC record 12 lbs. Now all he has to do is pass one of the toughest outs in the lightweight division.

Renato Moicano has excellent muay thai and top-notch jiu-jitsu. He has a few defensive holes and that’s where Hernandez can take advantage of his explosiveness. Hernandez has become much better at linking his shots, which means he won’t just have to wait for an opening, he can press the action and make Moicano uncomfortable.

Even with pressure, Hernandez should avoid going to the ground at all costs. He can take Moicano down, but playing in Moicano’s guard is a recipe for disaster and Hernandez will suffer his first submission loss if he gets too cute. Instead, it should be a steady regimen of spreading and brawling for Hernandez.

Hernandez has an athletic advantage that will be the difference maker as I see him getting ahead of Moicano and eventually finding a late end via strikes.

Take: Hernandez

Nasrat Haqparast vs. Bobby Green

This lightweight match will be all about speed and hand movement and few are better than Bobby Green in those departments. Nasrat Haqparast is no slouch in hitting and if we’re talking power alone I think Haqparast has a bit more pop in his gloves but it’s rarely just power when you’re dealing with Bobby Green .

The tricky Green is one of the busiest forwards in the division and when he’s not throwing he feints and mocks and generally does whatever he can to break his opponent’s rhythm. Sometimes he did more stances than punches, which could hurt him against Haqparast.

Haqparast has knockout potential in both hands and sharp boxing to put up his heaviest punches, so Green will be at his most evasive, likely turning this one into a chess match on the feet. Again, when it comes to technical and tactical striking, Green beat Haqparast.

Green by decision.

Take: Green

Preliminaries

Andrei Arlovski defeated. Jared Vandera

Casey O’Neill defeated. Roxanne Modafferi

Kyler Phillips defeats. Marcelo Rojo

Carlos Ulberg beats. Fabio Cherant

Ronnie Lawrence beats. Mana Martinez

AJ Dobson beats. Jacob Malkoun

Sergei Morozov defeats. Douglas Silva de Andrade

Blood Diamond defeated. Jeremiah Wells

Maxim Grishin beats. William Knight