The best sign in Isreal Adesanya's rapid ascent through the UFC is that his most impressive performance, came against his toughest opponent thus far and most recent fight in giving Brad Tavares a hiding. Adesanya's said prior to that fight that he's been 1-outsing Islanders (Tavares is Hawaiian) for a long time and that performance didn't just resemble a hefty 1-outsing, it showcased Adesanya's all-round brilliance in the octagon.
Tomorrow afternoon Aotearoa time, Adesanya again levels up to fight Derek Brunson in the middleweight division. Rankings are a surface-level gauge of where fighters sit in their respective divisions, so don't buzz about rankings here, just know that Brunson is a step up from Tavares and while Brunson doesn't feel like a super-duper contender to Robert Whittaker's reign, this is because Brunson has lost to the best in the division; Ronaldo 'Jacare' Souza, Anderson Silva, Robert Whittaker, Yoel Romero.
Brunson has a strong wrestling background, a better wrestling pedigree than Tavares and Brunson also has heavy hands which will test out Adesanya's defensive nous in sussing out Brunson's raids. We've already seen that Adesanya is slick in wiggling out of takedowns and whether by coincidence or planned out by the UFC, Adesanya has looked his impressive self in three fights against fighters known more for their wrestling than their striking in Rob Wilkinson, Marvin Vettori and Tavares. Sure, Brunson is a step up from the others, yet Adesanya has stepped up brilliantly from fight to fight and my vibe leading into this fight is that Adesanya will repeat the dose and throw himself into the middleweight upper echelon.
However you want to chop this, Adesanya could be better in both aspects of Brunson's game; wrestling and throwing bombs. Vettori was successful in 2 of 6 takedowns vs Adesanya and while Tavares was getting torched by Adesanya's striking, he was successful in 1 of 12 takedowns; takedowns were the 'out' for Tavares, one thing he could try when he was clearly getting out-gunned in striking.
There is a bit of uncertainty though in what Brunson will offer. Brunson's last six wins have come via KO/TKO all through punches and Brunson's power has seen him blast his way through the division, the tricky thing here though is that Brunson's power has also seen him lose as he gets a bit too eager in going in for the kill. This saw him suffer a TKO loss to Whittaker after Brunson lost all structure to his fight, then most recently a KO loss to Souza.
We have seen that Adesanya has the defensive skills to deal with different styles and if there is anything we know for certain about Adesanya, it's that he is a striking wizard. Adesanya is going to pepper Brunson with his full range of strikes, with accuracy and purpose - nothing is wasted when Adesanya is striking.
BloodyElbow did a nice breakdown of an aspect of Adesanya's striking that could be prevalent in this fight, showing how Adesanya's jab lingers in the face of his opponent along with his other strikes or 'sticky punches'. Factor in that Adesanya is taller than Brunson, with greater reach and the jab will again prove pivotal in keeping Brunson on the outer but at the same time allowing Adesanya to sneak in and land elbows, knees, kicks, punches.
The difference in striking here is precision vs power. For Adesanya, his precision is his power and with such a striking background, Adesanya would have seen guys like Brunson many times before. All of this culminates in whether Brunson really wants to go down that route, or if he will place a greater emphasis on takedowns and controlling the fight on the mat. Trading blows with Adesanya doesn't tend to work in your favour.
Ramifications for this fight are massive given that fellow middleweights Chris Weidman and Jacare are on the same card fighting each other. Luke Rockhold was meant to fight Weidman, but pulled out and as Adesanya stated many times this week - who ever wins in the most spectacular fashion, is likely to get a title shot vs Whittaker. For Adesanya that means a mouth-watering 'Wallaby vs All Black' fight against Whittaker in Auckland (or Australia), such narratives that we can explore after Sunday evening.
For now, Adesanya faces a better version of Tavares with KO power. A level up in all regards, but another opportunity for Adesanya to dismantle his opponent through his varied and lethal striking. We may learn more about Adesanya's ground game in this fight, which will be the main thing to pay attention to from our #KiwiUFC perch and if Adesanya can again prove himself to be defensively sound, Adesanya could take Brunson into deep waters with his weaponry of strikes.
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Peace and love 27.