UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya retained his title against former champion Robert Whittaker by unanimous decision in Houston.
New Zealand-based Nigerian Adesanya previously knocked out Whittaker in the second round at UFC 243 in October 2019 to capture the undisputed middleweight title in Melbourne.
But in Saturday’s rematch at UFC 271 in Texas, Whittaker fought to a much more conservative gameplan, which kept him in the contest all the way to the judges’ scorecards.
After their tightly-contested title bout at the Toyota Center went the distance, all three judges were in agreement on the victor and Adesanya was awarded the unanimous decision with scores of 48-47, 48-47, 49-46.
Adesanya, 32, dropped Whittaker, 31, with a straight shot in the opening minutes of the bout, and the challenger cut a somewhat demoralised figure on his stool after the first round as he told his corner how much trouble the champion’s leg kicks had already caused him.
But for the remainder of the bout Whittaker looked to keep Adesanya guessing as he worked behind a well-drilled double jab and mixed in takedown attempts to keep himself in contention.
However, it was Adesanya’s cleaner striking from range that proved crucial as he hammered the challenger’s legs with kicks throughout the contest and effectively nullified Whittaker’s offence on the ground to improve his record to 21-1 and extend his undefeated run as a middleweight.
“I knew he was going to bring everything, because last time I took everything away from him,” Adesanya told former UFC champion Daniel Cormier during his post-fight interview.
“So, he had nothing to lose. And like I said, I’m the champ. Come get it.”
Adesanya went on to state his intention to return to action in June against middleweight contender Jared Cannonier, who scored an impressive win of his own in Houston.
“I know June doesn’t have a pay-per-view yet, but like I said, I’m the new dog in the yard, I’m the big dog in the yard now. And I know the other dog, Jared Cannonier, did some work tonight.”
Whittaker, meanwhile, was left disappointed after thinking he’d done enough to recapture the title.
“I know I started off rocky in that first round, but I feel like I took every round after that,” he said.
“It is what it is, but you know what they say about leaving it to the judges.
“I’m happy that I fought my heart out and left it here. But, I’m gutted. I thought I did enough. I thought I took that.”