Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returns to the pay-per-view (PPV) business later tonight (Sat., Oct. 5, 2019) to stage UFC 243 from inside Marvel Stadium in Melbourne, Australia. The event will be headlined by a title unification match as Middleweight kingpin, Robert Whittaker, defends his belt against interim champion, Israel Adesanya. In the co-headlining act, Al Iaquinta and Dan Hooker throw down in a battle of top-ranked Lightweights.
Robert Whittaker has proven to be the best 185-pounder on the planet. The problem is, he hasn’t fought in so long it’s easy to see why some — Israel Adesanya, included — may think otherwise. Indeed, since winning the interim belt in mid-2017 — which was eventually turned into the undisputed belt — “The Reaper” didn’t fight again until one year later at UFC 225. It was supposed to be a championship rematch against Yoel Romero, but when “Soldier of God” missed weight, the bout was turned into a non-title fight.
That fight was in June 2018, and Whittaker hasn’t competed since, meaning he hasn’t defended his belt since winning it more than two years ago. Obviously, it’s through no fault of his own, as injuries and medical scares have forced him to sit out longer than he would have liked.
That said, when Whittaker does compete, he is as legit and dangerous as they come, winning all eight of his fights at 185 pounds since moving up four years ago. Now, he will finally get the chance to defend his title against a fast-rising star that is determined to be an active champion should he get the belt.
Adesanya isn’t shy on confidence, as he isn’t afraid to tell you how great he is any chance he gets. He knows he’s good, and he’s proven it time and again, going undefeated so far in his MMA career (17-0), which includes winning all six of his UFC fights. In fact, four of those victories came in the span of just 10 months. Making his debut in Feb. 2018, “The Last Stylebender” has risen through the ranks in a quick and exciting manner, putting on memorable performances night in and night out.
His progression took him to his first-ever UFC title fight earlier this year against Kelvin Gastelum at UFC 236. Though it wasn’t an easy win by any means, it was great to see Adesanya fight through adversity for the first time inside the Octagon to get the hard-earned win. He’s tried his best to get under Whittaker’s skin with digs at his inconsistent fight schedule, but trying to rattle the Aussie is like trying to rattle the real grim reaper ... you just can’t.
Whittaker will be the biggest test of his young MMA career, so it behooves him to stop worrying about the champion in a weight class above him (or two weight classes, for that matter) and stay focused on the task at hand. Because while Whittaker may have a little ring rust to start, his hands are as heavy as they come and can put anyone to sleep once he gets it going.
If we’re going to keep it real, this card is not PPV worthy. Sure, the cancelation of the bout between Holly Holm and Raquel Pennington brought it down a few notches, but even then the fight card wasn’t exactly stacked. It’s easy to see that once UFC made its deal with ESPN the PPV events haven't exactly been stellar month after month. And that can be attributed to the fact that UFC gets paid by “The Worldwide Leader In Sports” regardless of how well (or how bad) the event does on ESPN+.
On the flip side of that coin, there have been some decent PPV events, but I would like to see the promotion spread the wealth. Take UFC 245 for example: that event will have three major title fights. While I’m hardly complaining about that, why not spread it out a bit more evenly so that you avoid having stinkers like this one. Max Holloway vs. Alexander Volkanovski would’ve been a great addition to this card. UFC 244, meanwhile, doesn’t even have an actual title fight on it.
Original Card Vs. Actual Card:
Holly Holm and Raquel Pennington were set to run it back as the co-headlining act, but after “The Preacher’s Daughter” came down with an injury a little more than two weeks from fight night, the bout was canceled and Al Iaquinta vs. Dan Hooker was promoted to co-main event.
Other than Holm’s bad hamstring, no other injuries were reported for this card, which is great because it is already thin when it comes to major star power.
There will be seven newcomers for this event, as UFC is giving a lot of local talent their time to shine. Let’s go over a brief rundown of all the new combatants. But to get a more-detailed and precise look at all of the UFC rookies, click here to read Patrick L. Stumberg’s “New Blood” piece.
Undefeated (5-0) Heavyweight Yorgan de Castro will look to capitalize on his chance to shine in his official debut after earning his spot with a win on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series (DWTNCS). The African-born fighter can rest a bit easy knowing that the man standing across from him will also be making his Octagon debut, as he will face Australia’s own, Justin Tafa, who is just 3-0 so far in his pro MMA career. Of their combined eight wins, seven of them have come by knockout, so if you’re betting on someone going to sleep in this fight, your chances of cashing out are pretty good. Perhaps that's why these two UFC rookies got a prime slot on the PPV main card.
Maki Pitolo will look to pump some more blood into an already-stacked Welterweight division, as the former Bellator fighter looks to make his mark inside the Octagon. Maki, who hails from Hawaii, is riding a three-fight win streak which includes a first round knockout win on DWTNCS just two months ago. Standing in his way will be Callan Potter, who failed to make a splash in his first-ever UFC fight at UFC 234, losing via first-round knockout.
Brad Riddell — who fights out of New Zealand — will look for his fourth-straight win as he faces fellow newcomer Jamie Mullarky. Fighting out of the famed Tiger Muay Thai camp, Brad obviously prefers to bang it out on the feet, as four of his five wins have came by way of stoppage via strikes. Mullarky — another Australian — will look to keep his hot streak going by trying to score consecutive win number five. Interestingly enough, Jamie’s first-ever loss came to top Featherweight contender, Alexander Volkanovski, a few years back.
Zarah Fairn dos Santos will look to add some much-needed depth to the women’s Featherweight division as she is set to face Megan Anderson in “Prelims” action. Zarah hasn’t competed in nearly two years, so we’ll see how ring rust plays a factor. But it’s interesting to see just how far down the fight card Anderson — a former Invicta FC champion — has fallen.
How The “Prelims” Look:
Let’s stick with Megan Anderson here, who will face a newcomer in her fourth UFC fight. Perhaps Anderson falling down so far in the order has to do with the fact that she hasn’t quite lived up to expectations since making her UFC debut in mid-2018. After losing to Holly Holm in her first bout, Anderson picked up a win over Cat Zingano, which can be attributed to a freak injury “Alpha” sustained when Anderson's toe went right into her eye. In her third UFC fight, Anderson was completely outclassed by Felicia Spencer, bringing her to 1-2 so far inside the Octagon. Megan needs a big win here if she wants to avoid falling even further down.
Jake Mathews will look to get back into the winner’s circle when he faces Rostem Akman. Who, you ask? Akman came up short in his UFC debut earlier this year, losing to Sergey Khandozhko in Stockholm. Prior to that, he had won his first six pro fights. But it’s understandable that you may not know who he is, as he hasn’t quite made a mark yet.
Nadia Kassem looks to start another win streak after suffering the first loss of her career at UFC 234 when she battles Ji Yeon Kim, while Khalid Taha takes on Bruno Silva in a Bantamweight fight. It’s not exactly earth-shaking stuff when it comes to the underbelly, but click here and here to get a deeper look.
Who Needs A Win Badly:
Tai Tuivasa started his career with eight straight wins — seven of them via knockout — including winning his first three UFC bouts. But since his win over Andrei Arlovski, “Bam Bam” has dropped two straight, one to Junior dos Santos via knockout, and the other a decision loss to Blagoy Ivanaov.
Look, the 265-pound division isn’t exactly loaded with big name talent, so letting go of a decent contender like Tai won’t happen if he drops his third-straight fight. But he still wants to avoid digging himself into a deeper hole if he wants to get the big fights. As a result of his skid, no longer is he facing former world champions, but he now has to climb his way back up against the likes of Serghei Spivac, who doesn't have a UFC win under his belt.
Interest level: 6.5/10
Sorry, but I simply can’t give the overall event a higher score than that. Yes, the headlining bout should be fire and it will likely deliver. But the rest of the card is lacking. I hate to beat a dead horse, but the promotion needs to do better to construct these cards. If you want people to pay $60, make it worth the price.
The co-main event between Iaquinta and Hooker will be interesting. Iaquinta has had somewhat of a rough patch over his last three outings, losing to Khabib Nurmagomedov and Donald Cerrone, while scoring a win over Kevin Lee in between. He is still a force at 155 pounds, but he needs to remind fans of that with a dominant performance this evening.
Hooker, meanwhile, recently got back in the win column with a huge knockout win over James Vick just two months ago (see it). Both Iaquinta and Hooker are jockeying for position in a crowded 155-pound division, but will have their work cut out for them if they want to get into the championship picture. A win will help the victor get closer, while a loss will send the other further down the totem pole.
But of course, everyone will be tuning in to see if Adesanya can live up to his non-stop chatter and dethrone Whittaker from his short reign atop the Middleweight mountain. And if Robert and Israel’s last two fights are any indication of tonight’s affair we should be in for one hell of a title fight.
Enjoy the fights!
Full Fight Card:
UFC 243 ESPN+ PPV Main Event:
185 lbs.: Middleweight champion Robert Whittaker vs. Interim Middleweight Champion Israel Adesanya
UFC 243 ESPN+ PPV Main Card on (10 p.m. ET):
155 lbs.: Dan Hooker vs. Al Iaquinta
265 lbs.: Sergey Spivak vs. Tai Tuivasa
170 lbs.: Luke Jumeau vs. Dhiego Lima
265 lbs.: Yorgan De Castro vs. Justin Tafa
135 lbs.: Raquel Pennington vs. Holly Holm - CANCELED
UFC 243 “Prelims” Under Card on ESPN2 (8 p.m. ET):
170 lbs.: Rostem Akman vs. Jake Matthews
170 lbs.: Maki Pitolo vs. Callan Potter
145 lbs.: Megan Anderson vs. Zarah Fairn dos Santos
155 lbs.: Jamie Mullarkey vs. Brad Riddell
UFC 243 “Prelims” Under Card on Fight Pass / ESPN+ (6:30 p.m. ET):
115 lbs.: Nadia Kassem vs. Ji Yeon Kim
135 lbs.: Bruno Silva vs. Khalid Taha
*Fight card, bout order and the amount of matches subject to change.
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