Updated Odds, UFC 271 Pick for Israel Adesanya vs. Robert Whittaker: How To Bet Championship Main Event
ASANKA BRENDON RATNAYAKE/AFP via Getty Images. Pictured: Robert Whittaker (left) Israel Adesanya (right).
Updated Israel Adesanya vs. Robert Whittaker Odds
The UFC's middleweight title is on the line on Saturday night, as current champion Israel Adesanya faces former champion Robert Whittaker in a rematch from their 2019 bout — when Adesanya unified his interim title via second-round knockout.
Adesanya has defended the middleweight title three times — against Yoel Romero, Paulo Costa, and Marvin Vettori — but suffered his first career loss against Jan Blachowicz last March while attempting to become a two-division champion.
Whittaker is on a three-fight winning streak since his loss to Adesanya, with decisive victories over Darren Till, Jared Cannonier, and Kelvin Gastelum.
Whittaker opened as a -145 favorite (59.2% implied) for the first fight), but ended up closing as a slight underdog (+102, or 49.5% implied) by the opening bell.
The betting market is setting Whittaker's chances closer to 30% for the rematch. Is this 20% drop from the first fight too dramatic an adjustment, or is it accurately reflecting this stylistic matchup?
Tale of the Tape
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The physical advantages for Adesanya, who has competed at Light Heavyweight in MMA and fought up at Heavyweight in kickboxing, are massive against Whittaker, a former Welterweight.
Adesanya is the taller man (4-inch difference) and possesses a 7-inch reach advantage, proving detrimental for Whittaker as the former champion enters or exits exchanges. Moreover, that length translates to Adesanya's legs, where he excels at managing distance and kicking his opponents at all three levels (legs, body, head).
Whittaker relies on his speed advantage against other Middleweights, as he excels at blitzing into and escaping out of the pocket without absorbing too much damage. Still, Adesanya's length and precision proved detrimental to that strategy in the first matchup.
While Whittaker landed some solid head strikes early, and may have been winning minutes on the feet on optics, Adesanya remained patient and eventually caught him in a trap and nearly finished the fight at the end of Round 1 before knocking out Whittaker again in Round 2.
Most importantly, Whittaker never tried to grapple in that fight; I expect to see a different approach from "The Reaper" this time, a more measured attack on the feet where he tries to shoot for single-leg takedowns or force Adesanya back against the cage.
Whittaker is a striker who needs to win his title back by out-grappling the champion. Although he has landed just 0.64 takedowns per 15 minutes in the UFC (34% accuracy), he has attempted 22 takedowns in his past three fights (1.4 landed per 15 minutes, 27% accuracy) while also out-striking each of his opponents.
That said, Whittaker was 0-for-6 on takedowns attempts against Till until the fifth round of their fight (landed 2-of-7). Aside from the first round against Gastelum (2:28 of control), he hasn't spent much time controlling his opponents.
Adesanya isn't the type of fighter — like a Gastelum or a Till — to overextend in striking exchanges and leave himself vulnerable to reactive takedowns. And he's excellent at breaking away from clinch positions along the cage when you force him back; he fights for an underhook and pushes the head away.
I bet against Adesanya — and on Marvin Vettori — in his last title defense, assuming that Adesanya hadn't faced a grappling/wrestling test of that caliber at Middleweight in some time. Still, he mostly passed the test (denied 10-of-14 takedowns, spent 6:55, or 28% of the fight in control positions), coming off of his loss to Blachowicz.
Adesanya's first-level takedown defense (80% career) is underrated, and I think Vettori (2.04 takedowns per 15 minutes, 45% accuracy) presented a more challenging grappling test than Whittaker will on Saturday night.
And while Whittaker may be able to force this fight to the mat a few times, I doubt that he can keep Adesanya there for an extended period, or do significant damage from top position without allowing his opponent to scramble away.
The adjustments on the Whittaker side are relatively obvious. If he reverts to a blitz-heavy game plan, Adesanya will find a way to counter him into unconsciousness.
That said, Adesanya has also found his way into several low-volume striking affairs throughout his UFC run (50% of fans thought he lost to Yoel Romero, for example), and it seems like a matter of time before he ends up on the wrong side of a split decision.
But, "The Last Stylebender" also seems to have whatever "It" is, and seemingly does just enough to win, even when he doesn't finish his opponents.
If Whittaker can stay at range, kick the leg without getting his own chopped off, and suppress Adesanya's offense, he may be able to steal a couple of close rounds with a late takedown.
He doesn't need to have a ton of wrestling success to justify his price tag. Still, if he can secure takedowns and keep the champ honest, it should also create openings in the striking exchanges as Izzy's hands drop to defend potential level changes.
If Adesanya fights to the same level as in recent fights, Whittaker can make this a close contest. If he raises his level, Stylebender could find another dominant finish.
As a result, Whittaker's win condition seems limited to a submission or close decision victory. At the same time, Adesanya possesses most of the finishing upside on the feet and a far more comprehensive range of outcomes in possible triumph.
Now, let's suppose Whittaker is unable to generate any success with his offensive wrestling. In that case, we may see The Reaper revert to blitzing – and although I expect a slower-paced and more measured approach for the former champion early, I could see him getting frustrated and finished in the championship rounds in a very similar fashion to the first fight.
Adesanya vs. Whittaker Pick
I projected Israel Adesanya as a 68.1% favorite (-213 implied) for Saturday's fight, and I expect the bout to go the distance 57% of the time (-130 implied).
As a result, I show slight value on the underdog and the over. However, Whittaker's approach to this fight influences both of those outcomes.
My initial read on this bout was Adesanya by knockout: The reach discrepancy is massive, I don't expect Whittaker to have much success grappling, and it's unfamiliar territory to win a fight by going away from your strengths.
At some point, I do expect Whittaker to get caught blitzing in, and from a technical perspective, I don't think my opinion on the fight has changed.
However, from a betting perspective, I'm inclined to take a small stab on Whittaker if his moneyline crosses +245 (29% implied) at more than a three percentage point edge compared to my projection; and I would likely prefer to wait for a +250 if this line is going to climb to that level.
Moreover, I show slight betting value on Whittaker to win by decision (projected +422), and I would consider playing that prop at +450 or better.
However, while I do think that the betting lines are off in this fight, this is the least confident that I have felt about a main event wager in some time; because from a technical perspective, Adesanya by knockout has been my read the whole way.
That said, if this fight does hit the scorecards, it should be close enough that you'll feel confident you were on the right side of the betting line with a Whittaker ticket.
If I bet this fight, I will likely stay between a quarter to a half unit on the Whittaker moneyline or a tenth to a quarter unit on Whittaker's decision prop.
Otherwise, I will likely pass and enjoy the festivities — there are far more optimal betting opportunities on this card.
The Lean: Robert Whittaker (wait for +250) | Whittaker wins by Decision (+450)