The UFC has seemingly got all of its ducks in a row.
The grand plan for the future appears to be locked in with the new face of the organisation assured.
Israel Adesanya, the reigning middleweight champion, who remains undefeated in the division, has recently signed “one of the most lucrative multi-fight deals in company history”, according to his management team Paradigm Sports, which he suggested makes him the second biggest earner on the roster – presumably behind the one and only Conor McGregor.
It’s a match made in heaven for UFC boss Dana White and his promotion.
As Adesanya pointed out during the week, he transcends MMA into the mainstream of pop culture.
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White and co rightly view him as their new cash cow – he’s charismatic, he has the gift of the gab, he’s intelligent and, above all, he’s one hell of a fighter.
His MMA record is 21-1, and since joining the UFC four years ago, he has been extremely active, winning 10 of 11 fights – his only defeat came when he moved up to light heavyweight in an attempt to become a rare double champion, and failed against Jan Blachowicz.
In a short period of time, Adesanya has made the middleweight division his own, defeating Paulo Costa, Yoel Romero, Robert Whittaker, Marvin Vettori (twice), Kelvin Gastelum, Anderson Silva and Derek Brunson.
Six of his 11 UFC fights have been title fights, and on Sunday (AEDT) he will be looking to frank his huge new contract in style by defending his belt for the fourth time in his highly-anticipated rematch with fierce trans-Tasman rival Whittaker.
There’s a lot of synergy about this storyline. Adesanya became the king of the division when he knocked out Whittaker in the second round at UFC 243 in October 2019, and another win over the Australian would certainly kick off his new contract with a bang.
Adesanya would be happy, White would be happy, the UFC would be happy.
The only problem is, victory isn’t guaranteed.
The superstar New Zealander rightfully heads into the bout as the favourite, but Whittaker isn’t stepping into the octagon just to be a prop in the coronation ceremony of the UFC’s new golden boy.
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Whittaker is out for revenge and wants the belt back that he owned for 20 months before Adesanya brutally wrenched it away from him in front of a record UFC crowd of 57,127 at Marvel Stadium.
And if he was to win, the cherry on top of that rich cake for Whittaker would be to immediately put a massive spanner in the UFC’s grand plan of turning Adesanya into one of the biggest names in the sport of MMA.
Whittaker has never been the marketable champion that the UFC crave. He’s quite introverted in comparison to Adesanya and is more of a blue-collar meat-and-potatoes type fighter who prefers to let his fists and legs do the talking, rather than his mouth.
You can be sure that when Whittaker lost the title to Adesanya 28 months ago, White would’ve been jumping for joy that the belt changed over to the showstopping Kiwi who not only has the Oceania region following his career intently, but also the continent of Africa given he was born in Nigeria.
Adesanya is a unique package and White knows that all too well. Having the 32-year-old as the champion and the new face of the UFC is good business, which is why you can bet your bottom dollar that White will once again be secretly rooting for the Kiwi to get the win again in the main event at Houston’s Toyota Center this weekend.
The fact that Whittaker didn’t get an instant rematch with Adesanya tells you all you need to know about what White thinks of the idea of the Australian holding the gold.
And Whittaker has also been made to really earn his latest title shot, forced to run the gauntlet against Darren Till, Jared Cannonier and Kelvin Gastelum, passing each test with flying colours, en route to his date with destiny with Adesanya.
There’s a fair argument to suggest that if Till, Cannonier or Gastelum defeated Whittaker, they probably all would’ve got a title shot.
The UFC have certainly forced Whittaker to get another look at the belt the hard way, but have they created a monster in doing so?
Nothing would be sweeter for Whittaker, or more ironic for the UFC, if those series of events led the Australian to upset Adesanya and instantly put the promotion’s PR division into damage control.
The paying public would be the beneficiaries in that scenario, because we would almost certainly be guaranteed a trilogy fight – and fingers crossed it would be staged somewhere in Australasia.