ROBERT WHITTAKER VS. ISRAEL ADESANYA
This is one of those bouts that don’t require a lot of breakdown or explanation — everyone knows it’s an outstanding matchup with massive stakes — but just in case this is the first time you’re choosing to look in on the action inside the Octagon, here’s what you need to know.
Whittaker has gone 8-0 since moving to middleweight, capping that run with back-to-back wins over Yoel Romero in a pair of thrilling, Fight of the Year-type battles. Injuries and illnesses have limited the 28-year-old to just one appearance in the last two years, however his talent, toughness and heart have never been in doubt and there is no question “The Reaper” will be ready to give his all in his return to the Octagon this weekend in Melbourne.
In the time since Whittaker last stepped into the cage, Adesanya has collected four victories, extending his UFC winning streak to six and pushing his record to 17-0 overall. Last time out, the charismatic and crafty striker rallied down the stretch to pull away from Kelvin Gastelum and claim the interim middleweight title in a bout that remains the clubhouse leader in the Fight of the Year race.
In terms of how they match up, this one isn’t so much a clash of styles as it is the difference between a home-cooked meal and dining out at a fancy restaurant. Both are supremely talented and well-rounded competitors who have proven their mettle time and again inside the Octagon, just Whittaker doesn’t have the flash and flair of Adesanya, whose technical abilities and sound fundamentals often get overlooked because of his playful, performative nature.
This is a compelling, competitive, exhilarating matchup and has a very real Fight of the Year potential.
AL IAQUINTA VS. DAN HOOKER
Saturday’s co-main event is this week’s reminder of the depth of talent that exists in the lightweight division and a tremendous opening act for the middleweight headliners.
A fixture in the Top 10, Iaquinta has also been a main event staple over his last three bouts, sharing the cage with Khabib Nurmagomedov, Kevin Lee and Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone in five-round affairs. The Long Island native is at his best when he’s pushing the pace and blending his hands and his wrestling, keeping opponents guessing and giving them no time to breathe. Coming off a loss in May, Iaquinta needs to get back into the win column in order to maintain his place in the rankings and avoid a four-fight run with only a single victory.
Hooker is 5-1 since returning to the lightweight division and entering off a first-round knockout win over James Vick in July. The City Kickboxing representative pursues the finish at all times and has myriad ways of ending fights, including opportunistic submissions, powerful punches and a knee that slept both Ross Pearson and Jim Miller.
The competition in the lightweight division has never been tougher and that ups the ante on this one. Hooker is looking to make the leap into the Top 10 by collecting the biggest win of his career on a massive stage, while Iaquinta ventures into enemy territory in hopes of defending his position in the pecking order, and that should lead to fireworks between these two.
TAI TUIVASA VS. SERGHEI SPIVAC
After rattling off three straight victories upon arriving in the UFC two years ago, Tuivasa has hit the first rough patch of his career. The 26-year-old arrives in Melbourne on a two-fight slide, having come up short in bouts against former champion Junior Dos Santos and seasoned vet Blagoy Ivanov, giving him an opportunity to showcase his resolve as he looks to rebound.
Spivac made his UFC debut earlier this year, venturing to Ottawa to face Walt Harris. Unfortunately for the Ukrainian heavyweight, it didn’t go well and didn’t last long, as “The Big Ticket” was able to put him away in 50 seconds in the Canadian capital. The 24-year-old was unbeaten prior to that contest, having steamrolled everyone he’d shared the cage with to that point, turning this meeting with Tuivasa into a referendum on whether he’s ready to compete at this level.
LUKE JUMEAU VS. DHIEGO LIMA
A veteran of the local scene who fought future UFC competitors Jake Matthews and Li Jingliang long before making his way into the Octagon, Jumeau returns for the first time since February 2018. That evening, “The Jedi” rebounded from his first loss since 2013 with a unanimous decision triumph over Daichi Abe, pushing his record inside the UFC to 2-1 and allowing the 31-year-old to establish a secure footing as a member of the welterweight ranks.
A two-time TUF finalist, Lima has finally started to find consistency inside the Octagon, entering Saturday’s contest on a two-fight winning streak that includes a first-round sparking of Chad Laprise. The veteran has dialed back his tendency to get drawn into wild exchanges, showing more composure and patience, which creates greater opportunities to get loose with his hands.
JAKE MATTHEWS VS. ROSTEM AKMAN
It’s easy to forget that Matthews is still only 25 years old as the Australia has already been on the UFC roster for more than five years and has already made 11 trips into the Octagon, amassing a 7-4 record while showcasing the talent that has made him one to watch through his development on the big stage. He’s settled in at welterweight and scored a quality win over Li Jingliang three fights back, but he’s coming off a loss to Anthony Rocco Martin and needs to show he’s capable of getting right back into the win column here.
Akman had a solid showing in his promotional debut earlier this year in Stockholm. Though he landed on the wrong side of the results and incurred his first professional loss in the process, the former Superior Challenge standout showed that he has what it takes to compete at the highest level in the sport and can further prove it with a road game victory over Matthews in Melbourne.
YORGAN DE CASTRO VS. JUSTIN TAFA
The first fighter to earn a UFC contract on Season 3 of the Contender Series earlier this summer, De Castro joins Miles Johns and Hunter Azure in making the quick transition from competing at the UFC Apex to making his Octagon debut as he ventures to Australia to square off with Tafa.
A massive underdog heading into his June bout with Alton Meeks, De Castro used a steady diet of strong leg kicks to chop down the favored fighter and extend his unbeaten streak to five. Born in Cape Verde and fighting out of the Regiment Training Center in Fall River, Massachusetts, “The Mad Titan” has proven he’s comfortable being the underdog and he will need another strong performance under such conditions as he goes on the road in his UFC debut.
Tafa has a similar profile as Tuivasa did when he first arrived in the UFC, which makes sense given that the two have trained together alongside Mark Hunt numerous times in the past. Big, strong, and more fighter than martial artist at the moment, the younger brother of Glory Kickboxing standout Junior Tafa is 3-0 as a pro with three finishes and gets a local assignment for his first foray into the Octgaon, just as Tuivasa did two years ago.
There is a very real possibility that this one ends inside the distance and in spectacular fashion, so be sure you’re settled in and fully stocked up on snacks and beverages before this one gets started.
CALLAN POTTER VS. MAKI PITOLO
Pitolo, like De Castro, punched his ticket to the UFC with a first-round stoppage win on the Contender Series this summer, felling Justin Sumter with a series of heavy body shots and clean punches along the fence less than two minutes into their middleweight contest. He established himself as a prospect while competing in the welterweight ranks on the Midwest regional circuit and now he’s back down to 170 pounds looking to push his winning streak to four as he makes his first walk to the Octagon.
Potter has been plying his trade inside the cage since 2011 and has put together a 9-2 record over his last 11 fights after going 8-6 to begin his career. Unfortunately for the 35-year-old Australian, those two setbacks came against his two toughest opponents, former UFC fighter Marcin Held and promising finisher Jalin Turner in his promotional debut earlier this year at UFC 234.
Will the Australian veteran rebound from getting stopped at home last time out or will Pitolo unleash more “Coconut Bombz” and find success in his UFC debut?
MEGAN ANDERSON VS. ZARAH FAIRN DOS SANTOS
This is surely a bittersweet moment for Anderson, who returns to compete at home in Australia for the first time in nearly five years, but does so coming off a loss and facing a litany of questions about where she fits in the featherweight division.
The former Invicta FC champion arrived in the UFC on a four-fight winning streak, but has managed just a single victory in her first three starts. Though she’s only lost to top competition, Anderson has thus far failed to live up to the lofty expectations that carried her into the Octagon, but this return to Melbourne in a more low profile pairing could be the reset she needs to start a prolonged run of success inside the UFC cage.
Hoping to spoil her homecoming and use UFC 243 as her own coming out party is the 32-year-old Dos Santos, who arrives in Australia on a three-fight winning streak. Though she hasn’t competed since 2017, Dos Santos has shared the cage with some experienced foes in the past and enters off a first-round stoppage win over former UFC competitor Izabela Badurek.
Can Anderson right the ship and turn in her most impressive performance to date or will Dos Santos hand her a second straight defeat and score the biggest win of her career?
BRAD RIDDELL VS. JAMIE MULLARKEY
This is one that feels like it could have happened on the local circuit at some point, but instead it’s happening Saturday and the fans at Marvel Stadium and watching UFC 243 around the globe will get to see it.
Riddell, who works alongside Adesanya and Hooker at City Kickboxing in Auckland, owns a stoppage win over UFC welterweight Song Kenan and has earned three straight wins heading into his promotional debut, all coming in the last six months. Meanwhile, Mullarkey brandishes a 12-2 record overall, including a win over the only man to beat Riddell, Abel Brites, whom he beat two fights back. A former featherweight, the 25-year-old Mullarkey is a perfect 3-0 since moving up to the 155-pound weight class.
Will Riddell get the night off to a good start for the City Kickboxing crew or will Mullarkey remain unbeaten at lightweight and establish himself as the latest Australian to watch on the UFC roster?
NADIA KASSEM VS. JI YEON KIM
Two fighters with .500 records in the Octagon meet in this early preliminary card pairing that should be entertaining as long as it lasts.
Kassem arrived in the UFC carrying a great deal of buzz after earning four straight first-round stoppage victories to begin her career, never venturing beyond the 90-second mark in any of her fights. While she discovered new lands by going the distance in her promotional debut, the 23-year-old maintained her winning ways by outpointing veteran Alex Chambers on the cards.
But after more than a year on the sidelines, Kassem was bounced from the ranks of the unbeaten earlier this year at UFC 234, losing by submission to Montana De La Rosa. Now the talented finisher looks to bounce back from her first loss with another fight on home soil.
Like her opponent, Kim arrived in the UFC having never tasted defeat, but the South Korean dropped her debut to Lucie Pudilova before rebounding with split decision wins over Justine Kish and Melinda Fabian. She took a short-notice fight against Antonina Shevchenko last November and landed on the wrong side of the results, bringing her UFC record level at two up and two down.
KHALID TAHA VS. BRUNO SILVA
The action in Melbourne gets underway in the bantamweight division as Taha welcomes Silva to the Octagon for the first time in a bout that was originally scheduled to take place last month in Abu Dhabi.
After delivering a strong showing in a losing effort in his promotional debut fighting up in weight, Taha rebounded with a blistering first-round knockout win over Boston Salmon in his sophomore appearance, felling the Contender Series alum in just 25 seconds. A compact powerhouse, 26-year-old German has shown flashes of promise and will look to build on that now that he’s settled into life as a UFC fighter.
A contestant on Season 4 of The Ultimate Fighter Brazil, Silva has gone 3-1-1 inside the cage since his time on the show, including battling surging newcomer Casey Kenney to a split draw under the LFA banner. A few years back, he reached out to Eric Albarracin about moving to the United States to improve his wrestling and soon after, he relocated to Arizona, where he’s been one of the main training partners for two-division champ Henry Cejudo.
Bantamweight is currently flush with talent, but a strong performance from either man here could hustle them into the fast lane towards the Top 15 in the 135-pound weight class.