Israel Adesanya is the middleweight champion and by most estimates should remain one after this weekend. Marvin Vettori is a solid challenger but his UFC record is 6-2-1 (draw). His most recent wins include Kevin Holland (whose shares have fallen), Jack Hermansson (whose shares have always faded rather than fallen) and Karl Roberson (also a stock auctioneer). It’s not exactly the résumé of a challenger with a real prospect of becoming a champion.
Still, it’s a marketable fight. Or at least one with a plot that the UFC can sell. Their first fight was a divided decision. Some people even think Vettori won. Now Adesanya is looking for justice! It is a glorified plan of revenge with whoever else but
Charles Bronson Marvin Vettori.
Just to be clear, I don’t think anyone thinks Vettori won the first fight (except, of course, Judge Chris Lee). But it was definitely a challenge for Adesanya. Vettori did an excellent job walking forward with kicks and straight left enemas. He pushed through the clinch, takedowns and with many noticeable switch-ups to steer his offense from deep (leg kicks) to high (right hooks and straight left). The end result was a lot of sound and anger, of course, but Adesanya seemed to have difficulty managing his distance – he was missing the usual accuracy of his counterattack thanks to Vettori’s jerky north-south movement.
All in all, three could still be some stylistic challenges for Adesanya in the rematch, even if it’s not too difficult to dismiss Vettori’s threat level based on the resume.
There’s no question that Vettori is a tough fighter, but does anyone think Vettori is anything but a paper threat? Ultimately, Adesanya found its reach in her first battle, winning the battle for quality over quantity. Both men have improved, but Adesanya has improved to a greater extent against the superior competition.
Still, I’m on board in this fight. Where does it say that a champion’s activity has to be a strict hit list of # 1 challengers, one at a time? I wasn’t a huge fan of how Fedor Emelianenko polished up his reputation with the supporting performances of Zuluzinho and Choi Hong-man or Wanderlei Silva against the hapless Japanese pro wrestler of the week Pride who felt like feeding MMA’s favorite ax killer. But, insofar as they were of any value, these fights were key components in building the myth of the larger-than-life prize fighters – gods more than humans.
And that’s not bad. In fact, it’s kind of cool. It gives MMA a comic-level lens to see its absurd world. Plus, these theatrical performances can also serve to keep things going for future number one challengers who might be ready on a superficial level – after beating or never losing a former champion – could take a little longer before jumping straight into the title being pushed shot assembly line.
Take Kamaru Usman, for example. It could have been easy to send Gilbert Burns or Colby Covington back into the pan. Her first bouts were far more competitive than Usman’s first bout with Jorge Masvidal. and they had better resumes. Instead, they sent Masvidal to a rematch. It wasn’t the best fight on paper, but the outcome turned out to be the best possible scenario for Usman’s reputation.
The price war was and never will be a performance society. Champions may represent the best of the best, but their competition will not always represent the best of the other. It’s good. This doesn’t feel like the most interesting fight (and that isn’t meant to justify the UFC matchmaking here, which has been entirely content with sacrificing quality for content, despite Dana White criticizing other sports for it), but there is clearly plenty of room for it fights like that.
If Adesanya wins spectacularly, we’ll get another great highlight role for the championship history books. If he loses or boring wins, we might start questioning certain aspects of Adesanya’s game, or we might finally admit that Vettori is a worthy challenger. Even the best music albums have weird, funny, or relevant interludes. That doesn’t mean the music stops.