Rising MMA star holds off veteran

Israel Adesanya throwing a punch at Anderson Silva in their fight, which he won by unanimous decision.
Israel Adesanya throwing a punch at Anderson Silva in their fight, which he won by unanimous decision. PHOTO: TWITTER/ UFC

MELBOURNE • Australian middleweight champion Robert Whittaker failed to make the main event after emergency hernia surgery just hours before UFC 234.

But the home fans among the 15,238 crowd at the Rod Laver Arena would have little complaints after watching rising mixed martial arts star Israel Adesanya, a Nigerian-born New Zealander, beat former middleweight champion Anderson Silva in a wild three-round brawl yesterday.

The match that was upgraded to the main event started with Adesanya, 29, landing some heavy shots on the 43-year-old Brazilian challenger.

"The first round was like a gongfu movie," said Dana White, president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship later.

By round two, though, Silva began to mount a more effective offence and it quickly turned into a wild back-and-forth battle with both fighters using a range of unorthodox techniques, including high kicks and spinning attacks.

But, in the end, Adesanya's ability to control the distance was enough to earn him a unanimous decision from the judges (29-28, 30-27, 30-27).

Said White: "He (Silva) is a crafty veteran... he has knockout power and, if it goes to the ground, he is a black belt in jiu-jitsu and has submitted a lot of guys."

"Israel went in with a sold-out house, a lot of pressure on him... and he did a good job. It was a fun fight to watch with two guys who are incredibly talented."

It was no fun at all for Whittaker, who weighed in for the 185lb (84kg) bout against American contender Kelvin Gastelum with no problems on Saturday but, around 10pm, he began vomiting and experiencing severe abdominal pain.

At about 2am yesterday morning, scans at the hospital revealed the fighter would need emergency surgery for a hernia.

This is the second time he has had to pull out of a title bout on home soil after also missing last year's clash in Perth against Cuba's Yoel Romero.

His scheduled opponent took to social media to offer his sympathy.

Gastelum tweeted: "I'm sorry to everyone that was expecting this great fight, family, friends and followers from around the world.

"I wish @robwhittakermma a speedy recovery champ!"

The UFC said in a statement that customers may request a full refund owing to the change in the main event.

The co-main event was the lightweight match-up that saw the crafty American action hero Lando Vannata defeat surging Brazilian Marcos Mariano in the first round, locking up a kimura submission after securing top position.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 11, 2019, with the headline Rising MMA star holds off veteran. Subscribe