By Rich Plunkett 02/07/2018
The UFC’s International Fight Week of 2018 has just kicked off as fight fans in Las Vegas and around the world look forward to a bumper programme in store. There is plenty of entertainment on offer with open workouts, a UFC Hall of Fame induction ceremony and a double-header rounding out the weekend. The card for UFC 226 is arguably the best card of the year, but keep your fingers and toes crossed for the main and co-main events to go ahead. Recent history tells us that somebody is going to pull out, a trend that has come close to sabotaging International Fight Week for the past few years.
Before Saturday night’s pay-per-view event begins, The Ultimate Fighter 27 Finale takes place the night before. TUF has kickstarted careers of some of the UFC’s great talents, Michael Bisping, Rashad Evans, TJ Dillashaw, Robert Whittaker, the list goes on. No one will forget the war between Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar. The same goes for the trash talk and drunken bickering involving Nate Diaz, Tony Ferguson, Wanderlei Silva and Chael Sonnen. But, interest in TUF has seemed to simmer down somewhat. Will there be another installment or will this be the finale of all finales? Fortunately for us fight fans, the main event match up set for the evening looks to bring a close to proceedings with all sorts of fireworks.
Number eight ranked Hawaiian, Brad Tavares has been making waves in the middleweight division since he last lost to champion Robert Whittaker, back in 2015. On Friday, he faces his toughest task since then, taking on surging contender, Israel Adesanya. This fight holds much significance for both fighters. Tavares is on a four fight win streak and will be looking at a top five opponent next, should he finish the fight with his hand raised. Adesanya has been spoken about already as a real threat in this division, even after only two fights under the UFC banner. If he wins this fight, and does it in the style he is known for, expect to see his name shoot up the rankings and another main event or ppv slot opened up for him quickly.
Adesanya, fighting out of New Zealand, is one of the hottest prospects to be handed a UFC contract in recent times. His professional record of 13-0 speaks for itself, but it is the way that he has done it that has got everybody talking. He has stated already that he does not like to be compared to other fighters, but watching highlights from his MMA and kickboxing career, you can’t help but notice a little bit of Anderson Silva about the guy. That’s a big wrap, one that would be welcomed by most fighters. His striking is clean and precise, he has big KO victories with his hands and his feet and barely gets touched in doing so. His last fight is the only fight that didn’t end in a finish. His 12 previous outings only lasted one or two rounds. Although we have only seen glimpses in the UFC of what he is capable of, I expect to see an improvement in this fight, and his upcoming fights, such is the level that he sets for himself.
His next opponent is no slouch though and is undoubtedly the biggest fight of his MMA career thus far. Tavares is a well rounded fighter with KO power and a strong wrestling game. He is a UFC veteran, fighting under the promotion for eight years. Ironically, he got his start on TUF and has never looked back. His professional record of 17-4 is held in high regard, as is his UFC record with 12 victories. It should be noted that two out of the four fighters that have wins against him, Whittaker and Yoel Romero, are the two highest ranked middleweights currently. Tavares holds notable victories over Phil Baroni, Lorenz Larkin and Nate Marquardt. Adding Adesanya to his resume is proof that he is ready for a top five opponent, and possibly a late run at the title.
The contrasting careers of the two fighters in this main event is only matched by their styles. In Tavares, you have a guy that grinds out his victories. Although heavy handed, he is not known for spectacular KO finishes. His 12 wins in the UFC include just two knockouts, his last fight and his second, back in 2011, and he has not submitted anybody since 2008. With 10 victories coming from decisions but having never been through a five round fight, my view is that his options in winning this bout are a lot more limited to those of his opponent. I don’t think this fight is going to go the distance. The likelihood of Tavares out striking Adesanya is also very low. What will be the game plan for Tavares in this fight? I don’t think he will stand and trade with his opponent. If he does, I imagine it will be an early night for him. His best chance at winning this fight will come from relentless pressure, using his bigger frame and wrestling experience to its full potential. But can he do it for five rounds?
I think it’s only going to be a matter of time before Adesanya finds an opening and finishes the fight. He is too long and rangey and his striking is just clinical. After not finding the finish in his last fight, I believe he will be hell bent on making amends come Friday night. There is a lot to like about this guy and I think he is only going to get better the more he fights. His ceiling is sky high. Fighting in a main event in the middle of International Fight Week in just his third UFC appearance is testament to his raw talent.
Adesanya by KO.