Robert Whittaker entered UFC 271 looking to prove he had bridged the gap in quality between himself and Israel Adesanya since their last meeting in Melbourne in 2019.
By the end, his knuckles could not do enough to get over the line in Houston.
Whittaker, 31, was on the receiving end of a chastening defeat at Marvel Arena two-and-a-half years ago. Three wins later, the Australian vowed to showcase his improvements and avenge that loss at the Toyota Center.
Wrestling and patient striking were on the agenda, with Whittaker tasked with closing a sizeable seven-inch reach discrepancy to land damaging shots to the champion.
However, he appeared destined to suffer a similar fate to his first match-up with the middleweight king when he was stunned and floored in the first round by ‘The Last Stylebender.’
With his tail up, Whittaker sprung forward and landed a takedown on the notoriously slippery Adesanya, but the champion was able to scramble to his feet and fend off his rival. It would be the first of four takedowns landed across five rounds – the most takedowns landed on the New Zealander in the UFC.
As the rounds progressed, Whittaker’s leg continued to redden, owing to ferocious calf kicks landed by Adesanya in a bid to destabilise the former champion’s stance. The New Zealander stalked his prey across the Octagon, with Whittaker on the back foot for much of the fight.
The Reaper continued to look to pin his man to the mat, and briefly caused a scare by taking Adesanya’s back in the fourth. He attempted to lock in a rear naked submission, but to no avail.
Whittaker was told in no uncertain terms that he was behind on the scorecards heading into the final round, and subsequently threw the kitchen sink at Adesanya in a bid to land an unlikely stoppage victory.
Yet he failed to register anything of real concern as Adesanya closed out a unanimous decision victory, with the judges scoring the contest 48-47, 48-47, 49-46 in The Last Stylebender’sfavour.
‘I knew he was going to bring everything, because last time I took everything away from him, he had nothing to lose,’ Adesanya said in the immediate aftermath of his victory..
Meanwhile, Whittaker could not hide his disappointment in falling short once again.
‘I know I started off rocky but I feel I took every round after that,’ he said. ‘But don’t leave it to the judges. I fought my heart out, I’m gutted, I thought I did enough. -Mailonline