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UFC 271: Israel Adesanya eyes Jared Cannonier as Robert Whittaker says third fight is inevitable

UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya wants to be back in the octagon in June and admits it will likely be against another UFC 271 winner, Jared Cannonier.

Adesanya was taken the distance, 48-47 (twice) and 49-4, in defending his middleweight crown against former champ Robert Whittaker at Houston, Texas, on Sunday (NZ time).

During the commentary, the prospect was raised of Adesanya having an injury to his right hand given that he was using it so sparingly and appeared to be touching it with his left hand, but the champion moved to allay those fears immediately post-fight.

Israel Adesanya landed constant and effective kicks to the legs and body of Robert Whittaker.

Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

Israel Adesanya landed constant and effective kicks to the legs and body of Robert Whittaker.

Adesanya, who assessed his own performance against Whittaker as a seven out of 10, said he wanted fresh meat, aka someone he hasn’t previously beaten, in his next fight.

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Cannonier, who picked up a US$50,000 (NZ$75,193) bonus for finish of the night after he sensationally knocked out Derek Brunson in the second round, two fights before the main event, fits that bill.

Whittaker, who claimed he won the main event, says it’s inevitable he will fight Adesanya for a third time but UFC president Dana White – who said he hadn’t thought about the possibility of a third fight but didn’t rule it out – was in favour of Cannonier being next for a championship fight.

“It was an awesome fight and yeah, I’m not going to say no to Cannonier,” White said.

Israel Adesanya lands a heavy knee to the face of Robert Whittaker.

Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

Israel Adesanya lands a heavy knee to the face of Robert Whittaker.

A 37-year-old veteran, Cannonier lost to Whittaker via a three-round decision in October 2020.

Adesanya’s second victory over Whittaker won’t be remembered as an instant barn burner classic but it was a highly skilled and technical contest.

“I did well, it was a good chess match,” Adesanya said.

Even Adesanya conceded they were the two best middleweights in the world but followed that up with “but he’s a few steps below me”.

“He did not win that fight, he knows it.”

White, who praised the performance of Whittaker, felt Adesanya won the fight three rounds to two.

Jared Cannonier reacts after winning his middleweight fight against Derek Brunson.

Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

Jared Cannonier reacts after winning his middleweight fight against Derek Brunson.

“I think he looked physically, mentally and emotionally stronger for this fight than he did for the first one,” White said of Whittaker.

“He was obviously way more aggressive this time,” White said. “He was able to take the shots that Izzy did hit him with.”

But Whittaker never hurt Adesanya and the City Kickboxing fighter was also able to mostly defuse Whittaker’s takedown and submission attempts, making a third fight a harder sell without the Australian racking up more wins.

When asked to sum up Adesanya’s performance after re-signing a lucrative new deal with the UFC last week, White was more reserved than his usual wax lyrical praise.

Israel Adesanya remains the middleweight champion after defeating Robert Whittaker.

Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

Israel Adesanya remains the middleweight champion after defeating Robert Whittaker.

“He’s the champ, he continues to win and that’s just the way it works,” White said. “The more you win, the more you do, the more you make.”

Despite not liking each other, Adesanya and Whittaker shared some respectful moments together at the end of the five rounds.

“I just said I don’t like you, you don’t like me but I respect you and he said the same,” Adesanya said.

“We’re just two guys trying to be the best in the world and tonight I was the best in the world.”

For Adesanya, a third fight is not out of the question but it won’t be next.

“Later on down the track maybe but right now I like fresh meat at middleweight and I’m glad I have a new contender in Jared Cannonier.”

Whittaker praised the performance of Adesanya but still maintained the champion looked beatable.

“A third fight between me and Izzy is inevitable, because I’m going to stomp anyone that comes in front of me again,” he said.

He knows that too, that’s why he said, ‘I’ll be seeing you in the future.'”

“I don’t see him losing the belt anytime soon, he’s good. He is good. I think I am the person to beat him.

“My mission stays the same: beat the next guy in front of me,” Whittaker said.

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