It’s been a while since UFC fans saw the Middleweight Championship up for grabs. The last time was when Robert Whittaker triumphantly overcame Yoel Romero in a rematch just under 16 months ago. Injury, including a hernia which sidelined the champion from a February fight with Kelvin Gastelum has kept the Aussie on the bench. In that time a lot has changed. Gastelum is no longer the next in line, but instead Israel Adesanya, who has had a meteoric rise since the start of his brief UFC career. 

With a main event of an Australian versus a Nigerian born New Zealander, the fight was the perfect one for bringing the UFC to the Marvel Stadium in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. As expected, the show is set to feature many more Oceanic fighters throughout. The evening is set to begin with two bouts on UFC Fight Pass at 7PM EST (9AM AEST).

Bout 1: Khalid Taha (13-2) vs. Bruno Silva (11-3-1) (Bantamweight)

The evening, or if you’re there live, the morning kicks off in the bantamweight division with Khalid Taha and Bruno Silva. Taha has a 1-1 UFC record, recently getting a quick KO victory over Boston Salmon. Silva will be making his promotional debut, being 3-1-1 in his last five MMA bouts before entering the octagon. Khalid Taha missed the bantamweight limit by one pound, giving up 20% of his fight purse due to it.

Bout 2: Nadia Kassem (5-1) vs. Ji Yeon Kim (8-2-2) (Flyweight)

The final Fight Pass bout sees two flyweights coming off of losses collide. Kassem recently took a loss to Montana de La Rosa via armbar. Ji Yeon Kim fell to Antonina Shevchenko via decision. Kim is one of the only Korean fighters in the UFC that doesn’t come from Team MAD, who is the biggest gym in the country. When the weigh-ins were livestreamed, Kim weighed in at 128 lbs, two pounds above the flyweight limit.

Bout 3: Megan Anderson (8-4) vs. Zarah Fairn Dos Santos (6-2) (Featherweight)

After an hour of the early prelims, the broadcast will flip to ESPN 2 (TSN 5 in Canada) as Megan Anderson will face Zarah Fairn dos Santos. Anderson is one of the more prominent fighters in the very thin division. She will try to spoil Dos Santos’ entrance into the UFC. Anderson lost to Felicia Spencer in her last outing, being bettered by a rear naked choke in under four minutes.

Bout 4: Brad Riddell (6-1) vs. Jamie Mullarkey (12-2) (Lightweight)

The fourth fight sees the first New Zealander on the card in Brad Riddell appear against Australia’s Jamie Mullarkey. Neither fighter has been in the UFC before. Riddell trains at Adesanya’s gym “City Kickboxing,” with appearances at Tiger Muay Thai in Thailand as well.

Bout 5: Callan Potter (17-8) vs. Maki Pitolo (12-4) (Welterweight)

Three months ago, Maki Pitolo literally fought his way to a contract, defeating Justin Sumter in just over 90 seconds on “Dana White’s Contender Series” to get signed to the UFC. Pitolo’s first fight on the “big stage” will also be quite literally on a big stage, as Marvel Stadium seats 56,000. He will face Australia’s Callan Porter, who is attempting to come back from his debut loss to Jalin Turner this year.

Bout 6: Jake Matthews (14-4) vs. Rostem Akman (6-1) (Welterweight)

The preliminary portion of the card will wrap up with Jake Matthews and Rostem Akman. Both coming off a loss, Matthews is the favoured fighter in the exchange due to more experience, especially within the UFC. Matthews lost to Anthony Rocco Martin recently, ending his three fight winning streak from before. Akman’s last loss was his first one as a pro, as Sergey Khandozhko ruined his debut.

Bout 7: Yorgan de Castro (5-0) vs. Justin Tafa (3-0) (Heavyweight)

UFC will go live on pay-per-view at 10PM EST (Noon AEST), beginning with Yorgan de Castro versus Justin Tafa. Neither heavyweight has fought in the UFC before. De Castro earned his spot through the Contender Series, defeating Alton Meeks in one round to convince UFC’s scouts to sign him. Tafa has been undefeated in his three fights, competing in the Australia-based MMA promotion Xtreme Fight Championships.

Bout 8: Luke Jumeau (13-4) vs. Dhiego Lima (14-7) (Welterweight)

After a year-and-a-half absence from the octagon, New Zealand’s Luke Jumeau will face Dhiego Lima, who has been active and successful during that same time period. Jumeau’s last win was in early 2018, breaking the undefeated record at the time of Daichi Abe. Lima broke his two-fight losing streak with a win over Chad Laprise earlier this year. He most recently defeated Court McGee via decision.

Bout 9: Tai Tuivasa (10-2) vs. Sergey Spivak (9-1) (Heavyweight)

Back at UFC 226 in mid-2018, Tai Tuivasa won tons of fans with a dominant main card performance over Andrei Arlovski, as well as doing a “shooey” after the fight. Sadly, Tuivasa hasn’t found success since then, losing to Junior dos Santos and Blagoy Ivanov. He will have another chance to return to the win column when facing Sergey Spivak. The Ukranian fighter was undefeated before his UFC debut, getting TKO’d by Walt Harris. Both fighters have yet to win after a loss in their professional career, and one might be able to change that on Saturday.

Bout 10: Al Iaquinta (14-5-1) vs. Dan Hooker (18-8) (Lightweight)

The co-main event of the show features lightweight gatekeeper Al Iaquinta versus teammate of Israel Adesanya, Dan Hooker. Iaquinta is coming off a loss to Donald Cerrone, main eventing a Fight Night in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Hooker is a real up-and-coming lightweight, having a UFC run with only one blemish thus far, that being a painful loss to Edson Barboza. His last fight was against James Hook, making quick work of him, finishing the fight just halfway through the first. No doubt Hooker has had some big tests in the UFC already, but another one, maybe his biggest, is on Saturday.

Bout 11: Robert Whittaker (20-4) vs. Israel Adesanya (17-0) (UFC Middleweight Championship)

The main event of the show sees UFC Middleweight Champion Robert Whittaker fight in a unification bout against the Interim Middleweight Champion Israel Adesanya. Whittaker’s last fight was a war, going the distance against Yoel Romero, despite a hand injury early on. He has since been on the bench. While he has rested and trained, Adesanya established himself within the division. Already 3-0 in the UFC, “The Last Stylebender” put his name on the map with a one round victory over Derek Brunson at Madison Square Garden last fall. He faced UFC legend Anderson Silva three months later, defeating him in the main event of UFC 234 (which Whittaker would have headlined if not for an injury). His most recent win was against Kelvin Gastelum, which cemented him as the next challenger. The fight, which arguably could be the best 2019 has seen gave Adesanya his interim championship.

Israel Adesanya is often billed as an up-and-comer despite his age contradicting that. His short run in the UFC only tells part of the story. Adesanya has a 75-5 kickboxing record, including appearances in high level promotions like GLORY and Kunlun Fight League. He also has a 5-1 boxing record, all being three-to-four round fights. While 17-0 in MMA isn’t a little, it’s not telling the full story to not mention everything else.

Many questions are brought up heading into this weekend: Can Robert Whittaker return after the absence? Will he be the same? Is it too soon for Israel Adesanya? Is he getting ahead of himself? But, thankfully, these questions will only be asked for a little more time. When the PPV goes down on Saturday night, people will (hopefully) be left with a conclusive answer to all of those questions.

UFC returns with a fight night next week from the Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida, USA. The card is headlined by ranked strawweights Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Michelle Waterson. The promotion’s next pay-per-view event after this is UFC 244. The stacked show will take place from Madison Square Garden. Headlining the show will be Nate Diaz and Jorge Masvidal, fighting for the BMF Belt.

Recommended further reading: MMAFighting/Mike Chiappetta – Israel Adesanya is coming for everything