The UFC’s second pay-per-view offering of the year is rapidly approaching. When it’s all over, there should be an established hierarchy in the middleweight division.

UFC 271 takes place Feb. 12 at Toyota Center in Houston. The main event of the card, which streams exclusively on ESPN+ pay-per-view (10 p.m. ET) following televised prelims on ESPN (8 p.m. ET), will see reigning middleweight champ Israel Adesanya run it back with Robert Whittaker.

Adesanya (21-1 MMA, 10-1 UFC) and Whittaker (23-5 MMA, 14-3 UFC) enter the rematch with something to prove in what’s arguably the most competitive title-fight pairing that can be made on paper at 185 pounds.

The same distinction was made when they met for the first time at UFC 243 in October 2019, but reality played out much differently, as it was an entirely one-sided affair.

Whittaker entered the first fight as the established champion who had recorded multiple title defenses. He was treated as such, because the UFC gave the Australia resident a home game in front of a record crowd. More than 57,000 people packed Marvel Stadium in Melbourne as Whittaker looked to notch another defense of the gold.

Adesanya had other plans, however, and turned in an all-time performance from a challenger. Adesanya came in to UFC 243 with an undefeated record and all the confidence he was the kryptonite to anything Whittaker brought to the table. He wasn’t wrong, either, because Adesanya put on a striking clinic that included a first round knockdown prior to the second-round knockout.

The belt changed hands in definitive fashion, and Adesanya has ruled the division with an iron fist ever since.

In the 28 months since the initial clash, it’s become abundantly clear Adesanya and Whittaker are the two elite players in their weight class. Adesanya, 32, has wiped out all available contenders at his weight, while Whittaker, 31, won a series of title eliminators to prove worthy of the rematch.

Whittaker doesn’t just want to fight Adesanya again, though. He wants revenge, and thinks he’s made the correct mental and strategic adjustments to ensure that’s the case when UFC 271 arrives. The former champion admits he wasn’t in a good place going into the first fight, but insists everything has changed for the better and there will be no post-fight excuses.

What makes this fight different, as well, is that Adesanya no longer has his unbeatable aura. The flawless record he had going into the first fight no longer exists, because Adesanya suffered his first and only loss in March when he made an unsuccessful bid at becoming a two-division champion with a loss up a weight class at light heavyweight.

Adesanya struggled with the size and grappling pressure of a bigger and heavier opponent in Jan Blachowicz at 205 pounds, but he’s had no such problems at middleweight. “The Last Stylebender” is a buzzsaw when fighting in his proper division, and has yet to be beaten when fighting there.

Whittaker thinks there’s a recipe of success to be duplicated against Adesanya, though, and has stated his intent to mimic that in the rematch – but with his own twist.

If Whittaker can execute his game plan, he’ll put himself in a strong position to regain gold. If he’s forced to play Adesanya’s game like the first fight, however, then he faces an uphill climb against perhaps the best pure striker in the sport.

Before Adesanya and Whittaker face off in their rematch, though, UFC 271 will determine who likely gets a title shot against the winner. A critical divisional pairing between Jared Cannonier and Derek Brunson is the featured bout of the evening, and whoever emerges victorious will be at the forefront of the title discussion once the headliner concludes.

Stream UFC 271 on ESPN+ here.