Now that UFC 253 is in the history books, it’s time to look at the key takeaways from a pulsating night of action at Fight Island.
As expected, there were fireworks in the main event between Israel Adesanya and Paulo Costa. The defending champion, Adesanya, earned a 2nd round TKO over Costa to resign the challenger to the first defeat of his career.
There was also an upset win for Jan Blachowicz over Dominick Reyes in the light heavyweight championship co-main. Blachowicz becomes just the second Polish champion in the history of the promotion with a crushing TKO victory.
Overall, it was a great night to be a fan. But what have we learned from UFC 253? What fights are next on the horizon for Adesanya and Blachowicz? These are just two questions I will answer in my review of one of the biggest nights for MMA in 2020.
Israel Adesanya silenced critics with a technical masterclass that proved there is no better middleweight on the planet.
Range was always going to be a crucial factor in how this fight would pan out, and “The Last Stylebender” pretty much had it all his own way. He was clearheaded, composed, and concentrated on dismantling the giant middleweight piece by piece.
Although Costa looked dangerous for the first couple of minutes of the fight, Adesanya took the wheel and steered things into his own favor soon after. Sniping shots and vicious leg kicks completely took Costa’s mobility away, and even though the Brazilian had some success with his own kicking game, he was soon a stationary target to hit.
By the second round, Costa’s output consisted of little more than feints and baits. He implored the champion forward, inviting him to brawl. But the Nigerian-Kiwi stayed composed, and eventually found Costa’s skull with a deftly-timed head kick that caused significant damage.
With blood trickling down his face, the Brazilian’s body language suggested that he was done. Adesanya moved in for the kill and landed a flurry of punches and elbows that forced the referee to step in and wave the bout off.
Love him or hate him, Adesanya is the best middleweight on earth right now. While matching Anderson Silva’s run of ten straight title defenses might not be something that he wants to entertain right now, fans will be keen to see just how great Izzy can be.
Whittaker vs. Cannonier Will be Huge
Is it fair to say that the winner of Robert Whittaker vs. Jared Cannonier will be next in line for a shot at Adesanya’s title? Well, yeah. It is.
In his post-fight Octagon interview, Adesanya claimed that he wants to fight Cannonier next. Check it out.
Whittaker takes on “Killa Gorilla” in the co-main event of UFC 254 on October 24. If it wasn’t a big deal before, this fight is definitely going to have a lot more riding on it now we know that there is a title shot up for grabs.
While I would love to see Cannonier get his shot at the title, the biggest fight at 185-pounds right now is an Adesanya vs. Whittaker rematch. But whatever happens on October 24, it’s going to be electric.
For all the trash talk, Costa just could not rise to the occasion on Saturday night.
Having swatted away the majority of his opponents in the lead up to his big night, “Borrachinha” looked nothing like the all-conquering knockout artist many had expected to step in with Adesanya.
His performance was frustrating, especially for those who had put money down on him scoring a big win over the champion. His reluctance to throw punches or even gamble on an all-out attacking strategy showed a worrying lack of adaptability and absolutely no “Plan B.”
Even UFC President Dana White expressed confusion at the post-fight press conference, taking aim at the Brazilian’s “weird” tactics.
“So much for ‘Fight of the Year’ – it was ‘Domination of the Year. It was weird because if you look at every other fight that Costa has had, he comes out and goes after people like they owe him money.”
“I think he landed one jab in this fight. He didn’t try to clinch on the fence, didn’t try to put pressure, kept going back to the center of the octagon. It was very weird.”
Costa must now get back on the horse and target the likes of Kelvin Gastelum, Darren Till, or Jack Hermansson. But he’s far from done.
Polish Power is Real
What a night for Poland’s Jan Blachowicz, who was written off by a sizeable portion of the MMA community in the run-up to this fight.
Despite closing as high as +375 with certain UFC betting sites, Blachowicz knocked out Dominick Reyes to win the promotion’s vacant light heavyweight title. At 37, Blachowicz joined the likes of Randy Couture, Michael Bisping, and Fabricio Werdum as the oldest men to win UFC titles.
And what a story it has been for Blachowicz. Signed to the UFC from Poland’s KSW promotion, he was expected to shine but ended up going 2-4 in his first six fights. Since being beaten by Patrick Cummins at UFC 210 in April 2017, he has won eight and just lost once, to Thiago Santos, in February 2019.
I’m delighted for Blachowicz, who now has an opportunity to taste the sweet life at the top of the UFC’s light heavyweight division. Even if he doesn’t get his shot at Jon Jones — which seems highly unlikely given he is targeting the heavyweight strap — there should be some fun fights for him out there. The winner of Glover Teixeira and Thiago Santos being the best of the bunch.
Reyes Has to Prove Himself Again
Like Costa, Reyes is down but not out.
It was a strange fight for the 30-year-old, who I expected to have too much for Blachowicz. Not to take anything away from the Pole’s crushing TKO victory, but there are questions over whether Reyes’ overconfidence and general state of mind in this fight. Did his ego grow after his contentious loss to Jon Jones? Maybe it did.
Regardless, Reyes was well beaten on the night, suffering a bad nose break by the more experienced Blachowicz. His positioning was poor, allowing Blachowicz to pretty much land on him anytime he got into range. The American’s devastating left hand was certainly nowhere to be seen, and his left leg was nullified throughout the contest.
Reyes can push himself back into title contention, but it’s going to require a few solid wins over the division’s best. I like the look of Johnny Walker or Aleksandr Rakic next for Reyes. Or perhaps even Anthony Smith.
Royval is a Legit Flyweight Contender
At odds of +300, Brandon Royval to beat Kai Kara-France by way of KO/TKO/DQ/Submission was one of my top sleeper bets for UFC 253.
I had tipped Royval to get the job done by submission, and I was delighted to see my prediction come true on the night. Knowing what I know about “Raw-Dog,” it was well deserved.
Now, we have a genuine contender to Deiveson Figueiredo’s UFC flyweight title. With Figueiredo vs. Garbrandt at UFC 255 coming up in November, Royval will have to wait to find out who will take the strap into 2021. However, his ambitions will not be changed regardless of who wins.
Royval will need to do a little bit more before he has a rightful claim to the title. But a convincing win over any of Joseph Benavidez, Brandon Moreno, Askar Askarov, Alex Perez, or Alexandre Pantoja would likely be enough to push him into contention.
Fans Like Fight Island
Following the conclusion of the event, UFC President Dana White talked of records being broken at UFC 253.
It’s no surprise to see fans stoked for the events at Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, as the majority of them have been nothing but sensational. With more events coming up, it seems that the UFC can only profit, in all senses, from keeping this candle burning.
With Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Justin Gaethje coming up in October, the UFC’s temporary spiritual home will win even more fans over. As it stands, fans like Fight Island. And I expect the promotion to look at producing more events here, even in a post-lockdown world.