Though many fights have fallen to COVID-19 or safety protocols surrounding the disease, UFC 259 and its three championship fights went off without a hitch on Saturday in Las Vegas.
That doesn’t mean there weren’t any surprises or controversies.
Jan Blachowicz earns the nod to defend UFC light heavyweight title
UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya moved up to light heavyweight at UFC 259 to try and take the division’s belt from Jan Blachowicz and become the promotion’s next champ-champ.
Things didn’t go quite the way Adesanya had hoped, as Blachowicz defended his belt… though it was certainly not an easy title defense.
Both men were measured in their early approach. Adesanya approached with his usual stance shifting, throwing various feints at Blachowicz, trying to find an opening.
Blachowicz simply tried to dance forward and find a home for his power punches, but unable to land cleanly in the early going. Adesanya danced at a distance, keeping Blachowicz’s power at bay, while stinging him with jabs and low kicks.
Adesanya kept feinting, but Blachowicz started to find a home for some of his punches early in round two. Adesanya kept feinting, but Blachowicz clinched and landed a knee to the body.
Despite Blachowicz’s success in the second frame, Adesanya’s kicks were starting to leave visible damage on the light heavyweight champion’s lead leg.
Blachowicz landed a hard right hand to start round three. He followed with more punches before taking Adesanya to the canvas. Adesanya quickly escaped to his feet and lit Blachowicz up with a sharp punch combination.
Adesanya was in danger for a moment, but that only seemed to light a fire under him. Sensing momentum slipping away, Blachowicz clinched. Adesanya quickly escaped and began stinging with the jab, as Blachowicz began breathing heavily and slowing.
There was still power in his hands, however, as Blachowicz landed some hard jabs that snapped Stylebender’s head back.
Adesanya looked to be the fresher fighter between rounds, but Blachowicz again clinched and put the fight on the fence. Coming off the cage, Blachowicz popped Adesanya with a couple hard punches.
Midway through the fourth frame, Adesanya landed an effective punch combination before Blachowicz shot a takedown and planted him on his back. Staying heavy, he made Adesanya work hard to try and escape before passing to side control where he landed a heavy punch.
Adesanya no longer looked as fresh as he had prior to the round. Blachowicz taking the fight to the canvas was an effective strategy that set up a final round that would determine the fight.
Blachowicz opened the final frame with a low leg kick and right hand combination that stung Adesanya. The middleweight champ kept coming forward, using his own jab, trying to set up a bigger move.
Both men looked tired. Adesanya had enough gas to land a spinning back kick, but Blachowicz recovered enough to shoot and plant Adesanya on his back.
With two minutes left on the clock, Blachowicz was in the perfect position to defend his belt. Working from half guard, he again stayed heavy on Adesanya’s chest, peppering him with hard right hands.
Blachowicz moved to mount in the final moments of the fight, dropping hammerfist and punches until the final horn.
After five full rounds, the judges rewarded Blachowicz’s performance with a unanimous decision, his first defense of the UFC light heavyweight title.
“I knew I was gonna be better on the ground. I just had to wait for a good moment,” Blachowicz said after the fight, knowing that it could be the difference between winning or losing.
After handing Adesanya his first loss, Blachowicz intends on taking a quick break, but already has his next opponent in mind. No. 1 light heavyweight contender Glover Teixeira weighed in as an alternate for the UFC 259 main event, and now Blachowicz believes he should get a shot at his belt.
“I think he deserves it and I would like to fight against Glover next. If he wants to wait, he will be next,” Blachowicz said.
Adesanya said after the fight that he is not one and done at light heavyweight, although he intends to return to middleweight, where he still hold the UFC championship.
“It’s not a one off, I definitely will be back,” he said, before adding, “I’m going back down to 185 and I’m going to rule that bitch with my black fist.”
Amanda Nunes makes quick work of Megan Anderson
Amanda Nunes continued to hold the mantle of the greatest female fighter on the planet with a quick win over Megan Anderson. It was the second defense of her UFC featherweight title. Nunes also holds the bantamweight belt.
It took a moment for Nunes to find her timing in the UFC 259 co-main event, but a moment was all it took. As soon as Nunes started firing, the power in her punches were evident as she quickly rocked Anderson, who was wide eyed from the start.
Shortly after rocking Anderson with strikes, she took her to the canvas and quickly secured an armbar/triangle choke combination for a rather quick, painless featherweight title defense.
Anderson tapped out at the 2:03 mark of the first round.
Nunes passed her belt off to her wife, fellow fighter Nina Ansaroff, in order to hold their daughter, Regan, in the Octagon.
“The plan was exactly how I finished the fight,” Nunes said after the quick victory, but even she isn’t sure what’s next. All she knows is that she is getting better with age and doesn’t anticipate losing anytime soon.
“I think (as) I’m getting older, I’m getting good. I think I found my balance, to be honest,” she said.
“The Lioness is always dangerous, but when she has a baby, nobody can stop her.”
Aljamain Sterling crowned UFC bantamweight champ after illegal knee
It wasn’t how he wanted to get the belt, but Aljamain Sterling was crowned the new UFC bantamweight champion after Petr Yan was disqualified for an illegal knee.
Sterling wasted no time, swarming Yan out of the gate, attacking with punches and kicks. He landed a couple flying knees during his early onslaught, which set up a double-leg takedown.
Yan proved resilient, quickly regaining his feet and landing a right hand that put Sterling on his backside. Sterling got up, only to have Yan kick his legs out from under him.
The opening round of action ended with Yan landing a brutal body kick before scooping Sterling up into the air and planting him on his head.
Sterling continued to be a ball of energy in round two, attacking with multiple takedown attempts. Yan remained calm, fending off most of the takedowns, patiently biding his time until he tossed Sterling to the canvas again.
Though Sterling came right at Yan again in round three, his pace slowed dramatically. That allowed Yan to more accurately pick his shots, as he landed numerous punches and kicks throughout the frame. Sterling kept firing, but his accuracy dwindled as he tired.
Yan scored an early takedown in round four, but Sterling regained his feet and continued pressing forward. Yan defended everything well, and then countered with shots that were much heavier than Sterling’s strikes.
Mid-round, Sterling looked like he was slogging through a mud pit. Yan picked him apart, landing punches almost at will. He defended all takedowns, but then drove a brutal knee to Sterling’s face as he was down on one knee.
The referee had verbally pointed out that Sterling was a downed fighter, but Yan launched the knee anyway. Sterling remained on the canvas for several minutes, saying “I don’t want the fight to end like that.”
It took a couple minutes of the doctor questioning Sterling, who was laying on his back on the canvas, before the fight was finally stopped, which left Sterling on his knees, in tears, his hands covering his head.
Sterling still could not get to his feet without help from his corner and officials.
The illegal knee was ruled intentional and it cost Yan his title.
Though UFC president Dana White put the belt around Sterling’s waist, he ripped it off and tossed it to the canvas, again in tears.
Sterling was obviously not happy winning by disqualification. Two judges had Yan ahead 29-28 going into the fourth round, while the other judge had Sterling winning 29-28.
“To have the fight go like that… that’s not the way I wanted to win. That’s not the way I envisioned this,” Sterling told Joe Rogan after the fight, believing that the bout was headed toward being a Fight of the Year candidate.
Islam Makhachev submits Drew Dober, earning comparison to Khabib
Islam Makhachev has been called the heir apparent to UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov. The comparison couldn’t be more appropriate. With Khabib in his corner, Makhachev smothered Drew Dober and finished with a submission.
Makhachev took Dober down early and dominated him on the ground throughout the first round, nearly securing an armbar just before the horn.
He continued the onslaught in round two, again planting Dober on the canvas where he grounded and pounded him.
Makhachev put Dober on his back again to start the third round. Unlike the earlier rounds, however, he secured an arm triangle choke for the finish.
Currently sitting at No. 14 in the lightweight division, Makhachev is poised to make big moves at 155 pounds this year. After the fight, he called for a bout with someone from the top five in the division, notably mentioning Tony Ferguson.
Dominick Cruz shows flash and dash in win over Casey Kenney
Former UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz returned to the win column following back-to-back losses with an impressive performance on Saturday night.
Cruz used tremendously quick and unorthodox footwork to keep Kenney off kilter early, while attacking with a plethora of kicks from all levels. Kenney landed a few good punches, and by the end of the first frame began chopping at Cruz’s lead leg with low kicks.
The attacks kept coming from Cruz’s bizarre angles as the fight wore on, but Kenney kept punishing the lead leg and started landing more punches as he figured out Cruz’s odd movement.
Cruz attacked with a takedown early in the final frame, but Kenney caught him in a guillotine to control position until he could escape to his feet.
As both men tired, they began to throw with reckless abandon, slugging it out for much of the final two minutes of the fight. Cruz likely solidified a split-decision nod with a takedown in the final minute of the fight, finishing in top position.
After the fight, Cruz called out Hans Molenkamp, who runs the combat sports division of Monster Energy. Cruz insinuated that Molenkamp had done some shady things, so he said he wanted Monster Energy to set up a charity fight between them before the broadcast quickly cut away from him.
Askar Askarov hands Joseph Benavidez third consecutive loss
Askar Askarov put on a dominant performance against Joseph Benavidez. Askarov dominated every facet of the fight, using a front kick to great effect on the feet, but also out-positioning Benavidez on the ground en route to a unanimous decision victory.
With the win, Askarov moved into a prime position to challenge the winner of the upcoming UFC flyweight championship rematch between Deiveson Figueiredo and Brandon Moreno.
Benavidez lost his third consecutive bout for a career first skid. Already fighting an uphill battle to regain title contention, Benavidez isn’t likely to become a championship contender again any time soon.
UFC 259 Quick Results
UFC 259 Main Card
- Light Heavyweight Title Bout: Jan Blachowicz def Israel Adesanya by unanimous decision (49-46, 49-45, 49-45)
- Women’s Featherweight Title Bout: Amanda Nunes def Megan Anderson by submission (armbar) 2:03, R1
- Bantamweight Title Bout: Aljamain Sterling def Petr Yan by disqualification (illegal knee) at 4:29, R4
- Lightweight Bout: Islam Makhachev def Drew Dober by submission (arm triangle choke) at 1:39, R3
- Light Heavyweight Bout: Aleksandar Rakic def Thiago Santos by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 30-27)
UFC 259 Prelims
- Bantamweight Bout: Dominick Cruz def Casey Kenney by split decision (28-29, 29-28, 30-27)
- Bantamweight Bout: Kyler Phillips def Song Yadong by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
- Flyweight Bout: Askar Askarov def Joseph Benavidez by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-26)
- Flyweight Bout: Kai Kara-France def Rogerio Bontorin by TKO (punches) at 4:55, R1
- Flyweight Bout: Tim Elliott def Jordan Espinosa by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-25)
- Light Heavyweight Bout: Kennedy Nzechukwu def Carlos Ulberg by KO (punches) at 3:19, R2
- Welterweight Bout: Sean Brady def Jake Matthews by submission (arm triangle choke) at 3:28, R3
- Women’s Strawweight Bout: Amanda Lemos def Livinha Souza bt TKO (punches) at 3:39, T1
- Lightweight Bout: Uros Medic def Aalon Cruz by TKO (punches) at 1:40, R1
- Bantamweight Bout: Trevin Jones def Mario Bautista by TKO (punches) at 0:47, R2