Preview: UFC 259 Main Card

Blachowicz vs. Adesanya

By Tom Feely Mar 5, 2021

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This is about as good as it gets for an Ultimate Fighting Championship event. A loaded set of prelims gives way to this main card that simply does not have room for any of the excellent fights dotting the undercard. The top three fights at UFC 259 on Saturday feature five belts across four champions. Middleweight champion Israel Adesanya moves up to light heavyweight and challenges Jan Blachowicz in a fascinating title fight; double-champion Amanda Nunes looks to continue to build her legacy against Megan Anderson; and the bantamweight title fight between Petr Yan and Aljamain Sterling might be the most interesting fight of them all. Even the non-title fights are excellent, as Islam Makhachev finally gets a tough test against Drew Dober and former light heavyweight title challenger Thiago Santos looks to get back on track against Aleksandar Rakic. If all these fights make it to the cage, this is a clear frontrunner for Event of the Year.

UFC Light Heavyweight Championship

C | Jan Blachowicz (27-8, 10-5 UFC) vs. C | Israel Adesanya (20-0, 9-0 UFC)

ODDS: Adesanya (-230), Blachowicz (+190)

It feels like Adesanya has been entrenched as the middleweight champion and one of the best fighters in the world for a while now, but it is worth remembering that his UFC debut came just a shade over three years ago. Adesanya came over from kickboxing as an obvious talent with star potential, but the thought was that there would be some growing pains. Most of his pre-UFC footage saw him just out-athlete his way out of wrestling and grappling exchanges; even Rob Wilkinson managed to control him for a bit in his UFC debut until Adesanya finally turned things around for a stoppage victory. From there, it became apparent that “The Last Stylebender” was on the phenom track. Within a few months, Adesanya was stifling takedown attempts from well-regarded vets like Brad Tavares and Derek Brunson. By April 2019—just 14 months after his UFC debut—Adesanya won the interim middleweight title in a “Fight of the Year” against Kelvin Gastelum. The following October, he completely outclassed Robert Whittaker to become the undisputed king at 185 pounds and the face of MMA in the Oceanic region. Up to that point, Adesanya’s career had been seven fights and 20 months of absolute transcendence, which gave way to a strange 2020 campaign. His March title defense over Yoel Romero remains baffling, to say the least. Adesanya specifically called for Romero as an opponent during a time when there was no obvious healthy contender, so the thought was that he had some sort of impressive strategy up his sleeve. Instead, Adesanya seemed cowed by the danger that Romero brings to the table, resulting in an interminable slog of a fight that he was lucky to win. His September match against Paulo Costa figured to be a much more exciting challenge, but whether it was Adesanya’s skill or the intensely homoerotic build to the fight, Costa was shockingly passive on his way to a one-sided loss. With no next great challenger on the horizon, Adesanya now sets his sights on the light heavyweight title, whether it is the desire for a new challenge or some sort of long game stemming from his social media feud with former 205-pound king Jon Jones. Once again, Blachowicz is in position to ruin someone else’s best-laid plans.

Blachowicz’s path to UFC gold was essentially the opposite of Adesanya’s quick rise. Blachowicz came to the Octagon with a strong resume and looked like an immediate contender after his UFC debut, a 2014 knockout of Ilir Latifi. Instead, Blachowicz spent the next three years essentially trying to stay above the UFC’s cut line. Blachowicz would lose four of his next five bouts—the lone victory came against an aged Igor Pokrajac—and absolutely nothing seemed to be working for the Pole. Even in bouts where Blachowicz could control the fight early, he would quickly tire to the point of ineffectiveness and lose a clear decision as a result. After a 2017 win over Devin Clark likely saved his job, Blachowicz’s game suddenly clicked. He relied more on his jab and seemingly cleared whatever mental hurdles led to his exhaustion, staying consistent and picking apart less technical opponents. A loss to Thiago Santos was a minor setback, but Blachowicz just went back to his winning ways, including brutal knockouts of Luke Rockhold and Corey Anderson. Once Jones vacated the light heavyweight belt, Blachowicz was put in a title fight against Dominick Reyes as the clear B-side, given that Reyes was the more obvious talent. Plus, many felt he had beaten Jones in his last bout. Instead, Blachowicz used his legendary Polish power to bruise up Reyes’ body and eventually end the fight with a barrage in the second round. Now one of the unlikeliest champions in UFC history, Blachowicz is once again a clear underdog and once again has a chance at a legacy-defining win.

Adesanya moving up a weight class is going to be strange to see. He has not even always weighed in at the middleweight level, so it remains unclear exactly how he will bulk up—if at all—for this fight. He will still be the taller and rangier fighter here and should be able to play his usual elusive counterstriker role as a result. To that end, there is a chance that this fight is slow going early. Blachowicz is at his best on the counter himself, so neither man figures to open things up much initially. Of the two, Blachowicz is the more willing to lead, at which point Adesanya should be able to get the ball rolling. The middleweight champion does not offer the same defensive holes as many of Blachowicz’s opponents have—even before factoring in his speed advantage—and given enough time, the Pole has shown a willingness to try and cause some damage via blitzes. Blachowicz obviously offers plenty of knockout power relative to Adesanya’s other opponents, and that has also proven to be where “The Last Stylebender” has been least comfortable. Gastelum had more success than anyone against Adesanya due to his willingness to double down on pressure. However, with the speed advantage, the bet is that Adesanya can get the better of those exchanges and sting Blachowicz with offense in return. It says a lot about Blachowicz’s progress that his ending this fight with one clean shot would not be a total surprise, but unless the power or physicality dynamic turns things completely sideways with Adesanya, this looks like the middleweight champion’s fight to lose. The pick is Adesanya via third-round stoppage.

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