It was not the flashy performance for which fans had hoped and was in fact pedestrian by his lofty standards, as Israel Adesanya chose the safest—and perhaps wisest—way forward against an enigmatic but lethal challenger.
Crushing leg kicks and evasive, risk-averse movement carried Adesanya to a unanimous decision over Yoel Romero, allowing him to retain his undisputed Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight crown in the UFC 248 headliner on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Scores were 48-47, 48-47 and 49-46, all for the City Kickboxing star, who improved to 19-0 amid a chorus of boos from a crowd disappointed by inaction from both men.
The striking totals were downright anemic for a five-round fight: Adesanya was 48-for-132, while Romero went 40-for-89. Romero connected with more impactful head shots—they included an overhand left in the first round that stopped the champion in his tracks—but they were too few and far between to make a difference on the scorecards. Adesanya’s commitment to leg kicks took an undeniable toll on the 2000 Olympic silver medalist, providing him with the separation he needed to maintain his hold on the 185-pound throne.
In the aftermath of UFC 248 “Adesanya vs. Romero,” here are five matches that ought to be made:
Israel Adesanya vs. Paulo Henrique Costa: Only time will tell whether or not newfound caution will bleed into future Adesanya appearances. In his unanimous decision over Romero, it was maddening but understandable. “The Last Stylebender” battered his counterpart’s lead leg with kicks, mixed in a handful of body blows and withstood Romero’s patented blitzes of brief but ferocious offense. Having cleared one frightening obstacle, Adesanya can now look forward to another. Costa, an otherworldly physical specimen in his own right, moved to a perfect 13-0 with a unanimous decision over Romero in August and was in line to vie for the middleweight title before a biceps injury put him on the shelf.
Weili Zhang vs. Jessica Andrade-Rose Namajunas winner: Zhang retained the undisputed women’s strawweight championship in the five-round co-main event, as she outlasted former titleholder Joanna Jedrzejczyk in an immediate contender for “Fight of the Year.” After champion and challenger brought remarkable savagery and skill to their epic 25-minute battle, Zhang emerged with a split decision—48-47, 47-48, 48-47—and walked away with her 21st straight win. According to preliminary data, the two women combined to land 366 total strikes, 351 of which were deemed significant. Jedrzejczyk exited the cage with a massive hematoma that stretched from one side of her forehead to the other, the damage the result of multiple blows from the heavy-handed Zhang. Andrade and Numajunas will tangle in the UFC 249 co-headliner on April 18.
Beneil Dariush vs. Davi Ramos-Arman Tsarukyan winner: The suddenly-on-fire Dariush recorded his fourth consecutive victory with a spectacular one-punch knockout of Drakkar Klose in the second round of their lightweight feature. Klose met his end 60 seconds into Round 2. Dariush controlled the first five minutes with superior grappling, as he climbed to the back, secured his position with a standing body triangle and hunted rear-naked chokes. A firefight broke out at the start of the second round, where both men were staggered by power punches. Dariush pushed Klose backward and uncorked a hellacious left hook that froze the MMA Lab rep and brought their encounter to a sudden and dramatic close. Ramos and Tsarukyan will collide at UFC Fight Night 172 in April.
Neil Magny vs. Vicente Luque-Randy Brown winner: Magny dazzled in his return from a 16-month layoff, as he mauled Jingliang Li in a three-round rout and cruised to a lopsided unanimous decision in their welterweight showcase. All three cageside judges scored it the same: 30-27 for Magny, who improved to 15-6 under the UFC flag. “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 16 semifinalist executed takedowns in all three rounds and wrecked Li in the clinch, where he utilized knee strikes to the body and head, short punches and shoulder strikes. The defeat snapped the China Top Team standout’s three-fight winning streak and put Magny back on the map at 170 pounds. Luque and Brown have been booked against one another at UFC Fight Night 172 on April 11.
Sean O’Malley vs. Raoni Barcelos-Cody Stamann winner: The talented and charismatic O’Malley made up for lost time. In his first appearance in more than two years, the undefeated MMA Lab prospect cut down Jose Alberto Quinonez with punches in the first round of their featured bantamweight prelim. Quinonez succumbed to blows 2:02 into Round 1. O’Malley, 11-0, stung “The Ultimate Fighter Latin America” finalist with a right hook, followed with a head kick and sent Quinonez to the canvas with a short right uppercut before a volley of hammerfists sealed the deal. Barcelos and Stamann on March 28 will lock horns at UFC on ESPN 8.