THE UFC is just plain showing off this weekend serving up not only three legit world title fights from behind closed doors at its Apex in Las Vegas, but the headliner features world champions from two separate weight division.
Middleweight champion Israel Adesanya is moving up 20lb to challenge Jan Blachowicz for the light heavyweight championship at UFC 259 in one of the boldest moves in the history of the sport.
If successful, the Nigeria-born, New Zealand-made ‘Stylebender’ will join the GOAT conversation just three short years after joining the UFC. Unbeaten in 20 fights – with 15 knockouts – the ‘2019 New Zealand Sportsman of the Year’ is a prodigious athlete who is already on his way to becoming a pop culture icon.
Adesanya’s mixed roots, torso of tattoos, love of Japanese anime and penchant for celebratory street dancing perfectly complements a creative and unorthodox kickboxing style that’s based on sharp reflexes, rapid hands and an astounding fight IQ.
Three years after his UFC debut Israel Adesanya is yet to meet his match.
After storming the 185lb division @Stylebender has history in his sights – becoming the fastest UFC Champ-Champ ever!
— UFC on BT Sport (@btsportufc) February 28, 2021
Blachowicz is a dangerously new proposition compared to the middleweight division Adesanya has cut a swathe through in the last few years, however. A career 205lb’er, the 38-year-old from Warsaw has had to do it the hard way, suffering a 1-4 UFC skid at one point before finding the form that took him to the title.
His second round TKO of the much-fancied Dominick Reyes in September was the culmination of a 35-fight life in mixed martial arts. Where Adesanya is all style and substance, Blachowicz is 100% Polish power; both in his striking and his grappling.
Can the bigger man handle the speed and creativity of the 31-year-old phenomenon? Or has Israel bitten off more than he can chew in a champion that’s simply too big and too strong to land a dent that can last?
The first of the two title fight co-main events in Las Vegas is another cracker: Russian bantamweight champion Petr Yan makes the maiden defence of his reign against #1 contender Aljamain Sterling in a classic striker vs. grappler matchup.
Petr Yan Fight Week pic.twitter.com/NUy36zpCUg
— Fairly Popular Small Town Radio Host (@P4Stan) March 1, 2021
Yan (15-1) has looked outstanding so far in his career, utilising exquisite boxing skills and relentless pressure to slip, jab and counter his way to gold. However, questions remain about the validity of a resume that is littered with former stars at the end of their career.
Sterling (19-3) represents the first ambitious top 5 fighter Yan has faced, unlike the challenger himself who has had to earn his opportunity the hard way against a succession of fellow contenders. With their opposing skill sets, this contrast of style promises to steal the show.
The third title fight features the greatest female mixed martial artist of all time, Amanda Nunes, making the latest defence of her featherweight crown against leading contender Megan Anderson (11-4).
After scalping what would be the UFC’s female fighter Hall of Fame already, new-mum Nunes will start as a significant favourite to retain one of her two championship belts. But this defence is up at 145lbs against a six-foot Aussie who is a full-blown featherweight.
If 20-4 Nunes, unbeaten since 2014, isn’t 100% focused and prepared then this defence could be much closer than most are predicting. Although, admittedly a loss here would challenge any of the biggest upsets in UFC history.