A five-week stay for the UFC on Fight Island kicks off in earnest on Saturday with UFC 253 from Yas Island, Abu Dhabi. The main event will feature undefeated middleweight champion Israel Adesanya (19-0) looking to defend his title for the second time against an undefeated challenger in Paulo Costa (13-0).

It is only the second title fight in UFC history that will feature two unblemished records. It will also feature two men who genuinely dislike each other. The fight was supposed to take place earlier this year, but Costa underwent biceps surgery.

It will be Adesanya’s first fight since his decision over Yoel Romero on March 7, a fight that was widely panned for a lack of action. Few expect the same result from a fight with Costa, who is an aggressive fighter usually pursuing an early finish.

And because the fight is not in the UFC’s Apex facility in Las Vegas, the fights will be held in a bigger cage. Will that help Adesanya, who’s generally considered to have better movement and range?

And in the co-main event, the UFC’s vacant light heavyweight title is up for grabs between Dominick Reyes (12-1) and Jan Blachowicz (26-8). Former champion Jon Jones dropped the title earlier this year in an anticipated move to heavyweight. Saturday will witness the first 205-pound champion not named Jones or Daniel Cormier since 2011.

The UFC 253 main card starts at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV. Marc Raimondi, Brett Okamoto and Jeff Wagenheim recap the fights as they happen on Fight Island.

Fight in progress:

Men’s featherweight: Hakeem Dawodu (11-1-1, 4-1 UFC, +115) vs. Zubaira Tukhugov (19-4-1, 4-1-1 UFC, -135)


Lightweight: Brad Riddell (9-1, 3-0 UFC) defeats Alex Da Silva (21-3, 1-2 UFC) by unanimous decision



Brad Riddell’s corner gets vocal after a clean shot to Alex De Silva’s eye sees the fight paused in the final round.

Riddell overcame a slow start and two opponents — Da Silva and, briefly but at a pivotal moment, referee Lukasz Bosacki — to come on strong for his sixth straight victory.

Da Silva started the fight fast-forward speed, landing a 1-2 right off the bat, then shooting for a takedown less than a minute in. He got Riddell to the canvas and kept him on the defensive for nearly all of the fight’s first five minutes.

But it was Riddell’s fight from then on. In Round 2, he started landing combinations, none of which significantly hurt Da Silva but did slow him down. Riddell, meanwhile, did not slow down even a little, and there were stretches in the middle round when the 28-year-old from New Zealand simply could not miss with his punches.

Riddell turned up the pressure in the final round, and when he landed a left hook midway through, Da Silva backed up against the cage and dropped down, hurt. The ref jumped in — not to end the fight but to pause it, ruling that Riddell had hurt his opponent with an eye poke. The Aussie’s cornermen could be heard begging Bosacki to look at the arena video board, which showed that it had been a punch, not a poke.

When the action resumed, Riddell ramped up the pressure against his 24-year-old Brazilian opponent but could not put him away. He had to settle for three scorecards of 29-28.

— Wagenheim

Watch this fight on ESPN+.

Welterweight: Jake Matthews (17-4, 10-4 UFC) defeats Diego Sanchez (31-13, 19-13 UFC) by unanimous decision

Matthews caught Sanchez with a straight right hand in the third round, putting Sanchez on rubber legs against the fence. Matthews then pounced, landing hard ground-and-pound until a puddle of blood formed around Sanchez’s head on the canvas.

Sanchez, known for being one of the toughest fighters in UFC history, survived the late onslaught. But Matthews was able to take home a one-sided, unanimous-decision (30-26, 30-26, 30-26) win in a welterweight bout.

Matthews landed hard shots in each round, including a knee and big right hand in the first and a nice uppercut in the second. It was a lopsided bout, but Sanchez largely avoided a ton of damage until the third round.

“I was 11 years old in my lounge room watching Ultimate Fighter 1 when Diego won,” Matthews said. “Now I had the honor of fighting him.

“That last bit of ground and pound, I was this close to apologizing to him.”

Matthews, still just 26 years old, has now won three straight and six of his past seven. The Australia native debuted in the UFC in 2014, at age 19.

The legendary Sanchez, a 38-year-old New Mexico native, is in the UFC Hall of Fame for his incredible 2009 fight with Clay Guida. “The Nightmare” has lost two of his past three bouts. Sanchez is third in UFC history in terms of cage time (6:37:07), per ESPN Stats & Information research.

“You don’t want to let this opportunity go, especially because when we get home we’ve got two weeks in hotel isolation,” Matthews said. “So I didn’t want to be sitting there, reading all of the hate messages on our Instagram, so it was good to get the win and it’s going to make the isolation that much more enjoyable.

“This camp was unlike any other, the fight week was unlike any other, even the fight was different. We thrive in adversity, especially being Australian — we go through so much, bush fires, drought, Melbourne probably has the hardest restrictions in terms of the pandemic at the moment, so we managed to train through that, get fight ready and make our way here and get a win, so definitely thrive in adversity.”

I haven’t been the type to trash talk or call anyone out, every name the matchmakers have given me has excited me and it’s always been a good match up for me, but the most exciting thing for me next is going home and giving my daughter a hug.

— Raimondi

Watch this fight on ESPN+.

Men’s featherweight: Ludovit Klein (17-2, 1-0 UFC) defeats Shane Young (13-5, 2-2 UFC) via first-round KO



Ludovit Klein kicks Shane Young in the head and follows up with a multitude of strikes to knock Young out cold at UFC 253.

UFC newcomer Ludovit Klein gave the featherweight division something to think about, as he starched Shane Young at 1:16 of the first round in his promotional debut.

Klein (17-2) accepted the fight after Young’s original opponent, Nate Landwehr, tested positive for COVID-19. Despite the short notice — and the fact Klein missed weight during Friday’s official weigh-in — he still closed as a betting favorite over Young. And a little over one minute into the bout, he showed why.

After touching Young (13-5) with the jab, Klein staggered him with a nasty left head kick. Before Young could really even cover up, Klein dropped him with a clean right-hand uppercut. Young went crashing to his back and was immediately saved by the referee, even though he came to rather quickly and ended up grabbing the referee’s leg.

For Klein, it’s his 16th finish in 17 career wins. It’s also the ninth time he has finished an opponent inside the first round.

“It’s amazing, this is my biggest dream and I am very happy that I am here in the UFC,” Klein said. “This is always my style, the high kick and demolish my opponent. I am very, very happy for everything.

“Maybe problem because yesterday I didn’t cut weight, I just had one week from the call form the UFC to come here. Short notice there was not so much time to cut the weight. Next time, 100 percent make weight and win fight, everything. It’s amazing, this is everything for me, my dream to be the first Slovakian to go in the UFC and I am here now all of Slovakia will watch me because this is a big, big moment for my country and for me.”

— Okamoto

Watch this fight on ESPN+.

Light heavyweight: William Knight (9-1, 1-0 UFC) defeats Aleksa Camur (6-1, 1-1 UFC) by unanimous decision



William Knight and Aleksa Camur hold nothing back at the end of Round 1 of their bout in the prelims of UFC 253.

A little over three weeks ago, Knight was on Dana White’s Contender Series fighting his way into the UFC. On Saturday, Knight earned his first UFC win, handing Camur his first career defeat.

Knight was simply too much to handle, powering his way to four takedowns over the last two rounds and keeping Camur in dangerous positions for practically the entirety of those 10 minutes. Knight nearly got a kimura finish at the end of Round 2, but Camur was saved by the horn.

The fight went the distance — a career first for Knight — but was an easy call for the judges. Two of them scored all three rounds for Knight, and one judge scored it 29-28.

Knight, a 32-year-old from East Hartford, Connecticut, has won three in a row.

“I actually asked my manager, the second I won, because how fast I won on Contender Series, I was like, yo if you can get me a fight as soon as possible, let me know since I’m close to fight weight,” Knight said. “Next thing you know, we land and boom they give me an opponent, and not only that, we’re going to Fight Island, I couldn’t turn that down.”

Camur, who turned 25 on Friday, is from Broadview, Ohio, and is a training partner of heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic.

— Wagenheim

Watch this fight on ESPN+.

Heavyweight: Juan Espino (11-1, 2-0 UFC) defeats Jeff Hughes (10-4 1 NC, 1-3 1 NC UFC) by first-round submission



Juan Espino body slams Jeff Hughes and submits him via arm triangle late in Round 1 at the UFC 253 prelims.

Welcome back, Juan Espino.

Gone for nearly two years because of a bad hand injury, Espino returned to the UFC in a big way, stopping Hughes by submission (scarf hold choke) at 3:48 of the first round in a heavyweight bout.

Espino, a talented grappler, looked to take Hughes down right away — and had plenty of success in doing so. He landed a takedown against the cage, then a big slam. In a scramble, Espino was able to pass to mount and then to side control, where he tied up Hughes’ head and arm in a slick choke. The result was read as an arm-triangle, but it was actually a catch-wrestling-style scarf hold.

Espino, 39, won The Ultimate Fighter 28 in November 2018, beating Justin Frazier via first-round submission. The Spain native has won seven straight and has not lost since 2011. Hughes, a 32-year-old Ohio native, is winless in all four of his UFC fights.

“I’m happy. It’s been a long time outside of the cage,” Espino said. “But every day I never lost motivation. I focused in my training. I’m back.

“I’m a world champion in grappling. It’s my first natural move is a submission. All my life I’ve been grappling, all my life wrestling, it’s my instinct. I practice my boxing, I practice my kickboxing, I practice everything, but when I go inside and feel good with my wrestling and grappling, I go.”

— Raimondi

Watch this fight on ESPN+.

Light heavyweight: Danilo Marques (10-2, 1-0 UFC) defeats Khadis Ibragimov (8-4, 0-4 UFC) vs. by unanimous decision

Brazilian light heavyweight Danilo Marques picked up a victory over Khadis Ibragimov in his UFC debut, in a three-round bout that was extremely tedious — to put it nicely.

Marques, who has trained with the likes of Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and Demian Maia, won the 205-pound contest via judges’ scores of 30-27, 29-28 and 29-28, but it was an ugly performance from both at times. Marques appeared fatigued as early as the opening round. Ibragimov, who fell to 0-4 in the UFC, was very inactive on the feet and committed several fouls by grabbing the fence.

Ultimately, it was Marques’ work in the grappling exchanges that won him the fight. He took Ibragimov’s back multiple times and threatened to secure a rear-naked choke in the second round. Ibragimov hurt Marques with an overhand right late in the fight and nearly submitted Marques with a guillotine shortly after, but that was about the extent of his offense.

Marques, 34, was initially scheduled to compete on Dana White’s Contender Series this summer; however, his bout was canceled and he ended up getting the call for Fight Island.

— Okamoto

Watch this fight on ESPN+.

Still to come:

Middleweight: Israel Adesanya (c) (19-0, 8-0 UFC, -180) vs. Paulo Costa (13-0, 5-0 UFC, +160)
Light heavyweight: Dominick Reyes (12-1, 6-1 UFC, -270) vs. Jan Blachowicz (26-8, 9-5 UFC, +230)
Men’s flyweight: Kai Kara-France (21-8, 4-1 UFC, -230) vs. Brandon Royval (11-4, 1-0 UFC, +190)
Women’s bantamweight: Ketlen Vieira (10-1, 4-1 UFC, -185) vs. Sijara Eubanks (7-4, 4-2 UFC, +165)
(c) = defending champion


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