LAS VEGAS — Israel Adesanya, who headlines UFC 259 vs. Jan Blachowicz on Saturday, has become one of the most talked-about fighters in the world. “The Last Style Bender” says he is comfortable with the idea that he could one day transcend MMA, like a Conor McGregor or a Ronda Rousey.
“It’s inevitable,” Adesanya said. “I just have to get used to it. I just have to accept it and not hide from the role that I’m in, not hide from the platform that I’m on. Because a lot of people get to this spot and they start to get like, ‘I’ve been here’ and it’s like s—. What did Kanye West say? ‘Y’all can have it back.’ … I just run with it.”
It might be hard to hold him back if he accomplishes this next feat: becoming only the fifth fighter to hold UFC titles in two different divisions simultaneously.
Adesanya, the UFC middleweight champion, will challenge Blachowicz for the light heavyweight title at the UFC Apex. Adesanya has never lost an MMA fight, and now he could add another gold belt to his collection.
Blachowicz, though, is no easy out. He’ll have a significant size advantage. Blachowicz told ESPN this week that he would weigh 220 pounds on fight day. He weighed 205 pounds, right at the title-fight light heavyweight limit, at weigh-ins Friday. Adesanya weighed only 200.5 pounds and doesn’t figure to weigh much more than that in the Octagon on Saturday night. Blachowicz (27-8) has won four in a row, including three of those by KO/TKO. The 38-year-old Polish fighter won the vacant UFC light heavyweight title by beating Dominick Reyes by second-round TKO at UFC 253 last September.
Adesanya (20-0), a former champion kickboxer, has won his first nine fights in the UFC. The Nigeria-born New Zealand resident is coming off a second-round TKO over Paulo Costa at UFC 253. The flashy Adesanya, 31, has 15 knockouts in 20 career wins and has been UFC middleweight champion since October 2019.
In the co-main event, the greatest women’s MMA fighter of all time, Amanda Nunes, looks to defend her featherweight title against 6-foot powerhouse Megan Anderson. Nunes (20-4) is also the UFC women’s bantamweight champion and owns just about every prominent UFC women’s record there is. Anderson (11-4) has won two straight and has one-punch knockout power. Also on the card, Petr Yan attempts to make his first successful defense of the UFC bantamweight title against Aljamain Sterling.
On the undercard, Thiago Santos and Aleksandar Rakic meet in a critical light heavyweight contender bout, former bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz returns against up-and-coming Casey Kenney, and Khabib Nurmagomedov training partner Islam Makhachev takes on Drew Dober.
Marc Raimondi, Brett Okamoto and Jeff Wagenheim recap the action as it happens in Las Vegas.
Fight in progress:
Askarov, a flyweight title contender out of Russia, added a big name to his resume by defeating Benavidez over the course of three one-sided rounds.
According to UFC Stats, Askarov converted five of six takedown attempts and controlled Benavidez on the ground for large chunks of the first and second rounds. Benavidez tried to respond with blitzing combinations on the feet, but Askarov’s distance management and grappling control essentially neutralized the four-time title challenger. Judges scored it for Askarov 30-27, 30-27 and 30-26.
Only blemish on Askarov’s weekend in which he otherwise makes a case for a title shot: He missed weight (127) and looked pretty bad getting to the scale.
His ability to make 125.0 may face some questions. #UFC259
— Phil Murphy (@Phil_Sports) March 7, 2021
Sporting a bad cut and swelling under his left eye, Benavidez went into the third round looking for a finish but never came close. He landed a hard Superman punch midway through the final round, but Askarov wore it well and did well avoiding risk and keeping Benavidez on the outside.
Benavidez, who fights out of Las Vegas, remains tied with former champion Demetrious Johnson for the most wins in UFC flyweight history with 13. He has been stuck on that number since June 2019. He has now dropped his past three, including back-to-back losses to current champion Deiveson Figueiredo in 2020. Askarov moves to 3-0-1 in the UFC.
Kai Kara-France puts Rogerio Bontorin down with a nice combination for a knockout victory, and Bontorin shows his displeasure as he chucks his mouthpiece across the ring at Kara-France.
Bontorin was on the way to a 10-8 round. And then — just like that — his head was crashing to the canvas.
Kara-France escaped after a long stretch of ground dominance by Bontorin at the end of the first round and unleashed a hellish combination. Kara-France landed a right hand that rocked Bontorin and a right uppercut that caused Bontorin to face plant. The finish came at 4:55 of the first round via TKO.
— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) March 7, 2021
“Mark Hunt walkaway — vintage,” Kara-France said in his postfight interview, referencing his fellow Oceania native Hunt’s propensity for walk-off knockouts.
The final sequence was a bit odd. Bontorin fell face-first to the canvas and Kara-France started celebrating. Then, when it seemed like referee Herb Dean had not actually called off the bout, Kara-France ran back to Bontorin in an attempt to blast him with more blows. Dean headed him off at the pass and then officially called the bout over by TKO. Bontorin, who seemed to think the fight was still going, fired his mouthpiece at Kara-France in frustration before cooler heads prevailed.
Bontorin hurt Kara-France with a left hand early in the first and then took him down. From there, he took Kara-France’s back and dominated, nearly cinching in rear-naked chokes on multiple occasions. It was completely one-sided until Kara-France got to his feet in the closing seconds and shook off Bontorin.
“I put the flyweights coming up on notice,” Kara-France said. “Anyone in that top five can get it.”
Kara-France, 27, came in ranked No. 10 in the world at flyweight by ESPN. The New Zealand native was coming off a second-round submission loss to Brandon Royval at UFC 253 in September. Bontorin, a 28-year-old Brazil native, has dropped two straight following a four-fight winning streak.
Elliott got a takedown early in the first round and dominated Espinosa from top position while delivering damage for the rest of the first five minutes. Elliott got a takedown early in the second round, and proceeded to dominate and do more damage, not allowing Espinosa off the canvas until the horn. The third round? More of the same.
It was 15 minutes of total control, and one judge gave Elliott a couple of 10-8 rounds, making it a 30-25 scorecard. The other two judges scored the bout 30-27.
He made it look easy 🩸 #UFC259
— Niko Price (@Nikohybridprice) March 7, 2021
The three takedowns give Elliott 47 for his UFC career, putting him alone in second place among flyweights, behind former champion Demetrious Johnson (58).
Elliott, who is 34 and from Lee’s Summit, Missouri, won his second in a row after withstanding a three-fight losing streak against ranked fighters.
Espinosa, a 31-year-old from Albuquerque, New Mexico, nearly landed head kicks in both the first and second rounds, but Elliott ducked under both and rushed forward for takedowns. While on his back in Round 3, Espinosa cut Elliott with an elbow. But that was all he managed in losing for the fourth time in his past five bouts.
These two were scheduled to meet in January, but the bout was postponed after Espinosa tested positive for COVID-19.
Nzechuwu, a light heavyweight prospect out of Dallas, earned the biggest win of his career with a second-round upset of Ulberg.
Nzechuwu got off to a terrible start, as he was visibly wobbled by a left head kick in the opening minute. Ulberg, who fights out of New Zealand and is a close teammate of Israel Adesanya, pressed in looking for the finish, and did so intelligently. He ripped Nzechuwu to the body with punches and knees from the Thai clinch, but Nzechuwu managed to survive and separate.
This card has been insane with only 5 fights in 🤯 #UFC259
— Carlos Correa (@TeamCJCorrea) March 7, 2021
As the round progressed, Nzechuwu started to even things behind straight left hands to Ulberg’s head. Ulberg looked a bit fatigued between rounds, but still came out pumping the jab and low leg kicks to slow the forward motion of Nzechuwu. Nzechuwu would not be denied, however, as he walked through Ulberg’s offense and knocked him out with a short right hand along the fence 3:19 into the round.
Nzechuwu, 28, is now 2-1 in the UFC. His only loss came against the currently ranked Paul Craig. Ulberg drops his UFC debut.
Sean Brady gets Jake Matthews up against the cage and makes him tap to solidify a submission win in the third round.
In a battle of welterweight prospects, Brady showed up in a big way.
Brady steamrolled Matthews, finishing with a submission (arm triangle) at 3:28 of the third round. The undefeated Brady dominated Matthews in every facet of MMA, outwrestling him and outgrappling him — and even wobbling him with strikes in the third. It was the kind of victory that announced Brady as a real threat in a very good UFC welterweight division. Brady winning by submission was +400 per Caesars by William Hill.
170lbs needs to be very worried about @seanbradymma
— Paul Felder (@felderpaul) March 6, 2021
“I think I just deserve a top-15 guy,” Brady said in his postfight interview. “Let’s see who they give me after this.”
Matthews’ best moment came in the first round. He dropped Brady with a punch after catching a Brady kick. But Brady was quick to get on top in a ground scramble. And he spent the rest of the round there. Brady went back to that clear advantage in the second round, shooting a double-leg takedown on Matthews and getting him down. Brady dominated from there, getting the back and slipping into mount while landing punches.
In the third round, Brady rocked Matthews with a left hook. Matthews ended up being the one going for a takedown, which Brady stuffed and then won position in a scramble yet again. From there, Brady got into dominant position and wrapped Matthews up into an arm-triangle choke from arm triangle.
Brady, 28, is 4-0 in the UFC with two straight submission finishes in a row. The Philadelphia native is the former Cage Fury Fighting Championship welterweight champion. Brady’s four-fight UFC winning streak is the third-best active winning streak in the division, behind champion Kamaru Usman (13) and Leon Edwards (8). Matthews, still just 26 years old out Australia, had a three-fight winning streak snapped.
Lemos finished this fight between Brazilian women with a jab.
The straight punch dropped Souza, and referee Jason Herzog jumped in almost immediately, waving off the bout as a TKO at 3:39 of Round 1. It was a quick action by the ref, almost as quick as Lemos’ powerful fists.
Amanda Lemos was credited with two knockdowns in her KO win over Livinha Souza.
— UFC News (@UFCNews) March 6, 2021
The 33-year-old Lemos, in winning her third straight fight, was in command from the start, taking ownership of the center of the Octagon and stalking Souza, who was overmatched in the standup fighting. The bout went to the canvas midway through the round after Lemos landed an overhand right hand that dropped her countrywoman, but that actually gave Souza a glimmer of a chance. She grabbed hold of Lemos’ ankle and went for a submission — Souza has eight of them among her 14 career wins — but Lemos escaped, delivered some ground-and-pound, then got the fight back to standing.
That was the beginning of the end for Souza, who is 29. She had no answers, got dropped by the jab, and that sealed her second loss in her last three fights.
Making his UFC debut, Uros Medic wastes no time as he drops Aalon Cruz early in their bout at UFC 259.
Medic has been saying he’s UFC-ready for a while. He proved it big time in his promotional debut.
Medic devastated Cruz with strikes on the feet, en route to a first-round TKO finish. Medic hurt Cruz almost immediately, and referee Mark Smith gave Cruz every opportunity to continue — perhaps too many — before finally calling the bout at the 1:40 mark.
This guys a monster !!!
— Belal Muhammad (@bullyb170) March 6, 2021
Medic, who fights out of Alaska but was born in Serbia, badly hurt Cruz with a left hook to the temple and followed that with a flying knee that Cruz ate flush. Cruz basically dropped to the ground, covered up and held onto Medic’s leg. Medic hit him with a long series of unanswered punches, and dropped him again with a left hand after Cruz somehow managed to stand up. The end was never in question.
A former contestant on Dana White’s Contender Series, Medic has finished all of his professional bouts, including six in the first round. Cruz, who also was on DWCS and is from Tampa, drops to 0-2 in the UFC with two first-round losses by knockout.
Trevin Jones shocks Mario Bautista in the second round of their bout at UFC 259 in Las Vegas.
Jones finally has his first UFC victory — officially.
He actually won his promotional debut last August, knocking out Timur Valiev, but the result was overturned to a no-contest after Jones tested positive for marijuana. He had taken the fight on two days notice.
Five-star finish by @TrevinAJones 🤩
— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) March 6, 2021
Now the 30-year-old native of New Orleans, who grew up in and still trains in Guam, has another knockout. This one came 40 seconds into the second round, when he caught Bautista coming in with a lead right uppercut, dropping him. Jones is unbeaten in his past four fights.
Bautista, a 27-year-old fighting out of the MMA Lab in Glendale, Arizona, saw a two-fight winning streak come to an end.
Still to come:
Light heavyweight title bout: Jan Blachowicz (c) (27-8, 10-5 UFC, +200) vs. Israel Adesanya (20-0, 9-0 UFC, -240)
Women’s featherweight title bout: Amanda Nunes (c) (20-4, 13-1 UFC, -1100) vs. Megan Anderson (11-4, 3-2 UFC, +700)
Men’s bantamweight title bout: Petr Yan (c) (15-1, 7-0 UFC, -120) vs. Aljamain Sterling (19-3, 11-3 UFC, +100)
Lightweight: Islam Makhachev (18-1, 7-1 UFC, -380) vs. Drew Dober (23-9 1 NC, 9-5 1 NC UFC, +300)
Light heavyweight: Aleksandar Rakić (13-2, 5-1 UFC, -160) vs. Thiago Santos (21-8, 13-7 UFC, +135)
Men’s bantamweight: Dominick Cruz (22-3, 5-2 UFC, +115) vs. Casey Kenney (16-2-1,5-1 UFC, -135)
(c) = defending champion