UFC 253: Adesanya mauls Costa to cement world-class status - Sports Illustrated

Adesanya Mauls Costa at UFC 253 to Establish Middleweight as a Class of His Own

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Israel Adesanya made it look easy.

Adesanya (20-0) successfully defended his middleweight championship in the main event of UFC 253 with a one-sided mauling of Paulo Costa, who also entered the fight with an undefeated streak of his own. But Costa (13-1) was no match for Adesanya, who put forth a dominating performance that began with his legs and ended with his fists.

The second-round TKO finish does not do justice to the brilliant strategy and execution from Adesanya. The fight opened with a kick from Adesanya, and that was the story of the fight. Adesanya used his vicious array of kicks to chew up both of Costa’s legs, which completely changed the direction and momentum of the fight within the first two minutes.

Israel Adesanya

Costa is known for attacking the body and corralling his opponent into the perfect striking distance, but none of that was on display against Adesanya. This fight was one-sided, beginning with a strong leg kick from Adesanya almost immediately after the bell, which he followed up with eight more times in the opening round. Costa’s left leg was covered in bruises, and it limited his mobility, producing only eight total strike attempts in the first.

The second round was more domination from Adesanya. The end was apparent once he started landing blows to Costa’s face. A strike from Adesanya’s left fist knocked Costa down, and the referee was forced to stop the fight after some vicious ground-and-pound on the mat. Costa had powered through opponents en route to this title shot, but Adesanya proved there is a wide gap between the two fighters.

The biggest upset of the night occurred in the bout for the vacant light heavyweight Championship. Jan Blachowicz defeated Dominick Reyes via a second-round TKO, and this was also a fight that was shockingly one-sided.

Entering the fight, the only blemish for Reyes (12-2) was a controversial decision loss to Jon Jones. There was no controversy here, as Blachowicz (27-8) dropped Reyes with a left hook in the second round that ended the fight and put the title around his waist. The trouble for Reyes began after Blachowicz drilled him with a kick in the ribs, a shot that instantly left a bruise. From there, Blachowicz was systematic in his attack. At the age of 37, and after losing four of five fights as recently as April of 2017, Blachowicz now begins his first-ever title reign in the UFC.

Another upset on the card took place in the flyweight fight. Brandon Royval locked in a tight guillotine choke on Kai Kara-France to establish himself as a legitimate contender in the flyweight division. Kara-France (21-9, 1 NC) had entered the bout as the favorite, and had a shot at ending the fight during the opening sequence, but Royval (12-4) withstood some early shots to take control of the fight.

Ketlen Vieira defeated Sijara Eubanks in a women’s bantamweight fight. The victory puts Vieira (11-1) back on pace for an upcoming fight against Women’s Bantamweight Champion Amanda Nunes. Eubanks (6-5) fought hard in her UFC pay per view debut, but Vieira’s size and strength allowed her to control the fight. This ended in a unanimous decision for Vieira, but despite looking good against Eubanks, she is nowhere near the level of Nunes.

The opening fight of the night, unfortunately, turned into a catchweight fight after Zubaira Tukhugov failed to make weight. That does not take away from the impressive performance of Hakeem Dwawodu, who took over the fight in the second and third rounds for a split decision victory. Dawodu (12-1-1) is now only one more win away from a spot in the featherweight division’s top ten, and he made a loud statement with this win against Tukhugov (19-5-1).

UFC 253 was built around its two title fights, and neither disappointed. Blachowicz dominated Reyes in surprising fashion to claim the vacant light heavyweight Championship. Though he called out Jon Jones for a fight, that is an unlikely proposition with Jones’ move to heavyweight. A far more likely scenario is Blachowicz headlining a card with a title fight against Thiago Santos, the last opponent to defeat him. As for Adesanya, he has no peers in the middleweight division. He said that his next opponent will be Jared Cannonier, permitting he defeats Robert Whittaker, but the money fights for Adesanya are likely to come from opponents moving from other divisions to middleweight.

The story of UFC 253 was domination and excellence from Adesanya and Blachowicz, who both delivered in title fights on the biggest stage possible.