MIDDLEWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP TITLE FIGHT: ISRAEL ADESANYA (C) VS. PAULO COSTA -- 12:29 AM ET
Israel Adesanya continued his dominance in the main event.
Courtesy of a second-round TKO, Adesanya (20-0) extended his undefeated streak by giving Paulo Costa his first loss. Costa (13-1), who had looked unstoppable up until this point, was overmatched from the start of the fight. His night ended after a left fist to the head, which was followed by a flurry of ground-and-pound shots from 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, starting with a strong leg kick from Adesanya to start the fight, which he followed up with eight more times in the opening round. Costa’s left leg was covered in bruises after five minutes, and he only produced eight total strike attempts in the first.
Adesanya continued to attack Costa’s lower half in the second round, then began pummeling him with shots to the head. In a fight that originally seemed even, Costa was thoroughly outmatched and outclassed by the champ. This was never a contest, and the victory further cements Adesanya’s legacy as one of the greatest fighters in the world.
Following the win, Adesanya called out Jared Cannonier for an upcoming title fight, though he noted that Cannonier first needs to first get past Robert Whittaker. Right now, Adesanya has no peers in the middleweight division. Costa was an elite contender and he simply picked him apart, ending the fight without even breaking much of a sweat.
Next up for Adesanya is continued stardom, as there is no one in the division that can end his reign.
LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT FIGHT: DOMINICK REYES VS. JAN BLACHOWICZ -- 11:55 PM ET
Jan Blachowicz is the undisputed Light Heavyweight Champion.
Blachowicz (27-8) laid nonstop pressure onto Dominick Reyes, landing a left hook that put Reyes on his back in the second round and caused the official to call a stop to the contest.
The TKO loss is a blow to Reyes (12-2). He struggled throughout the fight, and Blachowicz threw nearly twice as many shots in the first round. Blachowicz left a red footprint on the right ribs of Reyes courtesy of his left kick. His opening round was impressive, and he looked extremely prepared for Reyes.
Reyes was unable to deliver any sustained offense in the second round, and Blachowicz kept drilling him on that gruesome-looking welt on his ribs. The dominant performance is a significant upset, but there is no doubt that Blachowicz earned this victory.
In the moments following the TKO, Blachowicz called out Jon Jones. Initially, that appeared to be a fight that Jones would control. It is highly unlikely that Jones would ever return to the division for that fight, especially if he is Heavyweight Champion, but suddenly, Blachowicz has a whole new appeal as champ. He controlled the bout against Reyes from the time that the bell rang, and Blachowicz, at 37, just significantly raised his stock with his first-ever title victory.
Blachowicz legitimized himself as champ with that victory, and he should now main event a card with Thiago Santos.
FLYWEIGHT FIGHT: KAI KARA-FRANCE VS. BRANDON ROYVAL -- 11:27 PM ET
Brandon Royval delivered a statement win with a dominating upset against Kai Kara-France.
In less than two rounds, Royval (12-4) and Kara-France (21-9, 1 NC) had a number of wild exchanges in the opening round, and it looked like this fight was going to end in the first seconds in Kara-France’s favor. Each fighter had a shot at ending this, but Royval separated himself with his submission holds.
Royval’s tight guillotine on Kara-France led to a second round submission. On paper, this looked like a great matchup for Kara-France, but Royval was outstanding, especially after overcoming an opening exchange that favored his opponent. With the win, he now inches closer to the top five of the flyweight division, and came off as a genuine contender with such an impressive performance.
WOMEN’S BANTAMWEIGHT FIGHT: KETLEN VIEIRA VS. SIJARA EUBANKS -- 10:55 PM ET
Ketlen Vieira returned to the win column with a unanimous decision victory against Sijara Eubanks.
The performance places Vieira (11-1) back in title contention. She used her size and strength to control the majority of the fight, ultimately proving too much for Eubanks (6-5).
Eubanks could not stop Vieira’s takedowns. She continued to look for body shots on Vieira, leaving herself vulnerable for repeated takedowns. Eubanks was most aggressive in the third round, even landing a left hook and a right hand, but she did not connect nearly enough to emerge victorious in her UFC pay per view debut.
Vieira has now won five of her six UFC fights, and there is no doubt she wants a title shot against Amanda Nunes. But this fight was a resounding indication that neither of these fighters is anywhere near the dominant Nunes.
CATCHWEIGHT FIGHT: HAKEEM DAWODU VS. ZUBAIRA TUKHUGOV — 10:19 PM ET
Hakeem Dawodu delivered a statement in the card-opening catchweight fight against Zubaira Tukhugov.
Dawodu (12-1-1) was awarded the fight by split decision. Tukhugov (19-5-1) entered the fight overweight, making this a catchweight contest, but the extra weight did not affect his speed or impressive footwork. But Dawodu did a tremendous job chipping away with leg kicks, and then landing some fight-altering blows in the third round.
Despite his speed, Tukhugov was unable to take down Dawodu on consecutive tries. Dawodu mixed up his strikes, hitting the head, body, and leg of Tukhugov, shifting the fight in his direction. The win puts Dawodu’s win streak at five, and the victory puts him only one more win away from the division’s top ten.
What's at stake
The UFC has returned to “Fight Island” in Abu Dhabi for a pay per view headlined by two undefeated juggernauts in Israel Adesanya and Paulo Costa.
Adesanya (19-0) defends his middleweight championship against Costa (13-0) in the main event. Both fighters enter the bout with undefeated records, and this matchup is one of the best that the UFC can offer in any weight class. Costa has simply powered his way through the UFC, winning his first four fights in the promotion by TKO before his most recent fight, which was a five-round unanimous decision against Yoel Romero. Costa dominated Romero, one of the most dangerous middleweight fighters in the world. But Adesanya will also cause problems for Costa, and this fight appears destined to go the distance. The key for Adesanya will be keeping Costa in range for his vicious array of kicks. This has the potential to be one of the top fights of the year.
UFC 253 is carried by its title fights. The co-main event pits Dominick Reyes against Jan Blachowicz for the vacant Light Heavyweight Championship. Reyes (12-1) appeared to have won the title against Jon Jones in their fight last February, but the judges scored the fight in favor of Jones. Though Reyes lost his undefeated streak, he returns to the Octagon for a second chance at the title. Standing in his way is Blachowicz (26-8), an extremely skilled boxer that will be seeking a knockout blow. But Reyes can stand and bang as well as control opponents on the mat, and UFC 253 should be the beginning of a very long reign for him atop the light heavyweight division.
The rest of the card offers some pop, particularly in the women’s bantamweight fight featuring Ketlen Vieira against Sijara Eubanks. With a win, Vieira (10-1) will be on track for a fight against the dominant Amanda Nunes, who is the reigning Women’s Bantamweight Champion. For Eubanks (6-4), a win would elevate her into the top ten of the division, but this is a fight that should belong to Vieira. Also on the card is a flyweight fight pitting Kai Kara-France (21-8, 1 NC) against Brandon Royval (11-4), an entertaining bout that should favor Kara-France, as well as a catchweight bout between Hakeem Dawodu (11-1-1) and Zubaira Tukhugov (19-4-1), who failed to make weight for this to be a featherweight fight.
There is some depth to the card, but the focal point is the co-main event. A new Light Heavyweight Champion will be crowned, and Costa looks to dethrone Adesanya in the UFC 253 marquee.