History repeated itself at UFC 259.
Back in July 2019, Luke Rockhold was en route for a career-defining fight against Jon Jones. The one final hurdle to jump was defeating Jan Blachowicz, who was coming off a loss and entered the bout as an underdog. But that Rockhold-Jones fight never took place, as Blachowicz knocked out Rockhold.
Entering Saturday, Israel Adesanya was also looking forward to a fight against Jones. That may still happen, but just like Rockhold, he hit a massive roadblock in his fight against Blachowicz.
Blachowicz (28-8) seized control of the bout in the championship rounds, successfully defending the light heavyweight title, defeating Adesanya (20-1) via unanimous decision. While Blachowicz keeps his streak of upsets alive, the bout marks Adesanya’s first loss in MMA. Adesanya remains the middleweight champion, as well as one of the most elite fighters in the world, but clearly struggled with Blachowicz’s size and power in his move to light heavyweight.
In addition to Blachowicz-Adesanya, there were two other title fights on the card. The women’s featherweight championship bout was extremely lopsided, as Amanda Nunes decimated Megan Anderson. This fight lasted just over two minutes and was never a contest. Nunes (21-4) pummeled Anderson (11-5) in the opening moments of the round, then forced a submission when she locked in a triangle armbar. Nunes is on such an elite level that she has no real challengers, with perhaps the exception of Valentina Shevchenko, although Nunes has already defeated her twice. UFC 259 served as a reminder that Nunes is the best in the world.
The card was not void of controversy. The bantamweight championship changed hands due to disqualification, as Petr Yan cost himself the belt by drilling Aljamain Sterling with an illegal knee to the head. Yan (15-2) and Sterling (20-3) were in the midst of a very competitive fight, but that changed entirely with the illegal shot. The knee likely concussed Sterling, who was unable to continue the fight. Though a disqualification finish was certainly not how Sterling wanted to win the title, he has undoubtedly earned his spot atop the bantamweight division. And although there are a number of top contenders for the belt, his first defense as champion will most likely be a rematch against Yan.
The opener was a disappointing bout that saw Aleksander Rakic (14-2) defeat Thiago Santos by unanimous decision. There was very little action here, with neither fighter taking chances. The outcome is especially painful for Santos (21-9), who has now dropped three fights in a row. Following that bout, Islam Makhachev put on a grappling clinic in a submission victory against Drew Dober. Makhachev (19-1) was dominant, controlling every round against Dober (23-10, 1 NC), making a statement in the lightweight division.
UFC 259 had high expectations, and there were impressive performances by Blachowicz, Nunez, and Makhachev, but the illegal blow by Yan ruined what could have been a spectacular night.
LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP FIGHT: CHAMPION JAN BLACHOWICZ VS. ISRAEL ADESANYA -- 12:47 AM ET
Jan Blachowicz kept his streak of upsets alive, defeating Israel Adesanya by unanimous decision to retain the light heavyweight championship.
Blachowicz (28-8) is now the first fighter to defeat Adesanya (20-1) in mixed martial arts, and he did just enough to prevent the middleweight champion from entering rare territory as a simultaneous champion of two divisions.
A speed advantage for Adesanya was clear in the opening round. Adesanya’s moves and feints were problematic for Blachowicz, who finally corralled some momentum with a third-round clinch. Adesanya’s kicks did some significant damage on Blachowicz’s lead leg, but Blachowicz kept the fight close through the first three rounds.
Blachowicz put his size on Adesanya in the fourth round, with a takedown two minutes into the round. He maintained top position for the final three minutes of the round, changing the complexion of the fight. That sequence repeated itself midway through the fifth round, as Blachowicz again took Adesanya down. That is the way the fight ended, with Blachowicz’s power and size the deciding factors in this bout.
WOMEN’S FEATHERWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP FIGHT: CHAMPION AMANDA NUNES VS. MEGAN ANDERSON -- 12:21 AM ET
Amanda Nunes decimated Megan Anderson, forcing her to tap in the first round after locking her in an arm bar.
Nunes (21-4) battered Anderson (11-5) with shots to the head nearly as soon as the fight started, and this was never even a contest. The victory marks 12 in a row for Nunes, and may signal the end of the women’s featherweight division. There are simply no competitors for Nunes, who didn't break a sweat here. She will eventually be tested, but right now, she is just on an entirely different level than every single one of her opponents.
BANTAMWEIGHT TITLE FIGHT: CHAMPION PETR YAN VS. ALJAMAIN STERLING -- 11:35 PM ET
Aljamain Sterling defeated Petr Yan to win the bantamweight championship, but what should have been the most triumphant moment of his career was marred by an illegal knee by Yan that caused the bout to end—and the title to change hands—by disqualification.
Following that illegal knee, which clearly appeared to be intentional, there was no way in good conscience to restart the fight. Sterling (20-3) was likely concussed from the blow. It did a different kind of damage to Yan (15-2), leading to his first UFC loss and costing him the title.
Winning by disqualification was obviously not the manner in which Sterling wanted to become champion. And the illegal blow also ruined a compelling bout. Sterling opened the fight with a very aggressive pace, hitting an early flying knee, but the round belonged to Yan. His patient approach paid off, dropping Sterling with a right hand to the chin and controlling the action on the mat.
The second round was controlled by Sterling, limiting Yan’s space and dictating the pace until the final 30 seconds. The third and fourth rounds saw both fighters endure a heavy amount of pressure, going back and forth, until the waning moments of the fourth round. That is when Yan drilled Sterling in the head with that illegal knee, an intentional foul that ended the fight.
There is now some uncertainty for the bantamweight division. Sterling’s first title defense could be a rematch with Yan, but there are other deserving contenders, like Cory Sandhagen, Rob Font, and Cody Garbrandt. TJ Dillashaw is also in line for a title shot, so Yan may have to win a fight before he gets his rematch.
LIGHTWEIGHT FIGHT: ISLAM MAKHACHEV VS. DREW DOBER -- 11:01 PM ET
Islam Makhachev dominated Drew Dober, controlling the fight and winning by submission, showing why he is a major player in the future of the lightweight division.
Makhachev (19-1) took Dober (23-10, 1 NC) down in the opening moments of the first round, and did not allow Dober to get off his back. Makhachev displayed some elite grappling, and locked in an arm bar that appeared to have the fight finished before the end of the first round.
After surviving the first round, Dober fared no better in the second round as the mat clinic from Makhachev continued. Dober’s powerful left hand was rendered useless while he was tied up on the ground, and he was clearly exhausted defending himself from Makhachev’s grappling.
After two rounds of domination, Makhachev capitalized upon a weakened Dober in the third round. He went after the shoulder, forcing Dober to tap to an arm triangle, the finishing touches of a brilliant performance.
LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT FIGHT: THIAGO SANTOS VS. ALEKSANDER RAKIC -- 10:23 PM ET
UFC 259 started off in a very disappointing manner. Thiago Santos and Aleksander Rakic went the distance in a fight that featured no big moments, nor any risks from either fighter. Ultimately, the judges scored this a unanimous decision for Rakic (14-2).
Neither fighter found his distance, and this bout never left first gear. Rakic was measured and calculated on his feet, having his strongest round in the opening five minutes. His outside leg kicks were effective, and he made sure to keep space to limit any damage from Santos (21-9).
The loss hurts Santos, who has now dropped three bouts in a row. After an extremely competitive bout against Jon Jones in July 2019, where he looked primed for an eventual run as light heavyweight champion, Santos is now drifting further and further away from the title picture.
UFC 259 stands as a defining moment for either Israel Adesanya or Jan Blachowicz.
The undefeated Adesanya (20-0), the reigning middleweight champion, moves up a weight class to challenge Blachowicz (27-8), who is the light heavyweight champion. Adesanya will add a whole new layer of stardom to his brilliance by winning a title from a higher weight class, and a victory would further increase the hype for a possible heavyweight about against Jon Jones. But that will be no easy task against the powerful Blachowicz, who has an opportunity to become a far greater star if he becomes the first to defeat Adesanya in the Octagon.
There are a total of three title fights at UFC 259, including Amanda Nunes returning to defend her women’s featherweight championship. Nunes (20-4) looks to extend her reign of dominance with a victory against Megan Anderson. While Nunes has not fought since last June, Anderson (11-4) has been inactive even longer, last fighting in February 2020. It would be a considerable upset if Nunes does not exit the cage as champ.
The third championship bout should be the most competitive fight of the card, as bantamweight champion Petr Yan defends against No. 1-ranked Aljamain Sterling. This is a clash of styles, and should be an incredibly tight fight where wrestling may be the area where this is decided for Yan (15-1) and Sterling (19-3). The winner of this bout is the favorite to become the face of the division with a lengthy title reign.
The card also includes another light heavyweight bout, with Thiago Santos (21-8) seeking to end a two-fight loss streak and reinsert himself into the title picture with a win against Aleksander Rakic (13-2). There is a lightweight fight on the card, too, as Islam Makhachev (18-1) looks to assert his dominance against Drew Dober (23-9, 1 NC).
After a UFC 258 card that, on paper, did not inspire much fanfare, 259 is ready to cause a stir in the fight world.