Greetings, fight fans! One of the more anticipated cards of the year in UFC 253 has come to a close, and it turned out that all the nervous tension leading into the main event was basically for naught. Brazlian bruiser Paulo Costa looked anything but a bruiser in being waylaid by the incumbent middleweight champion Israel Adesanya. In the light heavyweight division, the man who many considered the uncrowned champion failed to recreate any of the magic he showed in his performance against former ace Jon Jones, as he was cut down just as he started to push the pace. All in all, the night delivered some solid action, and it's not everyday that a card with multiple title fights sees each on of them producing an exciting conclusion. Although the championship offerings did most of the heavy lifting in terms of name value, the rest of the card produced some solid action that mostly ramped up as it went along. With that said, let's talk about what the hell happened!
The Main Card
Adesanya delivers on his promise, makes it look easy against Costa
UFC Middleweight Championship
Israel Adesanya def. #2 Paulo Costa by TKO via strikes (3:59, R2) to retain the title
What happened?: Adesanya's footwork, angles, tricky feints, and low kicks were too much for Costa to handle, breaking him down before an embarrassing second round stoppage that saw the New Zealand native put on a clinic.
How did that happen?: Adesanya's performance was achieved through some pretty simple means. He maintained his distance early, feinted liberally, and landed hard low kicks to the challenger, who gradually worked to pressure him back to the cage. Most were in accordance with pressure being the path to victory for Costa, as it is easily one of the greatest tools he utilizes during fights and he's been very successful because of it. Part of the reason Costa's pressure typically works so well is that he does do a great job of corralling his opponents in front of him with hooks and round kicks. He may look like he's a bit mindless in the way he walks forward and aggressively attacks, often willing to eat offense to get inside, but his technique is pretty clean and using looping strikes at opportune ties is a smart way to keep your opponents in front of you. Several times during the fight he tried to do this to Adesanya with body kicks when he got him close to the cage, but they never worked because Adesanya would pretty much just eat them and continue to angle out on that same side instead of moving to the opposite side. Costa tried a couple times to double up on left hands, another smart tactic given Adesanya's heavy use of head movement and leaning for defense, but due to Adesanya's distance management and Costa just not looking very fast next to him, it was pretty easy for him to avoid punches in exchanges.
Whenever punches came, that is. Although he did apply some pressure, Costa was uncharacteristically reserved in the fight, and while I think some of this was likely due to him wanting to preserve his cardio in case the fight went into the championship rounds, I think a big part of it was that he was just completely out of his depth in the stand up. Adesanya had an eight-inch reach advantage, and used it well in the form of long, quick jabs that tagged him while out of range to do much of anything, and the frequent low kicks kept him even further away and out of his comfort zone. Furthermore, Costa bit pretty hard on many of Adesanya's feints, making him that much more readable and that much less willing to launch attacks of his own. This was all pretty much the story of the first round, where Adesanya picked him apart at range, leaving him visibly befuddled because he just wasn't prepared for someone who could work a long distance game against him with jabs and low kicks. For some reason he fought as if he expected Adesanya to come to him; similar to how Romero fought.
Romero pic.twitter.com/OojBLYKDqW— Streetfight Banned-cho (@streetfitebncho) September 27, 2020
In round two Adesanya just picked up where the previous round left off and then some, as he started to let his counters and jabs go a bit more. A pivotal shot landed when a left high kick bounced off Costa's hairline cutting him open, and although he ate the shot, it signaled to Adesanya that it was time to put on a bit of pressure. A hard body kick from Costa was prompted a blistering right hook to the body from Adesanya before angling out. Finally, in a rather nice sequence that brought on the finish, Costa threw a jab that Adesanya slipped before coming over the top with an overhand right-left hook combo that caught Costa on the temple and dropped him to his knees. From there Adesanya was all over him, jumping into mount and landing punches and elbows until the referee stepped in to save Costa.
Other thoughts: Simply put, Costa found out that there are levels to the striking game, and his is clearly a ways below Adesanya's. The consensus prior to the fight was that his pressure could give Adesanya fits, much like it did for Kelvin Gastelum, but why did that turn out to be so far from the truth? For one, if you look at his competition in the UFC, it does little to inform us of how well he matched up with Adesanya. Gareth McLellan, Oluwale Bamgbose, and the ghost of Johny Hendricks practically don't count because they weren't incredibly relevant even when he beat them, though both Bamgbose and Hendricks did manage to land a decent amount on him in the opening round of their fights. Uriah Hall is the closest analog to Adesanya, and he had a lot of success in the stand up exchanges, but he's a fighter who has shown to be prone to getting backed into the cage and beaten up, which is exactly how he eventually lost. That leaves Yoel Romero, who arguably beat him. All that aside, what stands out is that he hadn't fought anyone who deals particularly well with pressure. Hall has his moments but eventually breaks down under persistent pressure, and Romero is all too content to just stand in front of his foe, cover up, and throw when he sees the opportunity.
Adesanya was the first fighter he fought in the UFC who is notably good at using angles to avoid being trapped against the cage. He got a taste of that, and found out he has a lot more work to do. In retrospect, this result shouldn't have at all been surprising, but you know how it is; Costa did all the right things to build himself up as a real threat and blind people to some of the warning signs.
As for Adesanya, he looked phenomenal, and the performance seems to have successfully washed the bitter taste of the Romero fight out of everyone's mouths, and we saw the the result might have been if Romero opened up more. Adesanya thrives on his opponent's aggression, and when you don't give that to him, it can definitely limit his efficacy. We saw the same thing at times when he fought Anderson Silva, and you have to wonder how this might alter the way people fight him from here on out. Either way, if he keeps turning in performances like this he'll be a bona fide star, if he isn't fast approaching that status already. He's well-spoken, charismatic, confident, and he of course he can fight. And he's still improving his overall game, which just makes him an ever-increasing threat to everyone else. With his biggest perceived challenge out of the way in dominant fashion, he might be pretty comfortable atop the throne at 185 lbs.
Because he certainly looked comfortable out there.
Next for Adesanya: He called it out himself after the fight; Jared Cannonier is the Sasuke to his Naruto if he defeats former champion Robert Whittaker. If not, Jack Hermansson is next in line.
Next for Costa: He may as well take on the loser of Cannonier vs Whittaker.
Polish Power proves too much for Reyes to handle, as Blachowicz claims gold at 205
Vacant UFC Light Heavyweight Championship
#3 Jan Blachowicz def. #1 Dominick Reyes by TKO via strikes (4:36, R2) to win the title
What happened?: After a relatively tepid opening round of action, Blachowicz turned on the pressure, leading Reyes to respond in kind and end up on the wrong end of a left hook.
How did that happen?: As mentioned, the first round didn't contain a ton of action, as they spent a good deal of time trading low kicks, though the most memorable shots of the round were probably Blachowicz's body kicks, one of which left a nasty welt on Reyes' ribs.
Blachowicz's body kicks are serious business. It only took one to bruise him up badly!
Normally much more of a volume striker, Reyes opted to pick his shots a lot more and work a much slower pace, which may have been in response to how he slowed down late in his unsuccessful championship fight with Jon Jones. This allowed Blachowicz to conserve his own energy, fight at his preferred range, and blitz in without as much worry of retaliation. Reyes respected Blachowicz's power a lot in the round, and it turned out to be to his detriment.
Reyes turned up the aggression a bit more in the second round, but Blachowicz responded by backing him off with more blitzes where he didn't particularly land anything, but succeeded in keeping Reyes on the defensive and overall just breaking down his guard with the power of the punches. Additionally, he frequently ended these blitzes with left high kicks, which served to steer the southpaw Reyes' open side into potential follow up right hands hands. A significant punch did manage to get through for Blachowicz, with a straight right breaking Reyes' nose and prompting him to pressure more, probably to get a handle on the momentum of the fight. This was his undoing, as a tight left hook in the following exchange had Reyes on wobbly legs before he stumbled to his seat. A couple more follow up punches were all the referee needed to see to call the action. It was similar to how Blachowicz put away Luke Rockhold; he's just very keen on throwing that crushing left hook in exchanges right when his opponent takes their eyes off it.
Might have been a blessing in disguise for Luke though. Possible career change?
It was quite the upset, as many felt this would be Reyes' surefire chance to win the belt they thought he deserved months earlier. Instead, Blachowicz became the UFC's second Polish champion, and put the division on notice by finishing the man who took Jones to the limit. Thankfully the performance didn't leave much doubt either; Blachowicz handled himself well and pretty much had control of the fight from start to finish, turning in a win befitting of a champion. Reyes will have to go back to the drawing board and make some adjustments, because he didn't quite perform up to the level he appeared to against Jones.
Other thoughts: Although you have to feel for Reyes falling short in another title bid after coming so close in the previous fight, it's hard not to be happy for Blachowicz. Honestly, he's a fighter I never thought would get there. When he came over from KSW I thought of him as a solid fighter who despite his quick, emphatic UFC debut win, was typically a methodical, slower-paced fighter who worked a distance kickboxing game. He'd win some and lose some, and probably wouldn't make much of a splash. This proved true early, as he likely found his job on the line after starting off on a disappointing 2-4 run. However, after following that up with a 7-1 run that saw him avenge two of his previous UFC losses, he found himself a visibly much better fighter in title contention, and now has a belt around his waist. It's pretty surreal to see considering his struggles with Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou nearly a decade ago.
For Reyes this is a story we've seen unfortunately often. A fighter loses a high profile controversial decision or takes a champion to their limit, and gets a seemingly favorable match up in their next fight, only to fall short much more convincingly in that fight. Did Reyes perhaps think that because he arguably beat Jones when they fought that the rest of the division wouldn't be as much trouble? Did he get too much into his own head with the adjustments he needed to make following his previous loss? I don't know, but it didn't make for a very inspired performance here. I mentioned in breaking down the fight that Reyes was one of the best in the division at punching going backwards, and he showed none of that here; he just covered up and backed away whenever Blachowicz blitzed him. I don't take anything away from Blachowicz, and maybe all credit goes to him for this, but Reyes didn't look like himself out there. The moniker of "uncrowned champ" shattered, he'll have to get to the back of the line (which, luckily for him, isn't very long).
Lastly, I'm not saying it was a bad stoppage, but am I the only one who thought it was a bit quick for what you typically see in a title fight? It didn't look like Reyes complained about the stoppage, but he looked like he was moving to kick Blachowicz away and barely had time to cover up when it was stopped. The way he went down he had to be pretty rocked, but I would've thought he'd have been given slightly longer to work out of that dilemma.
Next for Blachowicz: The winner of Thiago Santos vs Glover Teixeira (speaking of guys I didn't think I'd see fighting for a title at this point). As much as favor Santos and thinks he's due another shot after fighting so close with Jones, there's something about seeing Blachowicz vs Teixeira in 2021 for a UFC title that just seems like peak light heavyweight weirdness, and I'm here for it.
Next for Reyes: This has to be a tough pill to swallow for Reyes considering how close he was to becoming champion before, and now being on a two-fight skid, his next fight is crucial for him. Unfortunately, there are no softballs for him that are reasonable at this point. The loser of Santos vs Teixeira makes the most sense rankings-wise, and after that you really only have Aleksandar Rakic and Jiri Prochazka, who might be better served fighting each other to move into contention.
Royval continues his sudden assent up the flyweight ladder, dazzles against Kara-France
#9 Brandon Royval def. #7 Kai Kara-France by submission via guillotine choke (0:48, R2)
What happened?: A mix of intense pressure and unorthodox, rangy striking from Royval left Kara-France fighting an uphill battle until a takedown attempt landed him in a tight guillotine and sealed his fate.
How did that happen?: Kara-France is typically able to match or exceed the pace of his opponents, but Royval was having none of that. The insane action of this fight was undeniably worthy of the the Fight of the Night bonus, because so much happened in a relatively short amount of time. Before we even got 30 seconds in, Kara-France countered a low kick with a big overhand right that dropped Royval, who popped back up throwing punches, only to go back down to a knee because I guess he was more rocked than he realized. But then when Kara-France went to follow up with another big right hand, Royval launched a spinning back elbow out of nowhere that dropped him mid-punch. Kara-France tried to shoot in on his knees from there, and Royval launched a knee at his head that looked illegal, but was then confirmed to have landed on the neck, and got him taken down in the process. Royval quickly worked for a guillotine, then a gogoplata once he Kara-France was free, then an omoplata. Once they stood up, Royval was on Kara-France like crazy with pressure, and both men were able to land good shots, but a knee up the middle dropped Kara-France against the cage and had him in trouble once again. Royval grabbed loked for a guillotine once again, then a triangle before letting go and using a scissor sweep to get back to his feet. From there they continued their wild firefight until the horn.
I don't even know anymore *throws up hands*
Royval picked up the pressure again in round two, throwing knees liberally to catch his shorter opponent ducking in. Kara-France shot in to alleviate some of Royval's aggression, and quickly ended up in a guillotine that Royval immediately jumped guard on. Kara-France took it to the ground and looked to be working toward slipping out, but Royval adjusted his grip and triangled his legs for a tighter squeeze, prompting the tap shortly thereafter, bringing an end to the action-packed scrap.
Other thoughts: Royval has made quite the impression in just two UFC fights, and he's already likely due for a top 5 fight, which happens when you're in a relatively thin division that needs more contenders like flyweight. It'll be interesting to see how he does from here, because his style is both extremely exciting and effective, though "offense-first, defence-never" type of style that made this fight more competitive than it otherwise could've been could land him in some major trouble against top guys who may be able to better handle his grappling and aggression. It remains to be seen though, and his height and scrappiness could definitely give hell to more top guys.
Next for Royval: With the winner of Brandon Moreno vs Alex Perez probably being positioned for contention and Askar Askarov being a bit too highly ranked, I'd say Alexandre Pantoja would be a good choice for him right at #5.
Next for Kara-France: Rogerio Bontorin and Matt Schnell are ranked right below him, and are also coming off losses. I'd probably lean toward the former.
Well-timed takedowns and busy hands lead Vieira to victory
#7 Ketlen Vieira def. #13 Sijara Eubanks by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
What happened?: Vieira leaned on her size, wrestling, and boxing to take a close, but clear decision over Eubanks.
How did that happen?: Vieira kept it simple here. She frequently sought the clinch to slow down Eubanks and keep the fight in her wheelhouse, and in striking exchanges she frequently found a home for right hands, especially in countering Eubanks' own right hands. Eubanks favored a much more diverse attack, targeting the legs and body as well as the head, and it may have worked to her disadvantage since Vieira was able to successfully headhunt for counters and nearly double up on her in terms of head strike totals. Add in a couple of opportunistic takedowns in the first ten minutes, and Vieira had banked the first two rounds. Eubanks gave a good effort and showed a bit more urgency in the final round, but she needed a finish simply didn't do enough to accomplish more than edging out the round.
Other thoughts: It had it's slow moments, but overall this wasn't a bad fight. It was good to see Vieira back out there and not afraid to exchange after suffering a knockout at the hands of Irene Aldana her last time out. It wasn't the most emphatic win, but Eubanks has shown to be a tough out for pretty much anyone, even if she isn't very big for the division. If not for injuries, Vieira may very well have already had a shot at the title, and the Aldana loss sent her further back in the queue, so she's off to a solid start in reclaiming her contender status. Props to Eubanks for the quick turnaround after her upset win over Julia Avila, but this proved a bit too much of a step up in competition.
Next for Vieira: Raquel Pennington, who is coming off a bounce-back win of her own over Marion Reneau, makes sense.
Next for Eubanks: I would say they should finally make that TUF finale we never got happen and book her against Nicco Montano, but Montano can't be trusted to make the fight. Otherwise, Julija Stoliarenko or Talita Bernardo would do.
Tukhugov learns an important lesson in urgency, while Dawodu proves trash talk wins fights
Hakeem Dawodu def. Zubaira Tukhugov by split decision (29-28, 27-30, 28-29)
What happened?: Following a tightly contested second round, Tukhugov mostly circled away and opted not to engage in the final round, thinking he was ahead on the scorecards. That proved to be costly, as two judges didn't agree with him and awarded Dawodu the fight.
How did that happen?: The early going of the fight saw Tukhugov have a lot of success up top with his hands, while Dawodu worked low kicks and mostly failed to find his target with punches. He had much more success in the second round, with both men opening up their offense more. Dawodu paid increased attention to body shots as well, and generally got the slight better of the striking until Tukhugov managed to land a takedown fairly late in the round and show some good top control and ground and pound. It was a relatively close round two score, and two judges actually gave it to Tukhugov, which makes the overall scoring a bit odd (more on that in a bit). With the fight potentially up for grabs in the final round, Dawodu came out looking to bring the fight to Tukhugov, who decided to switch gears and focus, unsuccessfully, on his wrestling. Once that failed to work, he essentially just kept his distance and circled around the cage, avoiding most exchanges and prompting an angry Dawodu to taunt and yell at him to engage. He didn't, and that lack of urgency cost him the fight.
Other thoughts: I knew this would be a close one, and even that a lot of that could come down to how Tukhugov decided to fight, but there were a couple surprises here. Well, mostly one surprise, because I'm not too surprised Dawodu's takedown defense held up so well overall, but I did think a wrestling-focused Tukhugov would have more success. What really surprised me was how fast Tukhugov's hands were in the first half of the fight and how he was getting the better of the boxing exchanges early on. I thought Dawodu had a clear advantage there, but Tukhugov did a great job of picking him off with quick counters and catching him off guard with his hand speed. If it were something he could've kept up for the rest of the fight, he might have won it, but I have to say that I get a kick out seeing a fighter coast in the final round only to lose the fight.
I mentioned the odd scoring earlier, and although it was a competitive round, I thought it was relatively clear that Tukhugov won the first, and yet two judges gave it to Dawodu. The second round I thought was closer and a better case for Dawodu winning, but then two judges gave it to Tukhugov. Judge Anders Ohlsson thought Dawodu won every round, which I just can't see. I personally scored it 29-28 Tukhugov, but would've been perfectly fine with Dawodu getting the second round to take the fight, but 30-27 I can't really get behind.
Next for Dawodu: Having rattled off five-straight wins since dropping his UFC debut, it's time for Dawodu to get a shot at the top 15. The winner of Bryce Mitchell vs Andre Fili or Sodiq Yusuff will do.
Next for Tukhugov: After starting his UFC tenure 3-0, he's just 1-2-1 in his last four. He should take on another similarly struggling fighter who was once a pretty bright prospect in Julio Arce.
Brad Riddell def. Alex Da Silva by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
In probably the second-most exciting fight of the night, Riddell and Silva really went at each other, and Riddell put on full display the tireless pace and attritive style that City Kickboxing stablemates like featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski exhibit. After a bit of a slow start where Da Silva did well mixing in takedowns and appearing to be the faster man out there, Riddell started to shift the momentum in the next round when both men upped their volume and went after it. Over time Riddell's pressure clearly started to wear on Silva, and although he was game for the whole fight, Riddell took over and took the final two rounds commandingly with relentless pressure forcing exchanges that he often got the better of. Now off to a nice three-fight win streak to start his UFC career, Riddell has a lot of work to do considering just how stacked the lightweight division is, but he's certainly someone to pay attention to.
Jake Matthews def. Diego Sanchez by unanimous decision (30-26, 30-26, 30-26)
The sad, dark, weird spiral of Sanchez continues, as he just looked really bad here. He was soft and slow, and pretty much every part of his game looks significantly diminished. The commentary talked up his coming off a win and being able to adjust to Michel Pereira, but anyone who watched that farcical DQ win could tell you that for all intents and purposes Sanchez was dominated and lost the fight in every way that mattered in terms of performance. He started the fight off by running right into a couple straight right hands, which along with uppercuts, were there for Matthews for most of the fight. It's certainly nothing new that Sanchez came forward and got the worst of the exchanges, but as spirited as he was, this fight just wasn't competitive. The best (read: most entertaining) thing he did was try to start the third round off with a bit of Jorge Masvidal: strolling out with his hands behind his back before running in with a flying knee. But even that looked pretty sad, and in comparison to the original it just further displayed how much his speed and athleticism has diminished. Shortly after that, he was dropped with a straight right hand, busted open badly with an elbow. and spent the majority of the round on the bottom getting punished, possibly being saved by the final horn as Matthews was really letting his ground and pound go.
So as not to harp on Sanchez the entire segment, Matthews did look good out there, but this was mostly just a notable name to go on his ledger. This fight didn't prove much of anything in terms of where he belongs in the division, what kind of improvements he's made, or how good he really is because Sanchez is essentially just target practice. He's clearly working harder on his striking and it's been showing with the sharp combinations he throws, but it still looks like he suffers a bit when it comes to his killer instinct because for as durable as Sanchez is, this is a fight that perhaps Matthews could've finished if he turned it up more often. On the other hand, cardio has also long been a concern for him, so maybe he had that in the back of his mind as well, because for as shot as he is, being tired against Sanchez historically makes for a rough time. Still, Matthews seems to be a bit of a grinder at his core, and in a division with much better grinders at the top, he'll have to bolster his game.
Ludovit Klein def. Shane Young by KO via strikes (1:16, R1)
HEADKICK ARTIST --— UFC (@ufc) September 27, 2020
---- Ludovit Klein puts Slovakia on the map!
[ Tune in LIVE on ESPN2 ] pic.twitter.com/0oj8dN5p1Y
He missed weight by four pounds (which really got on the bad side of Young teammate Adesanya), but you can't help but be impressed by the quick work Klein made of Young in his debut. After catching Young coming in with a quick right check hook, Klein tripled up on it and followed up with a left high kick that was partially blocked but still stunned Young. He wasted no time assessing that though, as a lightning fast right uppercut landed right on the button and sent him to the canvas, with a left hook right behind it tagging the side of his head on the way down, and another right uppercut just missing him before he hit the ground. A big left hand bounced his head as Klein pounced on him, and while he grabbed for a leg Young was clearly out of it. Highly impressive performance from the UFC's first Slovak fighter, and the brief contest definitely leaves me wanting to see more from him. Hopefully he can get his weight in order, and maybe that'd happen if the commissions implemented Adesanya's proposed 90% purse deduction for missing weight (don't hold your breath there, Izzy).
Another angel. Why not?
William Knight def. Aleksa Camur by unanimous decision (29-28, 30-27, 30-27)
Knight looks like a Jared Cannonier and Spike Carlyle fused together (you can't change my mind on this), and he actually somewhat fights in a similar way as well. Like Cannonier he's a standout power striker who is surprisingly quick for his size, and like Carlyle he pretty much just powers out of and through everything grappling related. This was a pretty clinch and grappling-heavy fight, and the overarching theme was that Camur just couldn't handle the strength of Knight. Despite that, he was the one who usually initiated these clinching situations, which was a curious bit of fight IQ. In the end he did himself a disservice; it was the striker in Knight who was successful with takedowns and top control, and whenever he foud himself in an unfavorable position he was usually able to overpower Camur to take back control of the fight. Not the most thrilling affair, but a solid debut for Knight.
Juan Espino def. Jeff Hughes by submission via scarf hold (3:48, R1)
In perhaps one of the more predictable fights on the card, The Ultimate Fighter season 28 winner Espino didn't spend a ton of time on the feet before changing levels and taking the fight to the ground right to side control. Hughes put up some resistance, making it to his feet several times only to be dragged right back down to the canvas until Espino managed to pass to mount From there he hopped off to side in the scarf hold position, and squeezed a neck crank for the tap, a very Alexei Oleinik thing to do which kinda makes me want to see them fight each other.
Danilo Marques def. Khadis Ibragimov by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 30-27)
Thankfully, we got the worst fight of the night out of the way right away. Ibrahimov came into the UFC undefeated, but dropped his first three fights while in the process showing that he's really just not very good. He throws wild, aimless punches with little defense and tires himself out with an inefficient takedown game that just leaves him unable to do much as the fight wears on. Marques made his debut as a fighter that was also perceived not to be very good, and would likely serve as Ibrahimov's first UFC win. However, a simple persistent takedown game was all it really took to stifle Ibrahimov, and even grabbing the cage couldn't turn things around for him. After an 0-4 run (I'm surprised he actually got a fourth chance, given his performances) he'll surely be sent packing, and I don't suspect Marques will be around for the long haul either based one what I saw from him in victory.
That does it for UFC 253! You have to love it when events ramp up the excitement all the way to a satisfying main event, and this one delivered that. UFC cards have really started to find their groove with some pretty solid offerings, and hopefully we continue that trend next week when Holly Holm and Irene Aldana square off in a pivotal fight for the women's bantamweight division. Until then, sado out!