Dylan’s Report: Adesanya, Blachowicz dominate at UFC 253
I was stuck between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, you had what was being billed as “The Greatest Middleweight Title Fight Ever”, an honor that has been declared twice previously- Silva-Sonnen 2, Weidman-Rockhold, and now Adesanya-Costa. But, on the other hand, Showtime Boxing was bringing the heat with their first major pay-per-view event since Mayweather-McGregor in 2017.
Both, reasonably justifiable for being on PPV, as UFC 253 featured two world championship bouts, as well as a loaded undercard. And, Showtime was bringing five- FIVE world title bouts, and a number one contender’s matchup. Chief among the championship battles, a showcase of Jermell and Jermall Charlo- quite possibly the most electrifying boxers in the sport today- in tough against their toughest challenges to date. And, all of this with a live gate amassing a fat $0 Dollar sum thanks to the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Sure, it was perfectly understandable why both had to resort to hiding their content behind a paywall- but, it didn’t make me any less salty about having to choose between paying for one or the other.
So much so, this introduction was being written as an assassination piece sniping at the likes of figureheads of the fight game such as UFC President Dana White and Showtime Sports President Stephen Ezpinoza for their incessent greed and collective alienation of their fans.
I took a step back and realized that I was just being crazy and bitter because I wasn’t able to watch both events. I know, I know, I don’t have to watch every fight ever- but, I’m glutenous with my fight sports.
Eventually, I came to the conclusion that I simply could not miss out on UFC 253. The questions of, “what’s going to happen if Costa catches Adesanya early?”, and, “Who’s going to take over the helm of the 205-Pound division in the absence of Jon Jones?” eventually won the showdown for my money on Saturday night.
Still, it was very difficult for me to pass up on the boxing because of how rarely we actually get to see the very best vs. the very best. Something, due to the organization of the sport, that the UFC has been able to deliver on a regular basis, the very best champions versus the very best challengers while both parties are smack-dab in their athletic primes. As was the case last Saturday on “Fight Island” when undefeated Middleweight Champion Israel Adesanya met undefeated middleweight challenger Paulo Costa, as is the case when Khabib Nurmagamedov defends his UFC Lightweight Championship against interim champion Justin Gaethje next month.
Whilst we may not have gotten “The Greatest Title Fight in UFC History”, I was still really happy with my choice after witnessing the incredible performances written about here, last Saturday Night.
Israel Adesanya, damn near perfect:
He called his shot, he said he would make it look easy, even the most hardened fan-boys had a twinge of uncertainty, considering the size of Paulo Costa, the spotless’ undefeated record, and the bone-chilling highlight reel amassed en route to achieving said record- reasonable doubt was being cast- all along “Izzy” knew he’d make it look easy, and he did.
A common theme in combat sports journalism is histrionics. It seems like after every Pay-Per-View there’s a brand-new addition to the Pound-For-Pound discussion, or to the “Greatest Of All Time” list in general or divisionally specific.
While those are certainly acceptable, tried-and-true ways of filling up word counts to deliver an article- we’re not going to do that today. Israel Adesanya’s shockingly dominate performance in Saturday night’s highly anticipated championship fight against Paulo “The Eraser” Costa necessitates a much closer, in-depth examination of the fight to better grasp the scope of greatness that “The Last Stylebender” displayed in his successful sophomore title defense.
Being viewed from the crystal-clear lens of retrospect, believing that the contest would be competitive made a fool out of the lot of us. It was easy to get caught up in the facade that was Paulo Costa, the god-like physique, the intense approach to life, the eye-catching results he picked up against favorable competition (and Yoel Romero)- in hindsight, we should’ve seen that he was going to be a cakewalk for Adesanya, perhaps that’s an indictment on our collective blindness to true excellence. After all, to win the title- Israel Adesanya out skilled and outlasted a peak Kelvin Gastalum, and then unified by doing the unthinkable against Robert Whittaker- did we really think Paulo Costa was better than either Whittaker and Gastalum? Certainly a fault of willful ignorance, no matter how in tune the spectator, when you see the mountain of a man that Costa is, and you watch him slice through the opponents like a knife through hot butter- It becomes easy to become entranced in the false narrative. While you may feel like you’ve been bamboozled by pre-fight promotion and a “hype-train” in Paulo Costa, let me assure you, Costa was as legitimate a challenge as any to Adesanya’s throne. Certianly, if he was facing any other middleweight last saturday, he probably would’ve walked out of the octagon clutching 12-Pounds of gold.
But, styles make fights, and Adesanya’s style was just all kinds of wrong for the brawny Brazilian Challenger.
Paulo Costa was frustrated and confused from the opening seconds ’till the final barrage he absorbed. Taunting Israel in frustration after nearly every kick that clanged off the Brazilian’s meaty calves. It became noticeably apparent that Costa was unwilling to bring the fight to Adesanya as promised in the build-up to the anticipated showdown. And, as he had done in his previous thirteen outings. The reason for the drastically slower paced first stanza was because of Stylebender’s incessant chopping of Costa’s lead leg- similarly to a jab, the leg kick disrupts an offensive fighters’ rhythm- and also causes the absorbing fighter to overthink. You can go back and listen to any pre-fight analysis from any variety of analyst, and they will have identified the leg kicks as being a pivotal key to an Adesanya victory- still, Costa was either ill-prepared or simply unable to stop the assault on his lead leg- and while it may seem inconsequential to the untrained eye, the leg kicks, the ferocity and volume that they were being thrown at, was a crippling factor to Costa’s championship aspirations.
A fantastic comparison of strategy can be drawn to the way in which a 22-Year-Old “Pretty Boy” Floyd Mayweather picked apart a (similar to Paulo Costa) physically bigger, harder hitting, presence in Diego “Chico” Corallas. Also, for comparisons’ sake, both men were undefeated going into their 2001 bout. Floyd Mayweather provided a masterclass in managing distance and mitigating risk- from Boxrec.com, “By landing only single-digit punch totals in each round, Corrales set a CompuBox record for futility as he landed just 60 of 205 blows. “He fought a smart fight,” Corrales said.” This defensive brilliance was achieved through masterful understanding and manipulation of the distance at which Mayweather fought at. Also, coupled with becoming a static target with constant perpetual movement, like Mayweather did 19-Years before him, Adesanya was an elusive, unhittable headache for the bigger and slower Costa. Adesanya landed at a tally of 55 out of 84 significant strikes compared to Costa’s 12 of 26 over the entire fight.
Also, Mayweather brilliantly employed a strategy of stabbing the long-chested Corallas to the body early and often with a stunning jab, what would serve as the foundation for the rest of his offense as the fight progressed- also similar to how Adesanya targeted the lead leg of Costa with his chopping leg kicks to build off of.
It was a showcase of technical brilliance on the part of Israel Adesanya and his head coach, chief strategist, City Kickboxing’s Eugene Bareman.
Yes, perhaps we were all made to look like fools, for most of us were expecting one of the best, most competitive fights of the year- and one of the toughest in Adesanya’s now 100-fight professional career. Instead, we got a sterling and unsettling reminder of just how freakishly extraordinary a fighter that Israel Adesanya is.
Is he the greatest middleweight of all time? Or the greatest fighter of all time in general? Different criteria yields different results, but if he can continue to dominate the best contenders the division has to offer in the fashion that he has against Robert Whittaker and, now Paulo Costa- It’s going to be really hard to argue a case against him.
He’s damn near perfection.
Jan Blachowicz stuns in championship conformation:
In similarly humiliating fashion to Israel Adesanya in the marquee bout, Poland’s Jan Blachowicz also added on to the piling evidence that the favorable lot of us are fools- certainly me included- in his second round trouncing of the light-heavyweight divisions’ top contender, Dominick “The Devastator” Reyes.
Before last year, there wasn’t a non-polish person on the planet that would’ve believed that Blachowicz would go on to capture the sports most prestigious title- after all, we live in a world where the massively accomplished likes of Alistair Overeem, and Urijah Faber were unable to hold claim of a UFC championship in their respective divisions. Certainly, one would be misguided to disregard Jan’s success in Poland’s promotional equivalent to the UFC- KSW MMA (Konfrontacja Sztuk Walki English: Martial Arts Confrontation)- and also, retrospectively, perhaps too much emphasis was placed on his early UFC losses to Jimi Manuwa (since avenged), Corey Anderson (since avenged), Patrick Cummins (a sham of a decision loss), and a peak Alexander Gustafsson. While too little emphasis was put on his victories over the likes of top contenders such as Jacare Souza, Luke Rockhold, Jared Cannonier, Corey Anderson, Nikita Krylov, and Jimi Manuwa- all of which were ranked within the top-15 fighters within either the light heavyweight or middleweight divisions at the time of their fights with Blachowicz.
Jan Blachowicz had been criminally underappreciated and disregarded by most for the bulk of his 6-Year tenure in the UFC. On Saturday night, he made sure that wouldn’t be the case ever again. It was a coming-of-age for a fighter long-believed to be “just another contender”, and it was done so through the relationship of perfect preparation meeting perfect timing.
The UFC’s light heavyweight division has been largely unchanged for the past eleven years, for my entire lifespan of following the sport, there’s been Jon Jones, then Daniel Cormier, then a faceless void of other contenders that- if we’re being honest? Didn’t have much of a shot at beating either “Bones” or “D.C.” As the narrative goes however, a high-tide lifts all vessels- and it appeared that the sea level was reaching it’s maximum height after Jon Jones’ last two title defenses- when Thiago Santos brought the fight to Jones for five rounds despite tearing his ACL, MCL, PCL, and meniscus in his left knee in the second round. And, when Dominick Reyes legitimately pushed the pound-for-pound great into the narrowest decision win of his career.
After those two competitive scares, Jones and Dana White collectively arrived at the idea that if he were to lose- it would be better business for him to do so at heavyweight against a more economically stimulating opponent such as the likes of a Stipe Miocic, Francis N’gannou, or Derrick Lewis.
This, leaving the light heavyweight division faceless and unstable, meaning that the first time in over a decade- over TEN YEARS- we would see a new light heavyweight champion be crowned last Saturday other than Jon Jones or Daniel Cormier. The decision to place Dominick Reyes, the man who ran off Jon Jones to heavyweight, came natural. And, the placement of Jan Blachowicz understandable considering the run of wins he strung together, and the violent fashion he sent then top-five ranked Corey Anderson packing to Bellator MMA after his brutal first round knockout loss.
The fight opened to a slow and strategic pace, mirroring more of a chess match rather a fist fight. Both men took turns throwing kicks to the body and legs while moving about the vicinity of the caged octagon. Reyes tagged Blachowicz with straight-left counter to a body kick while the polish fighter was off balance, perhaps if it landed a little cleaner we would’ve had pandemonium in the first minute of the fight. Jan threw a straight left, to a stinging kick to the sternum that rang around the empty arena. And then followed up the early success with straight right-to-left hook to body kick combination that sent the prohibitive favorite reeling. Jan was stringing his punches and kicks early with successful fluidity. It only took two landed kicks to turn Reyes’ rib cage into a bright red, toe patterned mess. Blachowicz kicks HARD.
The first round was all Jan Blachowicz, as he more than doubled Dominick Reyes’ strike-count in the first stanza. A prophetic tale for what was to come in the next round.
Reyes came out sizzling after realizing he had lost the first round with a lunging straight-to-uppercut combination that backed Jan up to the fence. In typical Blachowicz fashion, he responded with a six-strike combination. This was give-and-take action early, and you could feel the intensity of the contest through the television screen. Reyes seemed to have woken up in between rounds, he was lighter on his feet, and much more active both offensively and defensively. Still, he was getting trounced by Blachowicz in the strikes thrown and landed. It would have been interesting to have seen how the narrative of the fight would’ve unfolded as the fight went later, but all hell broke loose with 40 Seconds to go in the second round.
One flush right hand in the middle of a fiery exchange busted Reyes’ nose in a bad way. Following up, Jan launched a monster of left hook that continued the damage of the previous exchange. Jan Blachowicz, realizing he had his man hurt, chased Reyes down and nearly blasted his already broken nose halfway across his face. Perhaps in an already compromised state, the stunned Reyes decided to fight fire with fire and continue the fiery exchange with Blachowicz- ultimately leading to a left hook counter that would send an unsteady, busted up Reyes’ collapsing to the canvas as referee Kevin Sataki jumped in to save the defenseless Reyes from further damage.
It was a truly heart-stopping, breath-taking, chain of events that led to the eventual coronation of Jan Blachowicz as the new king of the 205-Pounders.
I was so high on the abilities and the potential of Dominick Reyes following his should’ve been victory over Jon Jones this past February that I completely ignored the wholesale, drastic, improvements that Jan Blachowicz had made to his striking and strategy deployment. For that, I can only sing the praises of the new champion for atonement. Far too long the pole has gone underappreciated and overlooked, now it’s impossible to do so.
I’ve got a feeling this light heavyweight division is going to be a top-headline over the next twelve months, as fighters such as Glover Teixeira, Thiago Santos, Anthony Smith, Dominick Reyes, Jiri Prochazka, and Jacare Souza all make a mad-dash to make the most of what is a wide open light heavyweight division. It is going to get LIVELY at 205-Pounds.