The Ultimate Fighting Championship has an early contender for card of the year coming up this Saturday. Fifteen fights, 13 ranked fighters and four UFC champions are set to compete. UFC 259 has great fights from top to bottom and culminates in three title fights on ESPN+ pay-per-view.
This card features multiple “main event” caliber fights, but the centerpiece of 259, Jan Blachowicz versus Israel Adesanya, is going to be fireworks. Making the jump from 185 to 205, middleweight champion Adesanya will be a tough customer for Blachowicz’s first title defense as king of the light heavyweights.
Blachowicz (27-8) earned the light heavyweight strap over Dominick Reyes (12-2) at UFC 253 in September. Before the vacant title fight, former light heavyweight champion Jon Jones (26-1, 1 NC) held a nine-year reign featuring 15 consecutive title fights. Jones, after defeating what feels like nearly every contender at 205 lbs., vacated the belt in August and announced his intention to contend for the heavyweight title.
Enter Blachowicz and Reyes. The former was the underdog for the vacant title fight, as Reyes had come very close to dethroning Jones in February of the same year. Blachowicz hammered at Reyes’ ribs with hard kicks to the body and eventually finished Reyes in the second round via TKO.
Israel Adesanya (20-0) enters the bout looking to put his name alongside fellow two-belt champions Conor McGregor, Henry Cejudo and current women’s bantam and featherweight champion Amanda Nunes.
Adesanya is middleweight royalty and has an impressive list of names on his undefeated resume. “Stylebender” has made fast work of middleweight contenders Robert Whittaker (23-5), Yoel Romero (13-5) and most recently Paulo Costa (13-1). His dominance over the contenders in his division has warranted his attempt at the 205 strap.
How Blachowicz can win: This is Blachowicz’s division, and he should look to exploit any weakness he can find as he welcomes Adesanya to light heavyweight. Because this fight is at the UFC Apex — an octagon that is five feet smaller than the standard cage — Blachowicz can more easily close distance with Adesanya, who is best at striking from range.
Although Blachowicz is primarily a very powerful striker, his best route to victory includes bringing the fight to the ground with Adesanya. Izzy is an effective stuffer of takedowns, but his ground game is largely unproven. Blachowicz has accomplished nine of his 27 wins via submission, and Adesanya will have less room to stuff a single leg with the smaller cage.
How Adesanya can win: Israel Adesanya’s last three opponents have been just like Blachowicz: big, powerful strikers with one punch power and a willingness to brawl. Whittaker, Romero and Costa have all stood in the pocket with Izzy — all three have succumbed to Adesanya’s crisp striking.
Adesanya, despite only now debuting at 205, is likely just fine with the extra weight. His 6’4” frame, which is quite tall at middleweight, is likely to be much stronger with the extra 20 pounds. More weight means more power. If Adesanya can immediately prove his movement and striking is like that of his middleweight self, Izzy will keep this fight standing and put on yet another striking clinic.
The sportsbooks have Adesanya as a sizable favorite, and for good reason. He has done battle with some very scary middleweights, and clearly has eyes for Jones. Blachowicz certainly has the power to break Adesanya’s perfect record. He just needs to land that one clean shot on Adesanya… Where have we heard that before?
Charlie’s Prediction: Adesanya wins by R3 KO/TKO
Peter’s Prediction: Adesanya wins by decision
The other two title bouts
Also featured on this card is title fights for women’s featherweight and men’s bantamweight. Nunes (20-4) will defend the 145 lbs. strap against Megan Anderson (11-4) in the co-main event. Petr Yan (15-1) will defend the 135 lbs. belt for the first time against Aljamain Sterling (19-3).
Nunes versus Anderson will likely be yet another installment of dominance for the greatest female fighter of all time. Nunes is sitting as a -1250 favorite according to Draft Kings, and will attempt to make quick work of Australia’s Anderson.
Yan dominated Jose Aldo in July to get the bantamweight belt wrapped around his waist. For his first defense, he will welcome Sterling to the Apex octagon. The odds are quite close, but are leaning toward the champion.
How Yan can win: He is an extremely special striker, and as his nickname “no mercy” suggests, Yan enjoys putting the hurt on his opponents. He has more power in his stand up, and has competent wrestling to boot. Yan should try and keep it standing, and set up his merciless ground and pound late in the fight.
How Sterling can win: Yan’s striking is great, and Sterling’s is very very good. Yan’s ground game is very very good, Sterling’s is great. These two fighters are very evenly matched, but the ground advantage has to be Aljo’s. Sterling is a menace on the mat, and has eight wins via submission. His last fight against Cody Sandhagen (14-2) was a victory via a well-executed and quick rear-naked choke. Sterling wins if he can utilize his jiu-jitsu — he just can’t afford to stay standing for too long.
Other fights to watch
This card has multiple crazy bouts that could be Fight Night headliners in their own right. Makhachev versus Dober features two top-15 lightweights and will showcase the rising stardom of Islam Makhachev (18-1). Santos versus Aleksandar Rakic will be an absolute scrap between two light heavyweight contenders. And the winner of Joseph Benavidez (28-7) versus Askar Askarov (12-0-1) will likely contend for the men’s flyweight title next.
The point here is that this card is insane — an absolute treat for MMA fans from top to bottom. As always, be sure to check @RedCornerDFP for full card predictions and live fight results Saturday.