UFC 259 sets up to be the most dynamic, complete, competitive and compelling fight card offered in the last decade or longer. Three five-round championship bouts will complete a 15-bout schedule. From start to finish, UFC 259 presents expertly skilled, top-ranked mixed martial arts talent from 10 countries all vying to propel their careers by competing with the eyes of the MMA world upon them.
Here’s an early snapshot of a few of the bouts that hold my attention outside of the Petr Yan vs. Aljamain Sterling + 120 bantamweight championship referenced below. I’ll provide a handful of releases for this card later in the week.
ISRAEL ADESANYA -230 VS. JAN BLACHOWICZ + 195
Light-heavyweight (205 pounds) Championship, Main Event
In this super fight, Blachowicz, the light-heavyweight champion, puts his title on the line against middleweight champion Adesanya. As I read Blachowicz expressions leading up to this bout, I’m reminded of the Howard Cosell description of a foul Muhammad Ali before one of his fights. Cosell used the word “truculent,” and that’s exactly how Blachowicz regards Adesanya attempting to come up a weight class and take what’s his.
Blachowicz, 38, earned the light-heavyweight title vacated by Jon Jones in UFC 253 when, as a + 200 underdog, he finished Dom Reyes late in the second round. Few thought the power-punching Pole would win that night, let alone finish Reyes.
Over his last 10 fights, Blachowicz has rattled off a 9-1 record. What’s more important is that he has been an underdog in all but one of those bouts. Blachowicz has been overlooked by the betting market, and I wonder if he’s being overlooked here.
Blachowicz is an accomplished striker with a black belt in BJJ. He’s a structured man for the division who has power in each limb and championship-level experience. He has won four straight bouts since his last loss at the hands of Thiago Santos and enters this championship defense, his first, with the attitude that he is being disrespected as a man, a fighter, an athlete, a competitor and now a champion.
It’s easy to understand that Blachowicz’s chip comes from his feeling that Adesanya is being propelled into a “double champion” opportunity at his potential expense. He regards his opponent as a natural middleweight and is eager to introduce Adesanya to light-heavyweight striking damage.
Blachowicz not only welcomes this challenge, but he is yearning to compete against a man who he believes will be unable to withstand the damage.
Adesanya actually is larger than Blachowicz and will hold advantages in height, reach, quickness, speed, agility and natural defensive movement.
I’ve written about Conor McGregor and other fighters who possess fluid movement and savant-like expression in their fighting. Adesanya is a master of offensive fluidity and precision, defensive-strike evasion, deft footwork and may be considered the most talented fighter, pound for pound, on the whole UFC roster.
“Speed kills” seems the best way to categorize this bout as Adesanya will be the younger fighter by seven-plus years, besides being the taller man with a reach advantage. How Blachowicz handles Adesanya’s movement, especially early, is important.
Adesanya is coming off a title defense of his own, and his opponent was the middleweight division’s version of the Blachowicz fight style in body type, forward-pressure movement and power striking. So Adesanya seems well-prepared.
Throughout his career, Blachowicz has only battled other light-heavyweight fighters, all of whom possess power and might. But no one has had the ability to challenge him with speed, agility, fluid movement, precision striking/kicking and natural matrix-like defense and strike evasion.
The Blachowicz plan must be that of a patient lumberjack chopping down a tree. While Blachowicz does have the power to shut off Adesanya’s lights with one power shot, his best possible path to victory is to take a deliberate, steady approach to leg kicks and body attack on Adesanya. He must wear the middleweight down, then when Adesanya is wounded, slowing and damaged, attack and kill.
“Kill the body and the head dies,” Angelo Dundee would advise, and a steady body attack, plus using his solid ground game to drag Adesanya down must be part of Blachowicz’s path to victory.
Adesanya will look to maintain spacing and distance (yes, in the smaller confines of the 25-foot cage at the Apex center) and barrage the incoming Pole with strikes, kicks and elbows from every angle and plane. Adesanya’s matrix-like striking attack must employ stealth, speed and deception to be most destructive.
Adesanya opened -255 for this bout and seems to be presenting value on Adesanya. It’s my judgment that this line should be a bit tighter.
PETR YAN -115 VS. ALJAMAIN STERLING -105
Bantamweight (135 pounds) Championship
Sterling + 120 is a position I released in December, then when the fight was rescheduled for this date, I came right back with Sterling once the underdog price broke a second time.
Yan, the champion, is a Russian destroyer decorated as a Master of Sport in Boxing, and he holds a blue belt in BJJ. Since his debut in the UFC in 2018, Yan has won seven straight fights, but only one of those foes even deserved to be matched against Sterling, and that’s Jimmy Rivera, whom Sterling beat via one-sided decision in February of 2019.
Yan is all about the striking game, not that he isn’t used to grappling and wrestling. Thus far in his UFC career, he has been matched against fighters who have been tailor-made for his skills.
Yan’s first three opponents in the UFC were not top-20 talents, and of his last three opponents, only Rivera could be considered in his prime when Yan fought him. Yan’s last two opponents — 40-year-old Urijah Faber and 33-year-old Jose Aldo — do not match up in fighting ability to Sterling or his recent competition.
Sterling has faced the division's elite talent. He will enter this bout the larger man, and he’ll hold an arm/reach advantage that will allow him to partially offset Yan’s striking advantage.
Yan’s resume lacks world-class wrestling, which is Sterling’s foundation. Sterling’s ability to work through Yan’s striking and engage in the dirty, grimy, unrelenting pursuit that is clasping onto opponents then manhandling them down to the mat for a mauling is the key to his success.
Yan knows this, as evidenced by his switch of camps from his usual Tiger Muay Thai location to train in Florida at ATT. At ATT, Yan has access to sparring partners versed in grappling/wrestling.
This fight was postponed because Yan had visa issues, but the postponement also bought him time to get to Florida and address the systematic grind that is going to be put on him once the bell rings.
Sterling has been held back from his opportunity at the title, and that’s built a focus and determination in him, while Yan has had a much more streamlined path to the title. Saturday night the two top bantamweights in the world compete in a fight that will be razor close and tightly contested. I believe Sterling is in a terrific position to earn the title.
Sterling + 120
ISLAM MAKHACHEV -365 VS. DREW DOBER + 300
Lightweight (155 pounds)
Makhachev has the hype, and the price proves it. Targeted fight?
ALEKSANDER RAKIC -160 VS. THIAGO SANTOS + 135
Light heavyweight (205 pounds)
After time away and surgery on both knees, Santos arrived at his last bout and put on the worst performance of his career. He was finished by Glover Teixeira. Rakic, 6-foot-5, cleaned up on Anthony Smith, a fighter whose best is now well behind him. Beware recency.
CASEY KENNEY -125 VS. DOMINICK CRUZ + 105
Bantamweight (135 pounds)
Kenney will be dealt physical and emotional challenges in this bout. How he handles the adversity will decide if he can beat the beguiling Cruz, who has but one way to win this fight and that is via points. Cruz will absolutely not wrestle Kenney and he will not finish him.
SONG YADONG -145 VS. KYLER PHILLIPS + 125
Bantamweight (135 pounds)
Yadong from China is 23 and ranked 14th in the division. He has won a couple of fights in which he has slowed in the later rounds and been challenged by opponents who can defend strikes then counter off the attack. Phillips is perhaps the most talented of a stable of bantamweights that all compete as a team at the MMALab. He’s a more complete fighter than Yadong, and he’ll have a two-inch reach advantage.
SEAN BRADY -215 VS. JAKE MATTHEWS + 180
Welterweight (170 pounds)
This will be one of the spectacular early prelim bouts. This early prelim slate is steeped with enough talent to be a main card of a “Fight Night.”
Matthews arrives with a solid wrestling base, and he's the more experienced fighter, but he’s not a fluid striker. Brady arrives from the streets of Philly, and he is dangerous everywhere this fight may go. Don’t blink. … Fire fight!