UFC 253 Recap
The UFC’s much-anticipated return to Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island did not disappoint as both Israel Adesanya and Jan Błachowicz were victorious in the championship doubleheader that headlined Saturday’s night of fights. The two victorious champions are at two completely different points of their career, with the 31 year-old Adesanya emerging as one of the sports brightest stars as he remained undefeated, while Błachowicz is a 37 year-old journeyman of the company who was once 2-4 early on in his time in the promotion.
With Israel Adesanya’s disposal of then-undefeated Brazilian Paolo Costa within two rounds, he is reaching rare heights in the sport despite only debuting in the UFC in 2018. Two and a half years into his reign in the promotion, he has just about wiped out the UFC’s middleweight division. After defeating Costa in a match that had some bad blood brewing in the buildup, "The Last Stylebender" has now has beaten five out of the top nine fighters in the division according to the promotion’s rankings, and the champ now has his eyes on next month’s PPV co-main event as Robert Whittaker faces off against Jared Cannonier. In Adesanya’s post-fight interview, he claimed to want Cannonier next but also did not defer the idea of getting his hands on Whittaker again, the man he beat in 2019 to become champion. Regardless of where the champ goes from here, he has a great team behind him at New Zealand-based gym City Kickboxing with a slew of fellow UFC fighters, three of which appeared alongside the champion on the card. With a great camp behind him, and victories over the top tier at 185 pounds out of the way, who knows how long until Adesanya tries to move up to light heavyweight to try and do what only four fighters have done before him, become a simultaneous two-division UFC champ.
Speaking of the UFC’s light heavyweight division, the path to 205 gold now goes through Warsaw, Poland after Jan Błachowicz made quick work of Dominick Reyes when he TKO’d him in the second round of their vacant light heavyweight title fight. Błachowicz looks to emulate the title reigns of previous champions Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier. With his win on Saturday night, he is the first champion not named Jones or Cormier in over a decade. The only downside to that is he is 37 years old and Father Time is always undefeated, especially in the fight game. One similarity that Jan and Adesanya have in common is that they both have an important divisional bout soon. Along with Whittaker vs. Cannonier scheduled for October 24, sources say that the UFC is close to scheduling top contenders Glover Teixeira vs. Thiago Santos for November 7. With a monumental year for the promotion in 2020, there are even greater matchups on the horizon for the sport.
Another intriguing storyline heading into the UFC’s return to Abu Dhabi was the quintet of City Kickboxing fighters that made the walk to the Octagon. Head Coach Eugene Bareman was the busiest man on Fight Island on Saturday when he made the walk to corner Shane Young, Brad Riddell, Kai Kara-France, and Israel Adesanya in their respective bouts. Despite the gym splitting on the night with Riddell and Adesanya bringing home wins, the night was no disappointment. With Adesanya and Riddell winning, Kara-France also got a 50k bonus for his Flyweight fight of the night with surging prospect Brandon Royval, and not to mention CKB is the part-time home of UFC Featherweight Champ Alexander Volkanovski as well. It was in totality a big night for the Australian/New Zealand MMA scene as highly-touted welterweight Jake Matthews picked up a win against Diego Sanchez. With the region on the world’s biggest stage, they delivered some great moments on the card and have been instrumental in the UFC’s success during the pandemic. Despite not being one of the largest MMA scenes geographically, it is widely represented on the worlds stage.
Despite the eleven-fight card delivering some great moments, one negative that stood out was the drastic weight misses by both Ludvoit Klein and Zubaira Tukhugov. Both fighters missed weight by over four pounds, and it was even brought up in Israel Adesanya’s post-fight interview with Jon Anik. The often-vocal middleweight champion came to the defense of CKB teammate Shane Young, who lost via first-round TKO, pleading his case that the fines need to be increased from the typical 10-15% to a fighter’s purse for coming in overweight. Adesanya addressed the fact that once a fighter realizes that they are most likely to miss weight, they often abandon their weight cut completely.
The issue of cutting weight has been in the news a ton recently after a segment on HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, where he sits through a weight cut with current Professional Fighting League fighter Ramsey Nijem. The segment, which aired in September’s episode, exposes the fight that happens before the fight, and that is coming in on weight. In every non-title fight, each fighter is allowed a pound allowance but as shown in the segment, Nijem was seen trembling, unable to stand, and even had to resort to cutting his hair to shave down to make the necessary weight. The issue of weight cutting is now taking over the sport regardless of the promotion, there is no clear way to make sure there is not a competitive advantage when both fighters step into the cage. As long as there will be fights, there will be weight misses. However, how much of a fighter purse is enough to take from someone? It is a good year for a fighter if they can make the walk three times, and that’s without any major injuries. With fight coaches, managers, and families to take care of, it will be a travesty to take even a bigger piece of the fighter’s purse, especially because fighters are not paid as much due to no union presence in almost every promotion. It is not time for the fighters to starve one so another can eat more, it is the time for fighters to unite to try and get more money for their lives that are being put at stake.
(Cover Photo: Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)