When asked about golfing legend Jack Nicklaus at the peak of his powers, the incomparable Bobby Jones surveyed the landscape and summed it up like this: “He plays a game with which I am not familiar.” Israel Adesanya’s peers must know the feeling.
Adesanya tightened his grip on the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s middleweight throne with an utterly sublime showing, as he cut down Paulo Henrique Costa with punches and elbows in the second round of their UFC 253 main event on Saturday at the Flash Forum in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Costa, who entered the cage with a perfect 13-0 record, bit the dust 3:59 into Round 2.
The performance bordered on perfection. Adesanya chipped away at the hulking Brazilian’s base with repeated kicks to the knee, thigh and calf, slowly but surely turning him into a stationery target. Costa tried initially to taunt his way out of peril, failing to recognize the masterful web being spun around him by the undefeated champion until it was too late. In the second round, Adesanya cut the challenger above the right eye with a head kick, connected with a blistering volley of punches, floored him with a glancing left hook behind the ear and wiped away what was left of “The Eraser” with subsequent ground-and-pound.
In the aftermath of UFC 253 “Adesanya vs. Costa,” here are five matches that ought to be made:
Israel Adesanya vs. Robert Whittaker-Jared Cannonier winner: Adesanya has begun to exhaust the superlatives surrounding him. The 31-year-old Lagos, Nigeria, native improved to 20-0 with 15 knockouts and removed his chief threat by obliterating Costa in less than nine minutes. Adesanya outlanded the Brazilian brute by a 55-12 margin and connected on 65 percent of his significant strikes, directing 26 of them at the legs and 24 of them at the body. Amazingly, Costa landed only two head strikes in suffering his first defeat in 14 professional appearances. Whittaker, the man Adesanya dethroned, will square off with Cannonier at UFC 254 on Oct. 24.
Jan Blachowicz vs. Thiago Santos-Glover Teixeira winner: His rise to power was as unlikely as any in recent memory, but nevertheless, Blachowicz—whose roster spot was in jeopardy three years ago—sits atop the light heavyweight mountain. The 37-year-old Pole put away the favored Dominick Reyes with second-round punches in the co-headliner, where he captured the vacant 205-pound championship and filled the void left by the departed Jon Jones. Reyes succumbed to blows 4:36 into Round 2. Blachowicz has won four fights in a row and eight of his past nine since his disappointing majority decision defeat to Patrick Cummins put him on unsteady footing with the promotion in April 2017. Santos, the last man to beat Blachowicz, will lock horns with Teixeira in the UFC Fight Night 182 main event on Nov. 7.
Brandon Royval vs. Askar Askarov: Shares in Royval stock skyrocketed after his latest outing, as the former Legacy Fighting Alliance champion submitted Kai Kara France with a guillotine choke in the second round of their flyweight showcase. France conceded defeat 48 seconds into Round 2 of a “Fight of the Night” barnburner. Both men hit the deck in the first round, Royval on two occasions. Still, the Factory X standout charged forward with almost maniacal purpose, wore down France and forced him into a fight-ending mistake less than a minute into the second round. Royval, 28, has rattled off four consecutive victories, all four of them by submission, and appears poised to shake up the pecking order at 125 pounds. The unbeaten Askarov pushed his record to 12-0-1 at UFC Fight Night 172, where he took a unanimous decision from Alexandre Pantoja on July 18.
Ketlen Vieira vs. Raquel Pennington: Vieira rebounded from her stunning knockout loss to Irene Aldana in December and affirmed her place as one of the Top 10 bantamweights in the UFC with a unanimous decision over “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 26 finalist Sijara Eubanks on the main card. All three cageside judges scored it 29-28 for the Brazilian, who outstruck Eubanks by a 93-72 count and incorporated pivotal takedowns in the first and second rounds. Pennington last competed at UFC on ESPN 11 in June, when she was awarded a unanimous verdict over Marion Reneau. Her only setbacks inside the Octagon have resulted from encounters with former champions: Holly Holm (twice), Germaine de Randamie, Amanda Nunes and Jessica Andrade.
Hakeem Dawodu vs. Daniel Pineda: While Dawodu did not set the world on fire in a split decision victory over Zubaira Tukhugov, he got the job done against a dangerous opponent in a three-round catchweight feature at 150 pounds. Scores were 30-27 and 29-28 for the Canadian and 29-28 for Tukhugov, who blew weight for the match by a whopping four pounds. Dawodu has all but erased memories of his 39-second submission loss to Danny Henry in 2018, the World Series of Fighting veteran having since pieced together a run of five consecutive wins to establish himself as person of interest in the featherweight division. Pineda made a dramatic return to the Ultimate Fighting Championship on Aug. 15, when he stopped the favored Herbert Burns with second-round elbow strikes at UFC 252. “The Pit” has secured all 27 of his victories by knockout, technical knockout or submission.