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The divide between Israel Adesanya and his top challenger was far greater than anyone realized.
“The Last Stylebender” retained the undisputed Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight title with a scintillating stoppage of Paulo Costa in the UFC 253 headliner on Saturday at the Flash Forum in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Costa (13-1, 5-1 UFC) met his end 3:59 into Round 2, the latest victim on Adesanya’s march to all-time greatness.
It was a blowout from start to finish. Adesanya (20-0, 9-0 UFC) wrecked the Brazilian’s lead leg with repeated kicks, frustrated him with quick movements and methodically dismantled him. He unleashed a multi-punch volley to the head and body in the second round, floored Costa with a compact left hook and closed the door on him with mounted ground-and-pound.
Blachowicz Fells Reyes, Strikes UFC Gold
Jan Blachowicz wiped out Dominick Reyes with second-round punches to capture the vacant light heavyweight championship in the co-main event. Reyes (12-2, 6-2 UFC) succumbed to blows 4:36 into Round 2, failing in his second attempt to strike UFC gold.
The vastly more experienced Blachowicz (27-8, 10-5 UFC) was measured and precise, never straying from his approach. The 37-year-old Pole countered with power punches from both hands, stayed composed and blistered Reyes’ body with crushing kicks; his work left a multi-colored bruise on the Californian’s side that looked more like a shark bite. Blachowicz appeared to break the Cage Combat Academy product’s nose in the second round, continued to bait the trap and unleashed when the time was right. A chopping left hand detonated behind Reyes’ ear, set him on rubbery legs and ultimately dropped him where he stood. Blachowicz then pounced with punches until the job was done.
Blachowicz starts his title reign at 205 pounds on a four-fight tear.
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Royval Guillotine Subdues France
Former Legacy Fighting Alliance champion Brandon Royval submitted Kai Kara France with a guillotine choke in the second round of their featured flyweight battle. France (21-9, 4-2 UFC) bowed out 48 seconds into Round 2, as he was finished for the first time in nearly six years.
A frenetic first five minutes saw Royval (12-4, 2-0 UFC) lurch in front despite being knocked down. He answered with a spinning back elbow that sat down France, then threatened briefly with a gogoplata. Later in the opening stanza, Royval dazed the City Kickboxing rep with a close-range knee strike. Both men needed the one-minute respite between rounds. France shot for an ill-advised takedown inside the first minute of Round 2 and wandered into the guillotine. He struggled to free himself but soon became aware that his situation was hopeless.
Royval, 28, will enter his next assignment on the strength of four consecutive victories.
Steady Vieira Decisions Eubanks
Nova Uniao’s Ketlen Vieira rebounded from her Dec. 14 knockout loss to Irene Aldana with a unanimous decision over “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 26 finalist Sijara Eubanks in a three-round women’s bantamweight showcase. Vieira (11-1, 5-1 UFC) earned 29-28 marks from all three judges.
A short-notice substitution for Marion Reneau, Eubanks (6-5, 4-3 UFC) had her moments but struggled to navigate the Brazilian’s combination of size, strength and length. Vieira paired tactical takedowns in the first and second rounds with a potent jab and chopping right hands. Eubanks made her move in the third, where she upped her output and targeted the head, body and legs but never managed to put her opponent in legitimate danger.
The loss snapped Eubanks’ two-fight winning streak.
Surging Dawodu Edges Tukhugov
Stinging kicks to the lower leg and punching combinations to the body and head carried Hakeem Dawodu to a split decision over Zubaira Tukhugov in a featured catchweight clash at 150 pounds. Judges Anders Ohlsson and Ahmed Korchi scored it 30-27 and 29-28 for Dawodu, while Dave Tirelli struck a 29-28 scorecard in Tukhugov’s favor.
Neither man was willing to engage at the start, the tepid pace perhaps a nod to the respect they had for one another’s skills. Tukhugov (19-5-1, 4-2-1 UFC)—who missed weight for the match by four pounds—leaned on his jab and delivered a takedown in a closely contested second round, but he retreated into a shell in the third. Dawodu (12-1-1, 5-1 UFC) targeted his already damaged lower lead leg with kicks, pieced together two- and three-punch volleys and moved forward with taunts and profanity in a bid to draw out his opponent.
The 29-year-old Tukhugov has recorded five straight wins.
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