UFC 253: Fights to make after Israel Adesanya’s clinic against Paulo Costa and Jan Blachowicz’s title triumph

What’s next for the champions of the middleweight and light heavyweight divisions, and what’s next for their fallen foes?

Alex Pattle
Monday 28 September 2020 23:11
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In the main event of UFC 253 last Saturday, Israel Adesanya put on a clinic to defeat Paulo Costa and retain his middleweight championship.

Adesanya picked apart his challenger before finishing him in the second round, remaining undefeated while handing Costa the first loss of his professional career.

In the co-main event, Jan Blachowicz also secured a second-round TKO to become Poland’s first male UFC champion, beating Dominick Reyes to get his hands on the title vacated by Jon Jones last month.

Here’s a look at what could and should be next for the four protagonists of last weekend’s event on Abu Dhabi’s ‘Fight Island’.

Adesanya vs winner of Cannonier vs Whittaker

This one is fairly obvious. Adesanya called out Jared Cannonier after beating Costa, fully expecting the American to follow his lead in finishing former middleweight champ Robert Whittaker.  

Cannonier, on a three-fight win streak ahead of that clash next month, will no doubt deserve a title bout if he can add a victory over Whittaker to his resume, but that’s far from guaranteed.  

And if Whittaker wins, he’s probably earned the right to a rematch with Adesanya in an attempt to regain what the Nigerian-born New Zealander took from him one year ago. 

An impressive decision win over Liverpool’s Darren Till this summer showed that Whittaker is still very much one of the best in the world, and if he follows that by beating Cannonier – especially if he finishes ‘The Killa Gorilla’ – few people would argue against him stepping back into the Octagon with Adesanya, even if the majority will expect a similar result to last time, given how impressive ‘The Last Stylebender’ continues to look.

Robert Whittaker (left) dropped the middleweight strap to Israel Adesanya last year

Costa vs winner of Hermansson vs Till  

Many expected Costa to be a much tougher test for Adesanya than he proved to be on Saturday, but the champion showed off the true gulf in quality between himself and his challenger. That says more about Adesanya’s level than Costa’s, however. 

The Brazilian remains a threat at 185lbs (and one day, surely, at 205), and – on his day – you can still picture him finishing the likes of Jack Hermansson and Cannonier, even Whittaker, despite those men all being more technically proficient martial artists than Costa.

The winner of Hermansson vs Till is a good option for ‘The Eraser’ next time out. You could make an argument for the loser of Cannonier vs Whittaker, too, but that might actually keep Costa ever so slightly nearer a title shot, and he doesn’t need to be that close a rematch with Adesanya right now – he needs to prove over the course of a few fights that he could conjure a different outcome against the incumbent champ, as Whittaker is trying to do at the moment.

Going forward there are a lot of enticing options for Costa, too: A rematch with Yoel Romero would be fun after a very close decision in a wild contest last time; Kelvin Gastelum and the Brazilian could tear the house down; and Derek Brunson is re-establishing himself in the division.

Blachowicz vs winner of Santos vs Texeira

Another bout dependent on the outcome of an upcoming fight.

Blachowicz called out Jones after finishing Reyes, and although ‘Bones’ had some fun on social media by seemingly toying with the idea of an immediate return to light heavyweight to reclaim his throne, the American should go through with his planned move to heavyweight.

Looking at the 205lbs rankings, then, the next man in line for a title shot should be the winner of Thiago Santos’ impending clash with veteran Glover Texeira.

Jan Blachowicz (left) will make his first title defence when he next steps into the Octagon

Santos arguably beat Jones on points last summer, only to see the then champion get his hand raised, and the Brazilian has been recovering from injury in the year-plus since. One win from Santos is all it will take to convince fans that he deserves another shot at the belt, facing the new titleholder – whom he finished in 2019.

Texeira, meanwhile, may be a less thrilling potential opponent for Blachowicz, especially at 40 years old, but he’s won four straight. If he makes it five, especially against a top contender like compatriot Santos, he deserves to get in there with the powerful Pole.  

Reyes vs Rakic

While the loser of Santos vs Texeira is also an option for Reyes, the most natural fit here feels like a match-up with Aleksandar Rakic.

The fifth-ranked light heavyweight is 13-2, having won 12 straight after losing his first ever professional fight. In fact, most people believe it should have been 13 straight, but fellow European Volkan Oezdemir was controversially given the nod by two of the three judges when the pair squared off late last year.

Either way, it didn’t halt Rakic’s momentum and the Austrian beat former title challenger Anthony Smith pretty convincingly last month.

Rakic has been nearing the summit of the light heavyweight division for a while now, and the 28-year-old would be firmly in line for a shot at gold if he were to defeat California’s Reyes. 

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