UFC 259: Fights to make next as Israel Adesanya comes up short in pursuit of Jan Blachowicz’s gold

There is a clear contender in the light heavyweight division and controversy to be resolved at 135lbs

Jan Blachowicz (right) retained his light heavyweight title against middleweight champion Israel Adesanya
Jan Blachowicz (right) retained his light heavyweight title against middleweight champion Israel Adesanya

Jan Blachowicz denied Israel Adesanya ‘champ-champ’ status in the main event of UFC 259 on Saturday night, as the promotion’s light heavyweight titleholder enjoyed a successful first defence by outpointing the middleweight king.

Blachowicz dominated the championship rounds to secure a unanimous decision victory over Adesanya, handing the Nigerian-born New Zealander a first career defeat while solidifying his own status at the top of the 205lbs division.

Elsewhere on the card at UFC’s Apex institute in Las Vegas, dual-weight champion Amanda Nunes successfully defended her featherweight belt with an easy first-round submission win against Megan Anderson, while the evening’s third and final title fight ended in controversy.

UFC 259: Blachowicz hands Adesanya first career defeat

Petr Yan lost his bantamweight title to Aljamain Sterling after landing an illegal knee on his downed challenger, as a UFC belt changed hands via disqualification for the very first time.

Here are some of the key fights to make next in the UFC.

Jan Blachowicz vs Glover Texeira

Texeira should probably have been the one challenging Poland’s Blachowicz last weekend, but the UFC understandably could not resist the prospect of one of their biggest stars, Adesanya, increasing his profile by adding a second belt to his name.

Just as 38-year-old Blachowicz is enjoying a remarkable run as his career slowly comes to a close, Texeira (32-7) is looking better than ever at 41. The jiu-jitsu specialist, who has more finishes and more submission wins than any other fighter in UFC light heavyweight history, has won his last five bouts and cannot be denied a title shot now that Adesanya has come and gone at 205lbs – and considering that Jon Jones is embarking on a heavyweight venture.

Blachowicz (28-8) has also won his last five contests and, for the first time in a long while, the Pole would not be the underdog entering this fight. But that does not mean it wouldn’t be a dangerous match-up for Blachowicz.

Petr Yan vs Aljamain Sterling II

Sterling began Saturday’s bantamweight title fight at a frantic pace that likely secured him the first round. That intense output quickly saw the Jamaican-American fade, however, and he looked to be on course for a decision loss – if not a late stoppage defeat – against Yan.

The Russian gave up his belt with a split-second mistake late in the fourth round, though, landing an illegal knee on the downed Sterling (20-3), as the champion and a member of his corner exhibited a remarkable lack of understanding of the rules. Yan (15-2) was disqualified with Sterling unable to continue, though the new titleholder stressed that he did not want to claim the gold in such a manner.

Petr Yan (left) lost his title to Aljamain Sterling via DQ at UFC 259

The solution here is simple: run it back as soon as possible.

Israel Adesanya vs Robert Whittaker II or Adesanya vs Darren Till

Whittaker returned from a long injury lay-off to defend his middleweight title against Adesanya in October 2019, with the Australian suffering a second-round knockout loss in front of a home crowd – the biggest in UFC history.

Long-term inactivity and an ill-advised approach that evening meant Whittaker (22-5) did not do himself justice against ‘The Last Stylebender’, but since that defeat ‘The Reaper’ has two wins from two against incredibly dangerous opponents.

Whittaker outpointed both Liverpool’s Till and the heavy-handed Jared Cannonier in 2020, and – while some believe Adesanya might still be a level above the 30-year-old – a rematch with the current 205lbs champion makes sense if Whittaker can overcome Paulo Costa in April. With Adesanya (20-1) having lost at the weekend, it is now more conceivable in many fans’ eyes that Whittaker could get the job done in a second clash with the 31-year-old.

Another option for Adesanya, and an opponent whom he has long wanted to face, is Till (18-3), whose popularity is such that a spotty record in recent contests will never keep him far from a title shot. The Scouser has lost three of his last four bouts (going 1-1 since moving up to middleweight), but a victory over Italy’s Marvin Vettori next month would potentially be enough to line up a fight with Adesanya.

Liverpool’s Darren Till is popular enough that a title shot is never far away

Amanda Nunes vs Valentina Shevchenko III

Nunes destroyed Anderson in Las Vegas to retain her belt in an almost non-existent women’s featherweight division and extend her win streak to 12 victories over the last six years.

The only woman to come close to defeating the Brazilian in that stretch was Shevchenko, the current women’s flyweight champion. The Russian (20-3) twice lost to Nunes (21-4) via decision (unanimous in 2016 and split in 2017 with the bantamweight belt up on the line), but won both of her fights between those meetings and has won six in a row since the rematch.

Shevchenko (20-3) was arguably unlucky not to get the nod in at least one of those clashes with Nunes, and she is seemingly the only woman in the company who has a genuine chance of beating ‘The Lioness’. A 0-2 scoreline in a series rarely demands a trilogy bout, but such a move would be welcomed here.

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