UFC’s return to Fight Island last night (Sat., Sept. 26, 2020) started rather slow, but around halfway through the Prelims, Fight Island caught fire. Ludovit Klein’s demolition job of Shane Young and Brad Riddell’s war with Alex Da Silva set the stage for the main card, which produced two back-and-forth battles and three brutal second-round stoppages.
The usual guy who does this piece is off winning championships of his own, so it’s down to me. Let’s have a look at what all went down in Abu Dhabi.
Too Much, Too Soon
Paulo Costa entered last night’s main event 5-0 in the Octagon, but only one of those wins, over Yoel Romero, came over a legitimate contender. Three of his other victims, Garreth McLellan, Oluwale Bamgbose, and Johny Hendricks, all left the world’s largest fight promotion in the midst of awful slumps. “The Eraser” sidestepped potential landmines like Jack Hermansson and Jared Cannonier en route to a title shot, and while Conor McGregor showed that skipping the line doesn’t necessarily end in disaster, it certainly didn’t work out for Costa.
Brazil’s beefiest bruiser didn’t win a second of this fight. He tempered his aggression in the face of Israel Adesanya’s impeccable striking, but eliminated his best chance of victory in the process. Unused to fighting a more measure bout, he fell into an early hole, and his leg was too compromised by the time he realized he needed to throw caution to the wind.
And when he did try and slug it out, a completely un-pressured Adesanya had no issue countering him into oblivion.
Costa remains a physical specimen and highly capable fighter, but will have to bear the ignominy of a humbling defeat after being pushed to an untenable height.
All the Way Down, All the Way Up
Jan Blachowicz’ 2014 body kick knockout of Ilir Latifi in his UFC debut appeared to mark the dawn of a new Light Heavyweight contender, only for the former KSW champ to drop four of his next five. The final defeat, a majority decision loss to Pat Cummins, was particularly disheartening, as Blachowicz spent the first round mauling “Durkin” before gassing out and letting the fight slip through his fingers.
Then, just when it seemed safe to write him off as a bust. he started winning. From 2017 on, he felled everyone besides Thiago Santos, ultimately amassing a 7-1 run with five post-fight bonuses en route to a vacant title shot. He still entered last night’s main event as the underdog, which wasn’t terribly surprising; in those previous eight matches, he was favored only against the undersized “Jacare” Souza.
Once again, he flipped the script.
Dominick Reyes, the uncrowned champion of the division, simply never got comfortable. Heavy combinations and a vicious body kick secured the first round for Blachowicz, who maintained the pressure through the second. Just as Reyes appeared to be finding his groove, Blachowicz forced a close-quarters firefight and turned “The Devastator’s” legs to jelly with a left hook. A few follow-up shots and the UFC had its first-ever male Polish champion.
Blachowicz has no shortage of intriguing contenders, from Glover Teixeira and Thiago Santos to Aleksandar Rakic and Jiri Prochazka. I don’t know how his reign will go, but it’ll be one worth watching, and no matter how successful he ends up being, he deserves all the credit in the world for reinventing himself into one of the best fighters alive.
UFC 253 featured a rare non-title main card Flyweight fight and the two participants absolutely made the most of the opportunity, as Brandon Royval and Kai Kara-France put together six minutes of utter mayhem. Kara-France took first blood by dropping “Raw Dawg” with an overhand right, leading to a double knockdown just seconds later when Royval answered another overhand with a spinning back elbow. Then came a submission onslaught from Royval, a brutal knee knockdown, and more ground tussling until the bell. When the second round kicked off, Kara-France continued looking to take the charging Royval’s head off, but the latter’s pressure prompted an ill-advised shot that left “Don’t Blink” caught in a vicious guillotine.
It’s rare that a fighter in the modern age can make the “attack recklessly while relying on your bottom game to deter wrestling” gameplan work at the highest level, but Royval’s out here upending the meta. Keep it up.
Zubaira Tukhugov and Hakeem Dawodu put on a terrific striking battle for two rounds, the rapid punching of Tukhugov clashing with the variety and body assault of Dawodu. “Mean” Hakeem started to take over in the second as the leg kicks piled up and Tukhugov’s output waned, but “Warrior” secured a minute of top control that left the round up in the air. The third was all Dawodu, who at one point marched after Tukhugov with his hands down, screaming at him to “f***ing fight.” Tukhugov, apparently convinced he was up two rounds, elected to run out the clock while backpedaling, which ended up costing him when the judges gave Dawodu the split decision win and his fifth consecutive victory.
I tabbed Ludovit Klein as one to watch in this week’s New Blood piece, and though he missed weight for his short-notice debut, he absolutely looked the part, shredding the never-before-stopped Shane Young with a head kick and punches in just 76 seconds. This is a 25-year-old with truly lethal striking and some sky-high potential; the weight miss may have cost him a chance at a post-fight bonus, but I can definitely see him scoring some in the near future.
- Ketlen Vieira defeats Sijara Eubanks via unanimous decision: She had to turn aside a late surge to do it, but Vieira secured her first victory since 2018 with critical takedowns and solid long-range offense. Once a top contender after beating Sara McMann and Cat Zingano, “Fenomeno” saw her run derailed by injuries and a knockout loss to Irene Aldana; with this win, she’s once again just a fight or two away from a potential title shot.
- Brad Riddell defeats Alex Da Silva via unanimous decision: “Quake” secured his third entertaining Octagon victory in three appearances with a fun, competitive decision over Brazil’s Alex Da Silva. “Leko,” a highly talented and well-rounded young man despite his lackluster UFC record, baited Riddell into an early brawl to set up a takedown and long stretch of top control in the first round. Once Riddell started to get his combinations flowing and Da Silva began to slow, however, the Kiwi took over. The third round proved particularly dominant, as he damaged Da Silva’s eye with a clean left hook and showed off some wrestling chops of his own to seal the deal. City Kickboxing’s roster continues to impress.
- Jake Matthews defeats Diego Sanchez via unanimous decision: An almost surprisingly unsurprising outcome. Matthews patiently took Sanchez apart in the first two rounds, constantly countering “The Nightmare’s” trademark rushes, and finally managed to floor him in the third with a 1-2. Rather than stand up, he elected to chill in top position, periodically unleashing bursts of ground-and-pound and easily avoiding Sanchez’s Hail Mary submission attempts. Please don’t let Sanchez keep fighting.
- Juan Espino defeats Jeff Hughes via first-round submission: The former TUF: Heavy Hitters champion hadn’t lost a step in his two years away from the Octagon. He quickly brought his suffocating wrestling to bear, hitting mat return after mat return as Hughes struggled to break free. After losing back control, Espino dove back on top and quickly transitioned from mount to scarf hold before locking up the vicious neck crank/chest crusher that Aleksei Oleinik uses so well. It’s not clear how long he’ll have in the Octagon as he approaches 40, but if this was a sign of things to come, it’s worth keeping an eye on “El Guapo.”
- Danilo Marques defeats Khadis Ibragimov via unanimous decision: Just a truly wretched way to open the Prelims, made all the more appalling by Ibragimov’s continuing refusal to show even a modicum of the talent that made him a decorated combat sambo practitioner and undefeated M-1 champion. After some noncommittal striking and a few failed takedown attempts, Marques managed to impose his grappling in the second and third rounds despite Ibragimov’s repeated fence grabs, racking up lengthy stretches of back control as Ibragimov somehow contrived to gas himself out in the process despite throwing a pittance of strikes. Ibragimov is now 0-4 in the Octagon, unable to defeat even a hand-picked opponent, and has some serious decisions to make at just 25 years old.
For complete UFC 253: “Adesanya vs. Costa” results and play-by-play, click HERE!