Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is gearing up to stage its third pay-per-view (PPV) event of 2021, and it’s going to be a big one. UFC 259 will go down from inside UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada later tonight (Sat., March 6, 2021) featuring a trio of title fights. In the main event, Jan Blachowicz will defend his Light Heavyweight title for the first time against Middleweight champion, Israel Adesanya. In the co-headlining act, Amanda Nunes will put her women’s Featherweight title on the line against Megan Anderson, while Petr Yan defends his Bantamweight strap against Aljamain Sterling.
Many expected for Israel Adesanya’s bid to win the Light Heavyweight title to come against Jon Jones. Instead, he is facing current division king, Jan Blachowicz. While still a great challenge and title fight, one can’t help but to be a bit frustrated at the missed opportunity. Jones and Adesanya have been jawing at each other for some time now, creating the buzz and anticipation for one hell of a fight and promotional tour leading up to it. Instead, Jones vacated his title and will be fighting at Heavyweight next. It’s not like “Bones” is ducking “The Last Stylebender,” but it still feels like an opportunity lost for Jones — as well as UFC — to silence Adesanya and earn yet another notch on his belt before moving up. While that fight can still happen, risking either man losing and letting more time pass may cause it to lose some of its luster.
Moving on ...
Blachowicz took advantage of Jones’ decision to vacate the 205-pound title, knocking out Dominick Reyes at UFC 253 in Sept. 2020, his fourth straight win. When you talk about career resurrections, Blachowicz is the poster boy. After starting his UFC career 2-2, the Polish bruiser was at the brink of getting cut. Instead, he made adjustments and has since gone on to win eight of his last nine fights. And he’s been doing it silently. He isn’t a loud and boisterous personality, opting to let his actions speak louder than his words. If he can hand Adesanya the first loss of his career, Blachowicz can expect his stock to soar. And who knows, if it’s impressive enough he could even entice “Bones” to drop back down to 205 pounds for another big title fight.
Adesanya’s meteoric UFC rise has truly been a fun one to watch. When you couple his excellent MMA skills along with his personality and charisma, “The Last Stylebender” has quickly become one of UFC’s hottest stars. And with Conor McGregor seemingly on a downward trajectory, Adesanya’s timing couldn’t be better. Undefeated at 20-0, 9-0 UFC, Adesanya is nearing Khabib Nurmagomedov territory. Sure, he has nine less wins than “The Eagle,” but like Khabib, he hasn’t tasted defeat and has made his run through his division look somewhat effortless. He showed grit in his tough fight against Kelvin Gastelum, but seemingly barely broke a sweat when he dismantled former champion Robert Whittaker. He conquered the beast known as Yoel Romero, earned a win over living legend Anderson Silva and handed Paulo Costa his first-ever loss. His resume is impressive so far, and he is still just 31 years old. While it feels like Adesanya has been fighting for UFC for a decade, he actually only made his debut for the promotion three years ago. Now, he looks to add to his legacy by becoming UFC’s latest champ-champ, a feat accomplished previously by McGregor, Daniel Cormier, Henry Cejudo and Amanda Nunes. Adesanya is already one of UFC’s biggest draws, but the sky will be the limit if he leaves “Sin City” with two belts over his shoulders. Furthermore, it will only sweeten the pot if and when a superfight against Jones comes to fruition.
There isn’t too much to complain about here, this card is definitely worth the price of admission after a few previous cards didn’t exactly raise eyebrows on paper leading up to fight night. That said, the one matchup that puzzles me is Dominick Cruz vs. Casey Kenney. Sure, “The Dominator” is coming off two losses, but they were both title fights against Cody Garbrandt and Henry Cejudo. No disrespect to Kenney, he has been putting in work to the tune of three straight wins and is on the rise, but he isn’t ranked in the Top 15 yet. For Kenney, it’s a great opportunity to raise his stock with a big win over a legend, but I’m a bit surprised Cruz took the fight. For my money, I would have preferred UFC matchmakers give Cruz — a former longtime champion — someone in the Top 15 with a bit more name value. Someone like Raphael Assuncao, Marlon Vera, Jimmie Rivera or even Frankie Edgar. Instead, he runs the risk of losing to a rising contender on the outside of the Top 15 looking in, and on the “Prelims,” no less.
Original Card Vs. Actual Card:
On a stacked card that features a historic 15 fights, miraculously there were no major changes made to this event. Well, other than the one we will discuss in the next segment. Still, in a day and age where COVID-19 is cancelling fights left and right, UFC 259 was pretty much left unscathed.
A fight between Randy Costa and Trevin Jones was scrapped after Costa withdrew from the Bantamweight bout with an undisclosed injury. As a result, Mario Bautista stepped in to fill the void. Bautista has won two in a row after suffering the first and only loss of his pro mixed martial arts (MMA) career at the hands of top 135-pound contender, Cory Sandhagen. Jones, meanwhile, had his win against Timur Valiev in his UFC debut in Aug. 2020 overturned to a no contest (NC) after he failed a drug test for marijuana.
Uros Medic will be making his official UFC debut when he faces off against Aalon Cruz. Medic earned his way into the Octagon after collecting a first-round technical knockout victory over Mikey Gonzalez in Aug. 2020 on the “Contender Series.” He is undefeated at 6-0 with all of his victories coming by way of submission or KO/TKO. Cruz, meanwhile, suffered a first-round knockout defeat at the hands of Spike Carlyle in his UFC debut over a year ago.
It only took Carlos Ulberg three professional MMA fights to earn his way into the Octagon. The odd part about it is that those three wins came over the span of nine years. Ulberg last competed on the “Contender Series,” defeating Bruno Oliveira in Nov. 2020 via first-round knockout. There isn’t much tape on Ulberg due to his minimal amount of fights, but it’s enough to catch the eye of UFC matchmakers and offer him a contract. And his teammate, Israel Adesanya, predicts he will eventually become 205-pound champion.
How The ‘Prelims’ Look:
This is one of the best undercards in recent memory and honestly it could be a “Fight Night” event on its own. The “Prelims” will be headlined by a Bantamweight bout between former division king, Dominick Cruz, taking on Casey Kenney, which we discussed earlier. In further action, Song Yadong will face Kyler Phillips in another pivotal matchup at 135 pounds. Yadong has won eight of his last nine fights, and sandwiched in between is a majority draw against Cody Stamann. Yadong comes to bang night in and night out, which is why he’s collected $200,000 in post-fight bonus money so far. Phillips, meanwhile, is on a three fight win streak and is 2-0 so far inside the Octagon. He was last seen defeating Cameron Else in Oct. 2020.
In further action at 125 pounds, Kai Kara-France is looking to get back into the win column after getting choked out by Brandon Royval in Sept. 2020. The loss was Kara-France’s second in three outings, putting him in almost a must-win situation against Rogerio Bontorin. The Brazilian bomber is also coming off a defeat, losing to Ray Borg in Feb. 2020, snapping his four-fight win streak.
Tim Elliott will try to build off his big win over Ryan Benoit in July 2020 in hopes of collecting his first back-to-back win streak in nearly five years when he faces off against Jordan Espinoza, who is coming off a loss to David Dvorak. Loser of three of his last four, Espinoza can not afford another loss if he wants to hang on to his spot on the bloated UFC roster.
Rising Welterweight contender Jake Matthews is in search of his fourth straight win after racking up impressive victories over Diego Sanchez, Emil Weber Meek and Rostem Akman. It’s going to be a tough task to say the least because his opponent, Sean Brady, has yet to taste defeat in his pro MMA career, racking up 13 straight victories, three inside the Octagon. The former Cage Fury FC Welterweight champion has only been fighting professionally for six years but has already built an impressive resume.
In women’s Strawweight action, Livia Renata Souza will face Amanda Lemos — winner of two in a row — while Carlos Ulberg makes his UFC debut against Kennedy Nzechukwu, which we discussed earlier.
Who Needs A Win Badly:
There are several fighters riding two fight losing streaks coming into the event such as Dominick Cruz and Thiago Santos, but it feels like Joseph Benavidez needs a win pretty badly against Askar Askarov. Benavidez has dropped two straight, as well, both to current Flyweight champion Deiveson Figueiredo. After his most recent defeat on “Fight Island,” Benavidez was very deflated — and understandably so — leading many to wonder if he was contemplating walking away from the fight game. After all, this was his fourth attempt at winning the 125-pound title, and getting another chance seemed out of reach. Thankfully, Benavidez decided to stick around. And it’s a good move because despite his setbacks to “Daico,” Joseph is still as game as they come and one of the best in the division. He will have another tough task ahead of him in Askarov, who is undefeated at 12-0-1, 2-0-1 UFC. Askarov’s lone blemish on his record is a split-draw with Brandon Moreno, but other than that he has won all of his bouts decisively, including 10 straight stoppage wins to begin his pro MMA career.
Interest Level: 9.5 of 10
This is undoubtedly one of the best cards the promotion has put together. The co-main event will feature the long-awaited return of women’s UFC champ-champ, Amanda Nunes. “Lioness” will be defending her Featherweight title against Megan Anderson. Yes, the women’s 145-pound division is still alive and well despite the fact there aren’t enough athletes to fill out a Top 15 section in the rankings. Nevertheless, Nunes is enjoying her run as double champion. She hasn’t competed in nine months, but Anderson’s layoff is even greater because she hasn’t competed sine Feb. 2020. The Australian-born fighter will enjoy a size and reach advantage few have had against Nunes, but she still has to be on the lookout for Nunes’ deceptively long arms, which she uses well to tag her foes on the sweet spot. With a win, Nunes further cements her status as the greatest female MMA fighter of all time. On the flip side, that could lead to the promotion finally laying out the women’s 145-pound division to pasture because there isn’t really anyone else around who “Lioness” hasn’t devoured already.
Rounding out the trio of title fights will be Petr Yan defending his Bantamweight title for the first time against Aljamain Sterling. Yan has won 10 in a row, which includes seven dominant wins under the UFC banner which he capped off with a technical knockout (TKO) win over Jose Aldo at UFC 251 in July 2020, earning him the division strap. Sterling, meanwhile, has been patiently waiting for his shot at realizing his UFC championship dreams. Winner of five in a row, “Funk Master” has long been considered a legit threat to the throne. And had it not been for his knockout loss to Marlon Moraes three years ago he would have been invited to the big dance a lot sooner.
In further main card action, former UFC Light Heavyweight title contender Thiago Santos looks to stop the bleeding of a two fight losing streak when he battles Aleksandar Rakic, winner of five of his first six fights inside the Octagon. This should be an all-out striking slugfest because Santos is as aggressive as they come with countless stoppage wins via strikes on his resume, while “Rocket” also prefers to trade heavy leather. A third straight loss for “Marreta” would be catastrophic for his title hopes, while Rakic can finally break through if he takes out the Brazilian bruiser.
Also, Islam Makhachev eyes consecutive win number seven when he battles scrappy Lightweight contender, Drew Dober. Makhachev has been near-perfect throughout his career with his lone blemish coming at the hands of Adriano Martins, a first round knockout loss five years ago. Training alongside current Lightweight champion, Khabib Nurmagomedov, Makhachev has earned the reputation as a dominant wrestler with underrated striking to compliment his all-around arsenal. Khabib has stated that his teammate will be leading the 155-pound weight class very soon, and taking out Dober — winner of three in a row — is the next step in fulfilling that prophecy. It won’t be an easy task because Dober has looked good as of late and he isn’t looking to be a stepping stone for anyone. In fact, his last three wins have resulted in knockouts, so don’t be too surprised if he pulls off the upset.
Enjoy the fights!
UFC 259 Full Fight Card:
UFC 259 PPV Main Event:
205 lbs.: UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jan Blachowicz vs. UFC Middleweight Champion Israel Adesanya
UFC 259 PPV Main Card on ESPN+ (10 p.m. ET):
145 lbs.: UFC Women’s Featherweight Champion Amanda Nunes vs. Megan Anderson
135 lbs.: UFC Bantamweight Champion Petr Yan vs. Aljamain Sterling
155 lbs.: Drew Dober vs. Islam Makhachev
205 lbs.: Aleksandar Rakic vs. Thiago Santos
UFC 259 ‘Prelims’ Card on ESPN (8 p.m. ET):
135 lbs.: Dominick Cruz vs. Casey Kenney
135 lbs.: Kyler Phillips vs. Song Yadong
125 lbs.: Askar Askarov vs. Joseph Benavidez
115 lbs.: Amanda Lemos vs. Livinha Souza
UFC 259 Early ‘Prelims’ Card on ESPN+ (5:15 p.m. ET):
125 lbs.: Tim Elliott vs. Jordan Espinosa
205 lbs.: Kennedy Nzechukwu vs. Carlos Ulberg
170 lbs.: Sean Brady vs. Jake Matthews
125 lbs.: Rogerio Bontorin vs. Kai Kara-France
155 lbs.: Aalon Cruz vs. Uros Medic
135 lbs.: Mario Bautista vs. Trevin Jones
***Fight card, bout order and the amount of matches subject to drastic change because of the various global quarantine restrictions.***
MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 259 fight card RIGHT HERE, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches at 5:15 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPN/ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV.
To check out the latest and greatest UFC 259 news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here. For the complete “Blachowicz vs. Adesanya” fight card and PPV line up click here.