UFC 236 gave fans not one, but two Fight of the Year candidates as Dustin Poirier and Israel Adesanya both claimed interim title belts in epic battles with Max Holloway and Kelvin Gastelum, respectively, on Saturday at State Farm Arena in Atlanta.
Poirier went toe-to-toe with one of the most relentless pressure fighters in the game in Holloway. The Diamond came out swinging in the first round, claiming the early lead with a clear power advantage.
Holloway is never one to go away easy, though. The Hawaiian came storming back in the third round, hurting Poirier and never backing down from Poirier's offense.
In the end, Poirier proved to have just enough cardio to hang with Holloway's pressure and come out on top in the eyes of the judges.
After the bout Holloway gave Poirier credit for proving himself as a champion:
As the interim champion, Poirier is now next in line to fight Khabib Nurmagomedov to unify the lightweight title belts. He had a few words for The Eagle, who is currently serving his suspension for his actions after the Conor McGregor fight.
After this epic performance, a fight against Nurmagomedov has to be in high demand.
Here's a look at the rest of the action from the night.
- Dustin Poirier def. Max Holloway via unanimous decision (49-46 x3)
- Israel Adesanya def. Kelvin Gastelum via unanimous decision (48-46 x3)
- Khalil Rountree Jr. def. Eryk Anders via unanimous decision (30-26 x3)
- Dwight Grant def. Alan Jouban via split decision (29-28, 27-30, 29-28)
- Nikita Krylov def. Ovince Saint Preux via submission (rear-naked choke) (Rd. 2, 2:30)
- Matt Frevola def. Jalin Turner via unanimous decision (30-27 x3)
- Alexandre Pantoja def. Wilson Reis via TKO (Rd. 1, 2:58)
- Max Griffin def. Zelim Imadaev via majority decision (29-27, 29-27, 28-28)
- Khalid Taha def. Boston Salmon via TKO (Rd. 1, 0:25)
- Belal Muhammad def. Curtis Millender via unanimous decision (29-27 x2, 30-26)
- Montel Jackson def. Andre Soukhamthath via unanimous decision (30-26, 29-27, 30-27)
- Poliana Botelho def. Lauren Mueller via unanimous decision (29-28 x3)
- Brandon Davis def. Randy Costa via submission (rear-naked choke) (Rd. 2, 1:12)
Israel Adesanya vs. Kelvin Gastelum
If anyone was doubting that Israel Adesanya is the real deal, those questions were answered in the co-main event. The Last Stylebender became the interim middleweight titleholder with a unanimous-decision win over Kelvin Gastelum.
It was a bout that had a little bit of everything, as Adesanya showed not only that he has the skills to be a champion, but also the heart to make it through a five-round battle.
Gastelum had his moments in the bout. He was adept at closing the distance and came out strong in the first round, but every time he came back, Adesanya had an answer for him.
Ultimately, it was the fifth round that was the difference, as Adesanya put on a striking clinic that nearly finished the fight.
The win sets up a blockbuster fight with Robert Whittaker when the Aussie is able to come back from the emergency surgery that took him out of UFC 234.
Eryk Anders vs. Khalil Rountree Jr.
After two lackluster fights to open the card, Khalil Rountree Jr. put in one of the best performances of the night in picking up a finish over Eryk Anders in light heavyweight action.
Rountree spent the first round annihilating Anders with a single strike: the inside leg kick. Rountree refused to let Anders get set up without kicking his lead leg out from under him, leaving the former Alabama football player seriously immobilized.
In the second round, he opened up his striking to include combinations and floored Anders multiple times with punches set up by the kicks. In all, he went down four times, prompting the doctor to check him out before the third round even got started.
Rountree couldn't draw the finish, but that was more a product of Anders' toughness and some slowed output in the third round. This was as one-sided as it gets in a fight that goes the distance.
Rountree needed a strong performance after losing to Johnny Walker last time out, and that's exactly what he gave the fans against Anders.
Alan Jouban vs. Dwight Grant
Alan Jouban and Dwight Grant engaged in something that was more akin to a staring contest with punches and kicks than a fight that ended in a split decision for Grant.
The loss is a disappointing showing for Jouban, who was making his first UFC appearance in over a year, but his incredibly low output left him with a weak argument for winning the fight.
This was not either of these men's finest hour, but it does give Grant two wins in a row in a two-month timespan. That's the kind of schedule he'll need to keep up if he wants to make a name for himself.
Hopefully, that schedule will also include a performance in which he is able to mount a little more offense than the ineffective striking performance he put on in this one.
For Jouban, one has to wonder if this is the end of the road for him in the UFC. The lackluster performance is just the latest in a 1-3 stretch for him.
Ovince Saint Preux vs. Nikita Krylov
Nikita Krylov came into UFC 236 looking to avenge his first UFC loss in the light heavyweight division five years ago and couldn't have done it any better. He submitted Ovince Saint Preux via rear-naked choke in the second round.
OSP put a lot of effort into the first round. He secured mount and appeared to be in control during the opening five minutes, but the Ukrainian was able to recapture the momentum in the second round.
An exhausted Saint Preux offered little resistance as Krylov turned the tables. Krylov looked for and secured a takedown and immediately looked to end the fight by snatching up the rear-naked choke.
It was another example of a fun Krylov fight:
Krylov isn't necessarily the most skilled fighter. This win will likely put him in the top 15 of the shallow light heavyweight division, but it's going to take a lot more to propel him much further than that.
At least he reminded fans why he's a fun watch. He still hasn't gone to a decision in 31 professional fights.