Israel Adesanya and Yoel Romero headline a strong UFC 248 card that features two title fights in Las Vegas on Saturday.
Adesanya could well be the next big thing in the UFC. His electric style, penchant for knockouts and engaging personality give him all the ingredients. Sustained success as a champion serves as the next hurdle in his career progression.
Standing in his way is one of the scariest dudes in the sport in Romero. The hulking middleweight possesses a combination of size and athleticism rarely seen in the division.
The second title fight is a big opportunity for women's strawweight champion Weili Zhang. She will take on former strawweight queen Joanna Jedrzejczyk in the co-main event in her first title defense.
UFC 248 Fight Card
Main Card (ESPN+ PPV, 10 p.m. ET)
- Israel Adesanya (c) -280 (wager $280 to win $100) vs. Yoel Romero +230 (middleweight championship)
- Weili Zhang (c) -190 vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk +160 (women's strawweight championship)
- Beneil Dariush -170 vs. Drakkar Klose +140
- Li Jingliang -180 vs. Neil Magny +150
- Alex Oliveira -150 vs. Max Griffin +120
Preliminaries (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET)
- Sean O'Malley -350 vs. Jose Quinonez +275
- Mark Madsen -220 vs. Austin Hubbard +180
- Rodolfo Vieira -850 vs. Saparbek Safarov +550
- Deron Winn -150 vs. Gerald Meerschaert +120
Early Prelims (ESPN+, 6:15 p.m. ET)
- Polyana Viana -120 vs. Emily Whitmire -110
- Jamall Emmers -165 vs. Giga Chikadze +135
- Danaa Batgerel -145 vs. Guido Cannetti +115
Odds via Caesars Palace.
Adesanya Outlasts Romero to Defend Title
Adesanya is going to need to tread lightly to beat Romero. As dangerous a striker as he is, Romero is explosive and has the ability to turn out the lights in an instant.
The Cuban has lost three of his past four fights. Each of those losses has come in a Fight of the Night performance, though, so no one fights Romero without facing some danger. Adesanya will be no different, but it sounds like he has an answer for that.
He's already made reference to Romero's questionable gas tank. Romero's cardio doesn't always cause problems at the end of fights, but it does affect his style. The former Olympic wrestler usually fights in bursts, using much of the round to conserve his energy but going on the attack when he does spend his energy.
Adesanya is great from kickboxing range. If he can put Romero on the end of his leg kicks and jab, he can force him to fight all five minutes of each round. It won't be easy, but he could have a distinct advantage in the championship rounds.
This one is going to be good. The champ has the slightest of advantages, though.
Prediction: Adesnya via decision.
Zhang Legitimizes Her Title Reign Against Jedrzejczyk
Despite her status as a champion Zhang still feels like a relative unknown. She won her championship in a fight that took place in China, so it was an early-morning card in the States, and she's only made one appearance on a pay-per-view show.
Co-headlining a card with Adesanya and Romero at the top is a great opportunity for her to announce herself to the wider MMA public—especially after a face-off with the former champion generated some heat:
Those who aren't familiar with Zhang are going to see that she's a force Saturday. She has 10 TKO wins in her career and won the title from Jessica Andrade in 42 seconds.
Jedrzejczyk figures to last longer than that. However, she's struggled with fighters who don't wilt under her pressure. Joanna Violence thrives when she's able to make opponents back down behind her lightning-quick combinations and then get out of dodge.
When Zhang fires back, she will do so with bad intentions. Given the general lack of competition in Zhang's undefeated career up to this point, she still has doubters. After beating Jedrzejczyk, that case is going to be more difficult to make.
Prediction: Zhang via second-round TKO.
Jingliang Scores Knockout Over Magny
Zhang isn't the only Chinese fighter looking to use the event as a platform to break out. Li Jingliang has an opportunity to make a name for himself too.
The welterweight has been given a somewhat suspect lineup of opponents to this point in his career. In 12 UFC appearances, it's hard to make a case that any of his opponents would be considered notable. That will change when he steps into the cage Saturday.
Magny has a history of fighting some of the most renowned names in the division. He holds wins over Carlos Condit, Johny Hendricks and Kelvin Gastelum. He's lost to Rafael dos Anjos and Demian Maia.
A win over Neil Magny would give his resume some much-needed credibility.
The small favorite has a good chance to put on a performance. Magny is skilled, but he hasn't fought since November 2018, and he's been finished four times in his UFC run. Jingliang has the power to make that five.
Prediction: Jingliang via third-round TKO.