Israel Adesanya successfully fended off Yoel Romero's bid for his middleweight title with a unanimous-decision win in the main event of UFC 248 from Las Vegas.
The Last Stylebender scored the win in a bizarre, uneventful affair that saw both fighters mostly play it safe.
The gamesmanship was on from the get-go in this one. Romero came out with his hands up and essentially froze waiting for Adesanya to make the first move.
The challenger eventually did move but didn't give the champion much to worry about for the vast majority of the round. He threw a few leg kicks to break the ice and eventually landed a stiff left hook when Adesanya obliged and attempted to close the distance. It ended up being about the only thing of consequence that happened in the first round.
The Last Stylebender tried to force the matter a little more in Round 2. He utilized more faints as he tried to figure out his opponent's timing. Yet, when he committed to anything he was met with effective aggression from Romero.
The third round is typically where Romero unleashes on opponents and puts them away, but he didn't follow that pattern in this bout. Instead, he had next to no output in the round and made it safe to wonder if the pace was ever going to pick up.
Despite the general lack of action, Adesanya did have one weapon that he continued to use over and over: Leg kicks. He went to that well quite often, kicking Romero's lead leg as the fight went on which powered his case to get the nod.
Even with the bout set up to give a decisive fifth round both fighters continued to be generally risk-averse. Ultimately, the judges saw it for Adesanya in a forgettable fight.
In winning the fight, Adesanya runs his undefeated record to 19-0 and solidifies himself as the best middleweight on the planet. The 30-year-old added one of the scariest fighters in the division to a list of victims that already includes Anderson Silva, Robert Whittaker and Kelvin Gastelum.
Adesanya's ascent to UFC stardom has been drastic. He made his UFC debut in February 2018 and has skyrocketed to impressive champion in 2020.
Now, the Nigerian-born fighter will likely turn his focus to other challengers in the middleweight division, although he seems to have set his sights on an even bigger picture.
Adesanya's coach, Eugene Bareman, has acknowledged the middleweight division has more than one contender the champion should beat before looking beyond his division.
"There's some really tough challenges. He should clear those out," Bareman said on Submission Radio (h/t Farah Hannoun of MMA Junkie). "There's at least three or four more good challenges. But three or four more fights for Israel is like, maybe within this year. So after that, what's the next challenge?"
Still, his vision goes beyond those challenges. Paulo Costa and/or Jared Cannonier might be intriguing matchups, but Adesanya hasn't shied away from beef with light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, and Bareman even mentioned Adesanya eventually moving up to heavyweight.
Those are obviously big, transcendent goals. He has the potential to capture the imagination of MMA fandom in a way few fighters have been able to. But it all starts with picking up big wins in his own division like he did against Romero in Vegas.