UFC 253 on Saturday features one of the best main events of the year in Israel Adesanya vs. Paulo Costa. The historic middleweight title fight promises fireworks and is enough to make it one of the biggest pay-per-view events on the calendar.
That isn't the only reason to tune in, though. The light heavyweight division will officially move beyond the Jon Jones era when Dominick Reyes and Jan Blachowicz scrap to crown a new champion after Bones vacated his title to move up to the heavyweight division.
It is a significant night for both divisions. The main event will mark the first time two undefeated fighters have fought for the middleweight belt. And it's the first time someone not named Daniel Cormier or Jon Jones will be light heavyweight champion since 2011.
The rest of the card might lack star power, but there are still some fun fights scheduled to go down. Here's a look at the complete card, the latest odds and predictions.
Main Card (ESPN+ PPV at 10 p.m. ET)
- Israel Adesanya -182 ($182 bet wins $100) vs. Paulo Costa +150 ($100 bet wins $150)—middleweight championship fight
- Jan Blachowicz +230 vs. Dominick Reyes -286—light heavyweight championship fight
- Kai Kara-France -240 vs. Brandon Royval +188
- Sijara Eubanks +140 vs. Ketlen Vieira -177
- Hakeem Dawodu +100 vs. Zubaira Tukhugov -121
Prelims (ESPN2/ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET)
- Alex da Silva +253 vs. Brad Riddell -335
- Jake Matthews -670 vs. Diego Sanchez +445
- Ludovit Klein -112 vs. Shane Young -112
- Aleksa Camur -167 vs. William Knight +134
Early Prelims (ESPN2/ESPN+ at 7 p.m. ET)
- Juan Espino -305 vs. Jeff Hughes +233
- Khadis Ibragimov -162 vs. Danilo Marques +130
Odds via DraftKings Sportsbook.
Adesanya Outlasts Costa in Thriller
The middleweight clash between Adesanya and Costa is an exciting fight in every way possible. There's personal animosity, there's a good bit of accomplishment between the two (both are undefeated) and, to top it all off, it's an interesting stylistic matchup.
Both are knockout artists. Adesanya has earned 14 of his 19 MMA wins by way of knockout, not to mention several knockouts as a professional kickboxer. Costa doesn't have the professional striking background, but he's shown power to burn with 11 knockouts in 13 wins with a submission to boot.
Yet both find those finishes in contrasting ways. Costa overwhelms with volume and is a throwback to the Brazilian Vale Tudo fighters like Shogun Rua and Vitor Belfort. Adesanya, meanwhile, brings a little more finesse to his game. He will strike from range, utilize his footwork to keep the fight where he wants it and answer offense with precise counterstriking.
The biggest difference between the two statistically stands out when it comes to defense. Adesanya is a tough target to nail down. He has 65 percent striking defense and only absorbs 2.4 significant strikes per minute. Compared to Costa's 53 percent and 6.84 strikes absorbed, the Last Stylebender is practically in the Matrix defensively.
Costa is capable of turning out the lights at any point. However, he hasn't had to push that pace for five rounds. He's only been outside of the second round once in his career —against Yoel Romero in his most recent fight. Adesanya is a much bigger challenge.
As long as the champion can get on his bike and avoid the early knockout, he could take over this fight in the championship rounds. This could be an instant classic as the chess game of the combatants' contrasting styles unfold.
However, the advantage lies with Adesanya in a five-round fight.
Prediction: Adesanya via decision.
Reyes Outpoints Blachowicz
The co-main event between Reyes and Blachowicz has some of the same dynamics as the main event. Reyes, like Adesanya, is the more complete striker. However, Blachowicz's power alone can make things interesting.
Reyes doesn't have the prodigious striking of Adesanya, but his narrow defeat to Jones in February showcased a strong kickboxing game. Going against the longest fighter in the history of the sport, he had no problem holding his own in the ranged striking game.
Blachowicz isn't a bad striker in his own right. He leans more on a pure boxing approach, but his hands have the ability to turn a fight at a moment's notice.
The 37-year-old has won seven of his past eight fights, including victories over Corey Anderson, Jacare Souza and Luke Rockhold in his past three fights. Two of those wins came by way of knockout, showcasing the power that gives Blachowicz a shot in this fight.
The Polish contender has a noteworthy ground game as well. He has nine submission wins in his career, but Reyes' takedown defense is difficult to navigate, and both fighters prefer to keep the fight standing.
In a bout that figures to be a kickboxing match the majority of the time, the more well-rounded striker holds the advantage. If Reyes can mix in kicks and control the range while staying away from the big punch that could end the fight, he will hold the advantage over five rounds.
Prediction: Reyes via decision.
Royval Upsets Kara-France
Brandon Royval made a splash in his UFC debut and stands to make an even bigger statement on a pay-per-view main card in just his second fight.
As Royval told Farah Hannoun and Nolan King of MMA Junkie, this is his first bout since he's been a full-time fighter, allowing him to completely throw himself into a fight camp. That makes his debut submission win over Tim Elliott even more impressive.
Despite this, Royval comes in as an underdog, and it isn't hard to figure out why. Kai Kara-France is a strong striker with good takedown defense. However, he isn't untouchable in that regard. He has been taken down by Mark De La Rosa and Elias Garcia.
Royval is better than both of them and is bringing the right mindset to the fight.
"I see it going a million different ways," Royval told MMA Junkie. "I don't see it necessarily playing out a specific way, but I definitely see me overwhelming him a little bit."
As long as Royval doesn't just hunt for the takedown, the opportunities to drag his opponent to the mat will come. With all of the volume Kara-France will put forward, there will be opportunities to catch him off balance and land some takedowns.
If that happens, then it is Royval's fight to lose. He has won his past three fights by submission, with two coming by way of armbar.
Royval doesn't have to take down his opponent every round. He just needs to do it once. And it's hard to see Kara-France avoiding that for all three rounds.
Prediction: Royval via second-round submission.