6 Fights We Need to See After UFC 253
UFC 253 was touted as one of the best cards of 2020 thus far, and it certainly lived up to those expectations.
In the evening’s main event, UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya picked up an effortless-looking TKO win over a man many considered his toughest foe yet in Brazilian knockout artist Paulo Costa.
In the co-headliner, a new light heavyweight champion was crowned, as Poland’s Jan Blachowicz assumed the throne left vacant by Jon Jones with an upset knockout win over Dominick Reyes.
Elsewhere on the card, we saw statement-making wins from ranked talents like Brandon Royval and Ketlen Vieira, and many other fighters looking to establish themselves as contenders.
So what’s next for the stars of this dynamite event?
Well, here are the six fights we'd like to see when the dust has settled.
Israel Adesanya vs. Jared Cannonier
Israel Adesanya and Paulo Costa's UFC 253 middleweight title fight was initially viewed as one of the most competitive championship matchups in the division's history.
It was anything but.
Adesanya, the champion, got to work early, tenderizing his challenger's lead leg with a steady procession of kicks. Once Costa's legs were sufficiently compromised, Adesanya started landing upstairs, and the knockout win came soon thereafter. At 3:59 of the second round, he was being peeled off his vanquished foe, who huddled on the canvas in a battered heap.
So what's next for the middleweight champ? Well, he made that pretty clear post-fight.
Speaking to UFC commentator Jon Anik, Adesanya set his sights on a title defense opposite streaking contender Jared Cannonier. That matchup is predicated on Cannonier getting past former champion Robert Whittaker at UFC 254, but if he does so, that's irrefutably the fight to make.
If he's victorious at UFC 254, Cannonier will have beaten Whittaker, Jack Hermansson, Anderson Silva and David Branch since moving from light heavyweight to middleweight. A streak like that should earn him a title shot, even without the champ's endorsement.
Paulo Costa vs. Yoel Romero 2
Paulo Costa was widely hailed as Israel Adesanya's toughest opponent to date, but he did not live up to those expectations at UFC 253.
In Round 1, he did little more than absorb a series of crackling Adesanya leg kicks. In Round 2, he was stopped by a volley of Adesanya punches, putting a violent end—at least for now—to his dreams of becoming the UFC middleweight champion.
From here, Costa will need to go back to the drawing board, but with many of the UFC's Top 10 middleweights occupied with other obligations, he's pretty short on viable opponents.
One man who is available, of course, is Yoel Romero.
Romero has not fought since he lost a decision to Israel Adesanya in March. In his next most recent fight, he lost a competitive and controversial decision to Costa. That fight was widely viewed as one of the best of 2019, and with both men looking to rebound from losses to the middleweight champ, it seems like a good time to have them run it back.
The only fans who will complain about this rematch being made are the ones who missed the pair's first fight.
Jan Blachowicz vs. the Thiago Santos-Glover Teixeira Winner
Jan Blachowicz is the new UFC light heavyweight champion. He earned that title with a full and violent display of his trademark "Polish power," snuffing foe Dominick Reyes in the second round of the UFC 253 co-main event.
In his post-fight interview with UFC commentator Jon Anik, Blachowicz called for a fight with Jon Jones, the man who vacated the light heavyweight title earlier this year and left the throne up for grabs. That's certainly a fun matchup to think about, but it really doesn't make any sense at the moment.
Jon Jones vacated the light heavyweight title because he's leaving the division and moving up to heavyweight. He didn't vacate the light heavyweight title to let someone else win it and come right back.
With the idea of a Blachowicz vs. Jones fight off the table, the most sensible challenger for the new champion is the winner of the November 7 fight between Glover Teixeira and Thiago Santos—the No. 4- and No. 2-ranked light heavyweight contenders, respectively.
Teixeira is riding consecutive wins over Karl Roberson, Ion Cutelaba, Nikita Krylov and Anthony Smith. Santos, meanwhile, hasn't fought since he lost a split decision in a title fight with Jon Jones in July, 2019, but that setback was preceded by a devastating knockout win over the new champ, Blachowicz.
Pit the winner of the Santos-Teixeira fight against Blachowicz, and rest assured there's a long list of other contenders awaiting their own shots at the new champion thereafter.
Brandon Royval vs. Askar Askarov
Brandon Royval could not have looked more impressive in his UFC 253 flyweight fight with the always dangerous Kai Kara-France. After a first round that immediately stood out as one of the very best of 2020, an opportunistic Royval locked up a guillotine choke in the second, and Kara-France's tap came a few seconds later.
Under slightly different circumstances, a win like this might be enough to earn Royval a shot at UFC flyweight champion Deiveson Figueiredo. It was really that impressive. Unfortunately for him, that opportunity will go to Cody Garbrandt at UFC 255—a card that will also feature a widely perceived flyweight No. 1 contender fight between Brandon Moreno and Alex Perez.
In other words, there's a long line forming at the top of the flyweight division, and Royval isn't at the front of it.
The good news is that he doesn't seem to be in any rush. He even conceded in his post-fight interview with Jon Anik that he has some things to work on, pointing to the fact that he was dropped by Kara-France in the opening exchanges of their fight.
From here, he should look to continue his evolution in a matchup with No. 3-ranked flyweight contender Askar Askarov. The Russian is also riding a big win over a well-established flyweight in Alexandre Pantoja, and is looking for a step up in competition of his own.
Match him up with Royval on pay-per-view main card, and see where the winner lands among the likes of Figueiredo, Garbrandt, Moreno and Perez.
Ketlen Vieira vs. Aspen Ladd
No. 6-ranked UFC women’s bantamweight contender Ketlen Vieira got a sorely needed win on the UFC 253 main card, rebounding from a brutal knockout loss to Irene Aldana with a hard-fought, unanimous decision triumph over Sijara Eubanks.
Prior to her loss to Aldana, Vieira was spoken of as a potential future opponent for UFC women’s bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes. While she likely has some more work to do before being given an opportunity to fight for the title, a fight with the UFC’s No. 3-ranked bantamweight Aspen Ladd is a logical next step for her.
After suffering a knockout loss to Germaine de Randamie last summer, Ladd got back on track with a win over Yana Kunitskaya in December. Since then, she’s sidelined some unfortunate injuries, but when she’s healthy, she’d make a great dance partner for Vieira.
The fight looks like it’d be a fun one on paper, and the winner would be extremely well positioned for a crack at the bantamweight belt.
Jake Matthews vs. Donald 'Cowboy' Cerrone
Jake Matthews did what he was supposed to do at UFC 253, validating his status as one of the biggest betting favorites on the card by walloping The Ultimate Fighter season one winner Diego Sanchez to a lopsided unanimous-decision win.
With this victory, Matthews has now won three in a row. In his post-fight interview with UFC commentator Jon Anik, he attempted to parlay that success into a fight with a Top 15 foe or another fighter of Sanchez's reputation.
"If we can push toward a Top 15 spot, that'd be awesome," he said. "If not, give me another legend."
At this stage, a Top 15 welterweight foe still feels a bit premature for the 26-year-old. A fight with a legend like Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone, though, would definitely make some sense.
Cerrone has fallen on tough times of late, losing four straight fights to Tony Ferguson, Justin Gaethje, Conor McGregor and Anthony Pettis, then battling Niko Price to a draw earlier this month. Just as Matthews is ready for a step up, Cerrone is ready ready for a bit of a step down.
It'd be a classic prospect vs. veteran matchup, and one that would give us a real sense of where both men are in their careers.
Complete UFC 253 Results
- Israel Adesanya def. Paulo Costa via TKO (R2, 3:59)
- Jan Blachowicz def. Dominick Reyes via TKO (R2, 4:36)
- Brandon Royval def. Kai Kara-France via submission due to a guillotine choke (R2, 0:48)
- Ketlen Vieira def. Sijara Eubanks via unanimous decision
- Hakeem Dawodu def. Zubaira Tukhugov via split decision
- Brad Riddell def. Alex da Silva Coelho via unanimous decision
- Jake Matthews def. Diego Sanchez via unanimous decision
- Ludovit Klein def. Shane Young via KO (R1, 1:16)
- William Knight def. Aleksa Camur via unanimous decision
- Juan Espino def. Jeff Hughes via submission due to scarf hold (R1, 3:48)
- Danilo Marques def. Khadis Ibragimov via unanimous decision