UFC 259: Previewing Blachowicz-Adesanya and Other Matches on the Card

Tom Taylor@@TomTayMMAContributor IMarch 2, 2021

UFC 259: Previewing Blachowicz-Adesanya and Other Matches on the Card

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    Israel Adesanya will soon have the opportunity to join the extremely short list of fighters to hold titles in two UFC weight classes concurrently. 

    The Nigerian-born Kiwi, who holds the promotion's middleweight title, will get that opportunity in the main event of Saturday's UFC 259 card in Las Vegas when he moves up to light heavyweight to challenge Jan Blachowicz for a second belt.

    As if that champion vs. champion clash wasn't reason enough to tune into UFC 259, the card also features two other title fights. The fearsome Amanda Nunes will attempt to defend her featherweight belt against Megan Anderson, and new bantamweight champion Petr Yan will attempt the first defense of his reign opposite No. 1 contender Aljamain Sterling.

    Given that it's only March, it feels a little early to be talking about 2021's Card of the Year, but there's no two ways about it: UFC 259 is in the running. 

    Here's everything you need to know about this stacked triple-header out of Sin City.

UFC 259: Blachowicz vs. Adesanya Fight Card and Info

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    UFC 259 Main Card (10:00 p.m. ET ESPN+ Pay-Per-View)

    • Jan Blachowicz vs. Israel Adesanya 
    • Amanda Nunes vs. Megan Anderson 
    • Petr Yan vs. Aljamain Sterling 
    • Drew Dober vs. Islam Makhachev
    • Aleksandar Rakic vs. Thiago Santos

    UFC 259 Prelims (8:00 p.m. ET on ESPN) 

    • Dominick Cruz vs. Casey Kenney
    • Song Yadong vs. Kyler Phillips 
    • Joseph Benavidez vs. Askar Askarov
    • Rogerio Bontorin vs. Kai Kara-France

    UFC 259 Early Prelims (6:00 p.m. ET on ESPN+)

    • Tim Elliott vs. Jordan Espinosa
    • Kennedy Nzechukwu vs. Carlos Ulberg
    • Sean Brady vs. Jake Matthews
    • Amanda Lemos vs. Livia Renata Souza 
    • Uros Medic vs. Aalon Cruz
    • Mario Bautista vs. Trevin Jones

The Main Event: Jan Blachowicz vs. Israel Adesanya

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    Israel Adesanya (20-0) hasn't been in the UFC all that long, but he's already established himself as one of the sport's top fighters.

    Since joining the promotion's roster in 2018, the unbeaten striker has captured the UFC middleweight title, and beaten the likes of Paulo Costa, Yoel Romero, Robert Whittaker, Kelvin Gastelum, Anderson Silva, Derek Brunson and Marvin Vettori. 

    Not bad for a few years' work.

    Adesanya has achieved so much in such a short time that he's already been given the opportunity to leave his native division in search of new challenges in the next weight class up—the kind of opportunity that's historically been reserved for long-serving champions like Anderson Silva and mainstream superstars like Conor McGregor.

    Adesanya will get this opportunity in the main event of UFC 259 when he challenges new light heavyweight champion Jan Blachowicz (27-8) for a second title.

    If the middleweight champ is able to do as the oddsmakers suspect defeat Blachowicz, he'll join McGregor, Daniel Cormier, Amanda Nunes and Henry Cejudo as one of just five fighters in UFC history to hold titles in two divisions simultaneously. That accomplishment would not only cement him as one of the sport's current pound-for-pound kings, but as one of the best fighters ever—period.

    However, Adesanya's mission is perhaps more difficult than the oddsmakersDraftKings has him as a -230 favoritebelieve. 

    While the light heavyweight champion Blachowicz has experienced several noteworthy setbacks since he joined the UFC roster in 2014, he has recently ascended to what looks like his final form, propelled by his newly discovered knockout power—or, as he calls it, his "Legendary Polish Power."

    Blachowicz has come up short just once in his last nine fights, sandwiching a knockout loss to Thiago Santos between violent victories over Devin Clark, Jared Cannonier, Jimi Manuwa, Nikita Krylov, Luke Rockhold, Ronaldo Souza, Corey Anderson and Dominick Reyes. The win over Reyes—a second-round knockout at UFC 253 last September—earned him the vacant UFC light heavyweight strap.

    The intention here is not to suggest that Blachowicz should be favored against Adesanya, only to note that he should not be counted out. Adesanya could leave the Octagon at UFC 259 with a second belt slung over his shoulder. He could just as easily find himself coming to under the Jumbotron, wondering what happened.

    If MMA is a game of inches, this fight will most likely come down to fractions of inches. Don't blink.

Co-Main Event No. 1: Amanda Nunes vs. Megan Anderson

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    While Israel Adesanya will be looking to cement himself as an all-time great in the UFC 259 main event, Amanda Nunes (20-4), the star of the card's co-main event, has already done so.

    Nunes, who owns the UFC bantamweight and featherweight titles, has beaten every woman to hold gold in either weight class before her: Germaine De Randamie, Holly Holm, Cris Cyborg, Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate. She also holds two wins over reigning UFC flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko and has beaten solid contenders like Raquel Pennington and Sara McMann.

    On the heels of her many victories across two weight classes, Nunes is considered the greatest female fighter in MMA history and one of the most unbeatable fighters in the sport today.

    In the co-main event of UFC 259, Australia's Megan Anderson (10-4) will look to prove that no fighter—not even a juggernaut like Nunes—is invincible. 

    Anderson will enter the cage at UFC 259 as a huge underdog and is widely considered a sacrificial lamb; a plaything with which to keep Nunes busy until a more legitimate challenger arises. While the Aussie certainly has some tools at her disposal—namely her significant size and reach advantages—there's no downplaying the uphill battle she'll be facing in Vegas.

    Despite the scale of the challenge ahead, Anderson is long on confidence and has made it clear that she intends to shock the world be stopping Nunes. Can she pull it off? It feels exceedingly unlikely, but there's no way to know for sure without a crystal ball, and that's what makes this sport so fun.

Co-Main Event No. 2: Petr Yan vs. Aljamain Sterling

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    UFC 259 would register as a blockbuster on the strength of the two aforementioned title fights alone, but in a rare twist, the promotion has elected to stack this card with a whopping three championship bouts. 

    The first of those title fights will occur in the men's bantamweight division, where new champion Petr Yan (15-1) will attempt the first defense of his reign opposite Aljamain Sterling (19-3), who will be getting his first shot at UFC gold. 

    Yan captured the vacant bantamweight strap in July when he battered former UFC featherweight champ and bona fide MMA legend Jose Aldo to a fifth-round TKO. In his fight before that, he shut the lights off on another legend in Urijah Faber, while he's also picked up recent wins over decent foes like Jimmie Rivera and John Dodson.

    While Yan's biggest wins thus far have come against fading legends and fringe contenders, many fans and pundits believe he has the skills for a sustained run as bantamweight king. His UFC 259 title against Sterling should give us a real sense of whether the Russian's faithful are correct.

    While recent Yan victims like Aldo and Faber appear to be nearing the ends of their careers, Sterling is in the prime of his fighting life, as emphasized by his recent strangulation of surging contender Cory Sandhagen.

    The No. 1 contender will likely have his hands full with Yan's boxing, but he can simultaneously challenge the champion with his high-level grappling that resides among the division's best.

    This fight doesn't have quite the same mainstream buzz as Adesanya's fight with Blachowicz or Nunes' fight with Anderson, but make no mistake, it's a tremendous matchup on paper.

Fight to Keep an Eye On: Dominick Cruz vs. Casey Kenney

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    The UFC 259 lineup is riddled with high-profile matchups involving ranked contenders, former champions and former title challengers, but few have the allure of an undercard bantamweight scrap between Dominick Cruz (22-3) and Casey Kenney (16-2-1).

    Cruz, 35, is the former UFC bantamweight champion and is widely considered the best fighter in the division's history. While he has fought just twice in the last four years, losing to Henry Cejudo via TKO and Cody Garbrandt via decision, he remains a legend of the sport and one of the biggest stars at 135 pounds. 

    As such, it's pretty surprising to see him fighting on a pay-per-view undercard, particularly against a relatively unproven foe like the 29-year-old Kenney, who isn't even ranked inside the bantamweight top 15.

    All of that being said, this is an endlessly compelling matchup.

    Cruz's trademark blend of high-volume striking, superb defense and deftly timed takedowns make him a threat to any bantamweight on earth—particularly one who has yet to fight a ranked opponent.

    Kenney, on the flip side, has shown a ton of promise in recent wins over fighters like Ray Borg, Manny Bermudez, Louis Smolka and Nathaniel Wood, and he could be poised for an upset win with the right game plan—particularly if Cruz is taking him anything short of extremely seriously. 

    It's a classic prospect vs. veteran fight and one that could have a huge impact on the future of the bantamweight division. In other words, it's not one to miss. 

Best of the Rest

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    Aleksandar Rakic vs. Thiago Santos

    All you need to know about this fight is that Aleksandar Rakic (13-2) and Thiago Santos (21-8) are two of the best light heavyweights in the world and that they've collectively shut the lights out on 24 of their previous opponents.

    These two are absolute wrecking balls, and the likelihood of one of them bursting into light heavyweight title contention with a highlight-reel knockout win seems extremely high.

    Joseph Benavidez vs. Askar Askarov

    Joseph Benavidez gets mentioned in most conversations about the greatest lighter-weight fighters in MMA history. The guy has done some amazing things at both bantamweight and flyweight, even if a UFC title has thus far eluded him.

    That being said, Benavidez's stock took a real hit in his last two fights: both lopsided losses to reigning UFC flyweight champion Deiveson Figueiredo.

    He'll look to get back on track on the UFC 259 undercard when he takes on No. 3-ranked flyweight contender Askar Askarov, who will be looking for the biggest win of his career. 

    Throw in the fact that this could be the final fight of Benavidez's illustrious career—whether he wins or loses—and it stands out as a must-see.   

    Carlos Ulberg vs. Kennedy Nzechukwu

    The famed City Kickboxing gym in Auckland, New Zealand, has produced a number of world-class fighters over the years, most notably Israel Adesanya and Dan Hooker. Thirty-year-old light heavyweight prospect Carlos Ulberg (3-0) could be the gym's next big thing.

    Ulberg, an accomplished kickboxer, earned himself a UFC contract with a nasty knockout of Bruno Oliveira on a recent episode of Dana White's Contender Series. While his inexperience in MMA could be a cause for concern—particularly once he's matched up with a high-level grappler—the UFC has given him a pretty favorable debut opponent in Kennedy Nzechukwu (7-1). Like Ulberg, the Nigerian American favors the striking side of the game and should therefore be more than willing to engage him in a tense, stand-up fight.

    This should be a fun one for as long as it lasts.

                       

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