Jan Blachowicz and the Real Winners and Losers from UFC 259

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured ColumnistMarch 7, 2021

Jan Blachowicz and the Real Winners and Losers from UFC 259

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    It was Championship Saturday in the UFC.

    The MMA conglomerate strung together three title belts on its monthly pay-per-view show from the UFC Apex facility in Las Vegas, including defenses by claimants in the men's bantamweight and women's featherweight divisions and a champ-champ attempt by a reigning middleweight king climbing to light heavyweight.

    In fact, Israel Adesanya's challenge of Jan Blachowicz at 205 pounds at UFC 259 was the eighth try at dual-title glory in the promotion's history, following a successful path previously forged by Conor McGregor, Daniel Cormier, Henry Cejudo and Amanda Nunes.

    Cormier was in the house as part of the ESPN+ broadcast team, joining blow-by-blow man Jon Anik and fellow analyst Joe Rogan, along with Megan Olivi on hand for backstage features and Trevor Wittman providing technical commentary and analysis.

    The B/R combat sports team took it all in from the first preliminary bout at 5:15 p.m. ET to the final hand-raising after 1 a.m. and compiled the authoritative lists of winners and losers from a stacked 15-bout card.

    Take a look at the final product and let us know what you think in the comments.

Winner: Size, Glorious Size

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    In case anyone asks, it's official: Size matters.

    Hulking Polish light heavyweight Jan Blachowicz was by far the bigger man in his title defense against rising middleweight Israel Adesanya, and that's what ultimately proved the difference in the champion's unanimous-decision win in their highly anticipated UFC 259 main event.

    Blachowicz, who won the vacant belt with a stoppage of Dominick Reyes and was risking it for the first time, earned the nod with scorecard margins of 49-46, 49-45 and 49-45.

    It was the first professional loss for Adesanya, who'd arrived at 20-0 and was aiming to become the fifth dual-division champion in UFC history. Instead, he said he'll return to his existing domain.

    "It didn't go exactly the way I wanted it to go, I thought I'd win. But, you know, dare to be great," Adesanya said. "I knew what to do but the size was a factor.

    "I'm going back down to 185 and I'm going to rule that b---h with my iron Black fist."

    Adesanya appeared faster and sharper in the early going, but Blachowicz gained traction with strikes as things evolved, and he was able to get Adesanya to the ground for prolonged stretches in the fourth and fifth rounds.

    He received a 10-8 margin in the fifth round from two judges.

    "I knew that I was going to be better on the ground. I had to just wait for the good moment," Blachowicz said. "He was a little bit tired, so I waited for the good moment and tried to use it. If I would have knocked him out, it would be better. But because he is one of the best of the world, I'm happy."

    Blachowicz made the division's 205-pound weight limit on Friday but was probably closer to 220 at fight time. Meanwhile, Adesanya weighed in lighter than his foe and didn't appear any bigger a day later.

    "When it comes to grappling, there's no substitution for size and technique," Cormier said. "It also shows going up 20 pounds is very difficult."

Loser: Late-Night Drama

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    Preeminence 1, Competition 0.

    If you tuned in Saturday night looking for a dramatic Amanda Nunes bout, you wasted your time.

    Instead, the two-belted Brazilian champion defended the featherweight portion of her kingdom with the routine dominance that's become her trademark, hurting Megan Anderson with every shot she threw before getting her to the ground for an armbar submission at 2:03 of the first round.

    "It's not my fault. I'm here. I'm getting old. I'm getting good," said Nunes, who's won 12 straight since a TKO loss at UFC 178. "I feel like I'm finding my balance."

    It was the first fight since Nunes became a parent with wife Nina Ansaroff, and she held the couple's daughter, Raegan, in the cage after the fight. In fact, she embraced Anderson shortly after the official result was announced, and the foes stood admiring the six-month-old together.

    "It's nature. When the lioness has a baby, she's at her most dangerous," Nunes said. "I'm dangerous now."

    It was the fifth loss in 16 pro bouts for Anderson, and third in six UFC appearances.

    She'd won a performance bonus in her previous fight, a KO over Norma Dumont Viana in February 2020.

    "It was a non-event. She was in zero danger, never in trouble. She's a monster," Rogan said. "Who is going to rise to challenge this woman? There's no one even close to her. When Amanda hits these girls, their eyes go wide because it's so different."

Winner: An Unconventional Championship

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    It wasn't the celebration Aljamain Sterling wanted.

    Clearly woozy after an illegal knee strike from Petr Yan, the top bantamweight contender earned his world championship by disqualification after he was deemed unfit to continue in Round 4.

    The New Yorker was on one knee in the center of the cage when Yan, apparently acting on a cue from his corner, violently drove his right knee into the left side of Sterling's head, drawing the immediate ire of referee Mark Smith.

    Sterling fell onto his back and was unable to regain his feet, prompting Smith to call in a cage-side doctor. The physician observed Sterling and spoke with him for a few moments before indicating the fight should be stopped.

    It was the first disqualification title change in UFC history.

    The title belt was wrapped around Sterling's waist as the official result was announced, but he quickly unstrapped it and dropped it in the center of the Octagon, then fell to his knees and sobbed.

    "Everything I worked for to this point and to f--king have the fight go like that—that's not the way I wanted to win," he said. "That's not the way I envisioned this."

    Two judges had Yan up by a point after three full rounds, while Sterling led by the same margin on a third scorecard.

    Sterling was frenetic and aggressive in the opening round before he was dropped by a right hand about three minutes in. The challenger continued to press with gradually less impact as the second and third rounds unfolded, and Yan was able to effectively defend Sterling's frequent takedown tries, too.

    Yan had Sterling down on a knee in the fourth, and Smith clearly said the fighter was grounded, making any head strikes illegal. The then-champ landed the fateful shot moments later, leaving Rogan and Cormier to banter over whether a title should change hands under those circumstances.

    "For sure, the fight should be called. But should you be allowed to win a title this way?" Rogan said. "Winning a world title with that kind of technique seems ridiculous."

    Cormier disagreed.

    "Absolutely [he should]," he said. "It's not his fault it happened that way."

Winner: Khabib, Part II

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    Khabib Nurmagomedov hasn't fought since October.

    And if you believe the promise he made after that win, he won't be fighting again.

    So if the stage is indeed clear for the emergence of another dominant Russian lightweight, Islam Makhachev is ready for his closeup.

    A training partner of the supposedly retired champ, Makhachev surely resembled Khabib 2.0 against Drew Dober, submitting the red-hot Nebraska native via arm triangle 97 seconds into the third round.

    "He's the real deal. He's one of the top 10, if not the top-five lightweights in the world," Cormier said. "He's able to ground guys and weigh on them until they have nothing left."

    Nurmagomedov was in the corner for his 29-year-old colleague, who scored takedowns in each of the first two rounds and beat the competition out of Dober, who'd entered with three straight UFC victories.

    The smothering continued into the final round, and the bout ended when Makhachev locked in an arm triangle and promoted a tapout conclusion. It was the 19th win in his 20-fight pro career and ran his active UFC win streak to seven, second among lightweights to Charles Oliveira's eight straight.

    "I am ready for anybody," Makhachev said. "I knew Drew was a strong striker, so I took the easy way—take him down, make him tired and make him tap. That's it."

    It was all Anik needed to chime in with his own effusive praise.

    "What an absolute stud," he said. "I am just totally blown away by Islam Makhachev."

Winner: Little Big Men, New and Old

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    In terms of resumes, it was a no-brainer.

    Bantamweight Dominick Cruz was a two-time UFC champion and Joseph Benavidez had taken four trips to the brink of title status at 125 pounds. Comparatively speaking, respective opponents Casey Kenney and Askar Askarov, with just nine Octagon appearances between them, were novices upon Saturday's arrival.

    Which is precisely why they fight the fights.

    Undaunted by his lesser status, the third-ranked Askarov bludgeoned the 36-year-old Benavidez, ranked one slot above him, on the feet and on the mat while leaving him a swollen, bloody mess and earning a unanimous three-round decision.

    Two judges gave the Russian a 30-27 edge on the scorecards, while the third had it 30-26.

    "It looked extraordinary," Cormier said. "We know how good Joseph Benavidez was, and he was completely outclassed. It was everything we knew about Askarov plus some new additions to his game."

    Two fights later, it was Cruz's turn to pass the torch, but he apparently wasn't ready for that.

    The oft-injured former champ was the faster and sharper fighter for the majority of 15 minutes against Kenney, winning for the first time since UFC 199 in 2016.

    "The right man won the fight, and that's ultimately what you want," Cormier said. "He was able to keep up the activity for three rounds with no drop-off."

    Cruz got the nod by 29-28 and 30-27 counts on two cards, while the third saw Kenney a 29-28 winner.

    Cruz said he was surprised Kenney was able to maintain a work rate, then launched into a long-winded challenge of Monster Energy executive Hans Molenkamp during a post-fight chat with Rogan. 

    "What I plan to do is stay focused on the task at hand and then refocus afterward," Cruz said. "That's what I'd like next, a charity match where we could make a lot of money."

Loser: Finishing the Round

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    Rogerio Bontorin had it all going on.

    The Brazilian controlled Kai Kara-France on the ground for more than half of the first round of their flyweight bout, including several stretches where a choke submission seemed imminent.

    But he didn't finish the job, which provided Kara-France an opportunity.

    The New Zealander took full advantage of the opening, landing a pair of overhand rights that backed his opponent off and a follow-up right that sent him face-first to the floor and ended the bout via walk-off stoppage with a mere five seconds remaining in the opening session.

    "It's IDGT," Kara-France said, "I don't get tired."

    A longtime training partner of Adesanya, a fellow Kiwi, Kara-France was at a 27-21 deficit in overall strikes but landed eight shots to Bontorin's head and had a 13-6 advantage in significant strikes.

    That damage ultimately overcame the 3:15 clock time that Bontorin had run up on the mat before the decisive sequence.

    "I was caught early, weathered the storm, got back up and turned into my guard," Kara-France said. "I've been in the sport for so many years now, and once I felt that he couldn't get the finish, it gave me confidence. I turned it around, hit him once with a nice right hook and I felt it land. Next time I sat down on it a little bit more, and it was a Mark Hunt walkaway."

Winner: Early Outs

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    The initial throes of a pay-per-view show can seem endless.

    Particularly if a lot of those early fights go the full 15-minute distance.

    That wasn't an issue on Saturday, though.

    UFC 259 got off to a lightning-fast start in its early prelim portion, blowing through the first six matches in less than 48 minutes of competitive clock time after getting underway at 5:15 p.m.

    The rapid nature of the combat allowed for—or perhaps necessitated—airing of prolonged features on the main show bouts to fill time before the scheduled start of the prelim show at 8 p.m.

    Light heavyweight giants Kennedy Nzechukwu and Carlos Ulberg highlighted the sextet with an eventful scrap at 205 pounds, featuring the Dallas-based Nigerian's comeback from a harrowing first round to drop the previously unbeaten Ulberg with a right hand and register a stoppage at 3:19 of Round 2.

    Four other fights ended in 5:40, 1:40, 3:39 and 13:28. Only one of the six, a flyweight scrap between Tim Elliott and Jordan Espinosa, went the distance before Elliott won a unanimous decision. 

    His win came despite a minus-50 deficit in significant strikes, the biggest chasm overcome by any light heavyweight in UFC history. Ulberg had entered after five straight pro wins and a significant push thanks to his training partnership with Adesanya, but he tired badly after nearly ending matters in the first.

    "I've been out for a year-and-a-half, and I just tried to get my head in it. I knew I had to push it more," Nzechukwu said. "That was a perfect stoppage. I knew that he had good striking. I kind of overwhelmed him with my cardio."

Loser: Humane Officiating

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    For the record, Aalon Cruz did leave the Octagon in one piece. 

    But the 31-year-old Floridian's trip from introduction to official hand raise was particularly painful, both to endure and to watch.

    The lightweight was on the receiving end of a 55-0 pasting in total strikes, including a few dozen after the fight was no longer competitive and it seemed as if referee Mark Smith could have called a halt.

    Instead, Smith stood by as Uros Medic pummeled a grounded Cruz with punch after punch after punch for the better part of a minute before finally stepping in after exactly 100 seconds of Round 1.

    "I'm glad it didn't happen, but that scared me a little bit," Cormier said. "Mark came to watch a fight and he decided 'I'm gonna watch a fight.' Sadly for Aalon Cruz, he was the guy who was getting buzzed in the head all night."

    The decisive barrage began as Medic, who improved to 7-0 and registered his fifth KO, landed a check left hook that sent Cruz reeling backward and a running right knee that sent him backward to the fence.

    A left uppercut then sent him to the floor and started the stream of significant strikes that ended with Medic holding a 45-0 edge, including 43 to the head.

    "I was just hoping Uros wouldn't allow him to get up and he'd have kicked him in the head. He was measuring him for it," Cormier said. "I think Mark was trying to give a tough guy an opportunity to survive."

Winner: 5-Star Review

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    Trevin Jones had a chip on his shoulder.

    Denied an official victory in his UFC debut last August after a positive post-fight test for marijuana, the Guam-based bantamweight came into a card-opening match with Mario Bautista with intensity aplenty.

    "It was very frustrating and everybody wanted me to complain and keep crying about it," he said. "It just motivated me more. I had to treat this fight like it was my debut all over again."

    And even though a competitive initial round probably went against him, Jones stayed with the game plan long enough to deliver the intended result early in Round 2.

    Fighting from a southpaw stance, he baited Bautista with a flicking lead left before delivering a hybrid hook/uppercut with the right that connected solidly and dumped his foe to the mat.

    Seven hatchet-like hammer fists followed and drew a rescue from Chris Tognoni just 40 seconds in.

    "You can sulk and be disappointed in what happened in the last fight," Cormier said. "Trevin Jones not only bounced back but he had a spectacular performance."

    The win upped Jones to 13-6 with the no-contest and earned him the coveted chat with Rogan.

    "Just a beautiful thing to watch," Rogan said. "It was a beautiful shot, and he found a place for it."

UFC 259 Full Card Results

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    Main Card

    Jan Blachowicz def. Israel Adesanya by unanimous decision (49-45, 49-45, 49-46)

    Amanda Nunes def. Megan Anderson by submission (armbar), 2:03, Round 1

    Aljamain Sterling def. Petr Yan by disqualification (illegal knee), 4:29, Round 4

    Islam Makhachev def. Drew Dober by submission (arm triangle choke), 1:37, Round 3

    Aleksandar Rakic def. Thiago Santos by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 30-27)

        

    Preliminary Card

    Dominick Cruz def. Casey Kenney by split decision (30-27, 29-28, 28-29)

    Kyler Phillips def. Song Yadong by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)

    Askar Askarov def. Joseph Benavidez by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-26)

    Kai Kara-France def. Rogerio Bontorin by TKO, 4:55, Round 1

       

    Early Preliminary Card

    Tim Elliott def. Jordan Espinosa by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-25)

    Kennedy Nzechukwu def. Carlos Ulberg by TKO, 3:19, Round 2

    Sean Brady def. Jake Matthews by submission (arm triangle choke), 3:28, Round 3

    Amanda Lemos def. Livinha Souza by TKO, 3:29, Round 1

    Uros Medic def. Aalon Cruz by TKO, 1:40, Round 1

    Trevin Jones def. Mario Bautista by TKO, 0:40, Round 2