6 Fights We Need to See After UFC 259
UFC 259 will go down as one of the year's most entertaining fight cards.
The event, which emanated from Las Vegas on Saturday night, was headlined by a light heavyweight title fight between champion Jan Blachowicz and challenger Israel Adesanya, who holds the promotion's middleweight title.
Had Adesanya won this fight, he would have become just the fifth fighter in UFC history to hold titles in two divisions simultaneously. However, Blachowicz outfought Adesanya to a unanimous-decision win, sending him back down to middleweight with nothing to show for his light heavyweight sojourn.
In addition to this blockbuster champion vs. champion fight, UFC 259 featured two other title fights. First up, Aljamain Sterling became the bantamweight champion with a gut-wrenching disqualification victory over Petr Yan—the product of an illegal knee. In evening's co-main event, pound-for-pound queen Amanda Nunes defended her featherweight strap with a first-round submission of Megan Anderson.
The card featured plenty of other memorable fights too.
Given the stacked nature of the UFC 259 card, it's going to take some time for the dust to settle. Yet even in the immediate aftermath of the event, there are a few matchups that stand out as obvious choices going forward.
Here are six fights we're hoping to see after UFC 259.
Jan Blachowicz vs. Glover Teixeira
If you had predicted a few years ago that Blachowicz would become the UFC light heavyweight champion, you'd have been laughed at.
Yet here we are in 2021, and the Polish veteran has not only captured the title but also defended it against one of the sport's pound-for-pound best fighters in Adesanya.
While Blachowicz and Adesanya's champion vs. champion fight was good fun, it's time to get back to business as usual. Adesanya will return to middleweight to defend his belt, and Blachowicz will look ahead to his second light heavyweight title defense.
At this stage, there's no mystery in terms of whom Blachowicz will defend his belt against next. Giving the opportunity to anybody but streaking veteran Glover Teixeira would be criminal.
The 41-year-old is in the midst of a late-career resurgence, with consecutive wins over Karl Roberson, Ion Cutelaba, Nikita Krylov, Anthony Smith and Thiago Santos in the rearview mirror. His streak is so impressive that he almost certainly would have received the first crack at Blachowicz's title had Adesanya not jumped to the front of the line.
Now that Adesanya and Blachowicz have gotten their fight out of the way, the time has come to grant Teixeira his long-awaited title shot. Offering the Brazilian anything else would be borderline criminal, particularly given that this is likely his last opportunity to fight for UFC gold before he hangs up his gloves.
Israel Adesanya vs. Robert Whittaker 2
With his light heavyweight title dreams temporarily dashed, Adesanya will most likely return to his duties as the UFC middleweight champion.
The middleweight division is home to a number of compelling contenders, but one stands head and shoulders above the rest: former champion Robert Whittaker.
Adesanya has fought Whittaker once previously, besting the Australian by second-round knockout to win the middleweight belt in 2019. While that outcome was pretty conclusive, Whittaker has reasserted himself as the division's top contender with a pair of decision wins over top-flight foes in Jared Cannonier and Darren Till.
Whittaker is gearing up for a fight with Paulo Costa on April 17, and a loss there would derail his hopes of challenging for the middleweight strap. Yet if he comes out on top, it seems only fair that he gets the next crack at Adesanya and the title.
Amanda Nunes vs. Valentina Shevchenko 3
Two-division UFC champ Amanda Nunes did she was does best in the UFC 259 co-main event: made a highly trained fighter look like somebody who had just wandered into the arena from the Las Vegas strip.
Nunes' victim this time around was Megan Anderson. She won the fight via first-round submission, defending the UFC featherweight title in the process.
This is the kind of thing Nunes does every time she fights, and it never ceases to impress. The drawback of her amazing success is that her list of viable challenges is getting ever shorter.
At this stage, there's nobody left for her to fight at featherweight, so she's likely to return to the bantamweight division for her next fight. There, she could be matched up with somebody like Julianna Pena, but the most compelling option is a third fight with UFC flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko.
Nunes holds two decision wins over Shevchenko at bantamweight, but both of those verdicts were incredibly close, and in the time since their second meeting, they have emerged as the UFC's two best pound-for-pound female fighters.
Shevchenko is slated to defend her title against Jessica Andrade at UFC 261. If she completes that challenge, it will be time for a trilogy fight with Nunes—if only because there's no better option available for either woman.
Aljamain Sterling vs. Petr Yan 2
From the early vantage point, the bantamweight title fight between Petr Yan and Aljamain Sterling—the first of three championship bouts on the UFC 259 bill—was viewed as a potential Fight of the Year candidate.
Unfortunately, it ended in disaster.
After three fun rounds of action, throughout which both men enjoyed moments of success, Yan nuked Sterling with an illegal knee to the head. The foul was significant enough that Sterling was unable to continue, which meant that he won the fight—and the bantamweight title—by way of disqualification
It wasn't the way anybody wanted this dynamite bantamweight contest to end—Sterling included.
In his post-fight interview with commentator Joe Rogan, the still-dazed champion lamented the circumstances of his title win and expressed optimism that he and Yan can run it back in the near future.
When it comes time to decide the next move for both men, that seems like the only suitable option. We need a cleaner, more decisive outcome.
Islam Makhachev vs. Kevin Lee
No. 14-ranked UFC lightweight contender Islam Makhachev is frequently compared to his friend and training partner Khabib Nurmagomedov. On the UFC 259 main card, the Dagestani talent justified those comparisons, dragging the highly skilled Drew Dober into a grappling hell that Khabib himself would have been proud of before winning by third-round submission.
With the win, Makhachev is now an impressive 19-1 overall and 8-1 in the UFC. Those marks should earn him another high-profile fight—a fight against somebody like Kevin Lee.
Lee, the UFC's No. 11-ranked lightweight, has long resided amongst the sport's best fighters but has struggled to find consistency of late. He hasn't fought since a March 2020 loss to Charles Oliveira but recently told the South China Morning Post that he's hoping to fight in June or July.
The bout makes plenty of sense from a rankings standpoint, and it also comes with a built-in storyline, as Makhachev has called out Lee several times in the past. Throw it on a pay-per-view main card, and nobody will complain.
Dominick Cruz vs. Jose Aldo
In the final bout of the UFC 259 undercard, former UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz picked up his first win since 2016, defeating rising prospect Casey Kenney by split decision.
With his win over Casey, the injury-plagued former champion proved that despite his prolonged stretches of inactivity, he can still hang with high-level fighters.
His reward for this crucial win should be a fight with Jose Aldo.
Cruz and Aldo have had remarkably similar careers. Both are former WEC champions, with Cruz ruling over the defunct promotion's bantamweight division and Aldo sitting on its featherweight throne. Both then became UFC champions in the same divisions. Both are bona fide MMA legends. Most importantly, both are riding victories in the bantamweight division, as Aldo recently returned to winning ways with a decision defeat of Marlon Vera.
This is a fight fans have been interested in seeing since Cruz and Aldo were WEC champs. Today, the fight makes more sense than ever, and given that both men are in the final stages of long careers, it might be one of the last opportunities to make it.