UFC 253’s main event on Saturday night in Abu Dhabi was supposed to be a battle between the two best middleweights in the world.
In the end, it ended up looking like a battle between the champion in Israel Adesanya and a contender in Paulo Costa who didn’t belong in the cage with “The Last Stylebender.”
From the minute the bell sounded, Adesanya proved that there are levels in this sport and that his striking is on a completely different one than Costa’s is. He remained patient, picking his shots and repeatedly battering the Brazilian with leg kicks. Costa, who rarely takes a backward step and typically moves forward while throwing nothing but power strikes, looked confused, stationary, and like he had nothing to offer the champion.
Eventually, a left hook from Adesanya found the mark in the second round, dropping the challenger and signaling the beginning of the end. The official result was a second-round TKO victory for the champion, who never left a doubt as to who was the better man.
The win marked the 100th of Adesanya’s professional combat sports career, as he’s competed professionally in both kickboxing and boxing as well. It also extended his MMA record to a perfect 20-0 and earned him the second defense of his 185-pound title.
After a lackluster victory over Yoel Romero this past March, Israel Adesanya proved that he can still be exciting and find the finish. However, he also once again showed off his intelligence and his ability to adapt. Different opponents call for different approaches and strategies and thus far, Adesanya has shown he can overcome all that has been thrown at him in the Octagon.
With another successful night at the office in the books, Adesanya’s celebrity is only continuing to grow. At the same time, however, it’s clear that he’s remaining focused on his goals, and with that, he’s beginning to build a legacy that will be hard to match.
Big fights and big opportunities will undoubtedly begin to take shape for “The Last Stylebender”. And yes, he once again mentioned a potential bout with pound-for-pound king and former light heavyweight champion Jon Jones after his win over Costa. However, he’s also made it clear that his main focus remains at middleweight and taking out as many contenders as possible.
When it was suggested to him at the post-fight press conference that there were few options remaining at middleweight, for example, he immediately brought up Jared Cannonier and Jack Hermansson and the challenges they represent.
In today’s day and age, it’s not uncommon for champions to chase the biggest money fights as opposed to the next logical title defense. Adesanya, however, doesn’t appear to have that mentality. Even the belt doesn’t appear to mean everything to him. Instead, he said it’s about the “scalps” he collects on his resume.
At this point, Anderson Silva, a fighter Adesanya idolizes and one that he previously beat, remains the most accomplished middleweight of all time. He reached that point by beating contender after contender and by defending his title 11-straight times.
Israel Adesanya still has a ways to go before he reaches Silva’s records, but if he remains on the path he’s on, he’ll likely be close sooner rather than later. And if he does reach that point, he’ll have done it by cleaning out a division of worthy contenders one by one.
In addition, he’ll continue to build his legacy and as of now, that legacy looks like one that few champions, both present and past, will be able to match.
Long Island-based sports writer covering MMA, Boxing, and the New York Jets.