On paper, UFC 259 appeared a card stacked with firepower, massive fights, and career-defining outcomes, but the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry astray.
The main event proved a decent scrap, Polish giant Jan Błachowicz surprised everyone with his underestimated technical prowess and retained his title against Kiwi martial arts prodigy Israel Adesanya. The size difference was a deciding factor, but not in ways combat sports pundits might have expected. The main reason Błachowicz had his hand raised was not because he was bigger and stronger, but because of his carefully honed MMA fundamentals. He checked and blocked most of the kicks coming his way, moved quickly around the cage, and never looked outclassed by the technically superior Adesanya. The defending champ kept his attacks short and sharp to avoid being counter-struck and secured two decisive, fight-altering takedowns in the 4th and 5th rounds, and that was where the size came into play. The champ held the top position, got off some solid ground-and-pound, and Adesanya’s lighter frame had no answers from the bottom.
Błachowicz seems a humble and hard-working man who deserves all the fortune that comes his way. His early record was unimpressive and he looked like a middling talent but kept striving and improving and is now the unlikely defending champion. He has made the most of his natural skills and should finally get the respect deserved. Adesanya was gracious in defeat, and his superstar status was only slightly dented in defeat.
The co-main event followed the expected script to the letter. Amanda Nunes landed one huge shot on Megan Anderson and the fight was basically over. Nunes is so far above every other female fighter that she will struggle to find another opponent. Anderson looked slightly overcome by the event and does not appear to enjoy fighting, a handicap to her chosen profession. Nunes is a recent mother with her female partner and predicted her lioness ways might be even more fearsome now with a cub to protect. Her GOAT status is now beyond question.
The third championship fight pitted Russian dominator Petre Yan against the flashy Aljamain Sterling for the bantamweight title. As predicted, Yan was too technically sound for the American and was cruising to almost certain victory going into the fourth round. Yan holds a very high guard, blocks and parries well, and secured multiple takedowns of his presumed takedown artist opponent. Sterling had all but surrendered going into the final rounds and was shaking his head at his every failed attack. Nothing could penetrate Yan’s iron defences, and then the inexplicable occurred. Sterling was grounded following another successful Yan attack when the Russian kneed his opponent in the face in a blatant foul. The move would have been legal had Yan been able to lift his opponent before landing the knee, but as it stood it was an illegal strike.
This put Sterling in a unenvious position. He would certainly lose the fight should he resume, and win the fight should he be unable to continue. While it is expected that a fighter will not continue in such circumstances, Sterling milked the moment like an English soccer player taking an extravagant dive in the penalty box. He rolled around on the canvas, shook his head dozens of times, feigned blurred vision, and pretended to be unable to stand only to flop back down like a lifeless rag doll. Apparently Yan’s corner was to blame and was heard advising him to land the knee when it should have been screaming the opposite. “Don’t throw the knee, he’s down, you’ve got this.”
So following the farcical scenes, Sterling was awarded the belt while Yan looked on bemused and bitterly disappointed. The only option is to run the fight back, but Sterling would need to lift his game significantly if he hopes to retain his fraudulently obtained gold. Yan will sit and stew in the meantime, while his coaches familiarise themselves with the UFC rule book.
The other disappointment of the night was a number 1 light heavyweight contender bout between Aleksandar Rakic and Thiago Santos. Both men were extremely tentative, especially the Brazilian who is coming off multiple knee injuries, and the bout was a 3 round snooze-fest. Rakic is very technically sound and possesses all the skills but will need to show a lot more if he hopes to garner a reputation and following.
So UFC 259 was an up-and-down affair, but that is the nature of the fight game. None of the title bouts hit the peaks expected and so we press on. One of the reasons we watch fights is for their unexpected nature, anything could happen at any time, and unfortunately, this card was unexpectedly underwhelming.
Jackson Byrne – Combat Sports Editor.