If there was ever a time to be excited to be a be a fight fan, it would be now – as the UFC is back in Fight Island with a doozy of a PPV. Headlining the event is UFC Middleweight Champion Israel Adesanya, whom looks to defend his title for the second time against challenger Paulo Costa. Both head into this bout undefeated and while the trash talk has been entertaining – the time for talking is over. With this fight, we get to see the two very best in the weight class – so don’t blink!
UFC 253 PPV Main Card on ESPN+ (10 p.m. ET):
185 lbs.: UFC Middleweight champion Israel Adesanya vs. Paulo Costa – The motherload! This fight is going be banana’s from start to finish. While the Israel Adesanya and Yoel Romero fight might have people skeptical of what we might see – you have to remember that while explosive, Yoel Romero is primarily a counter striker. On the other hand, Paulo Costa is basically a juggernaut. Constant forward pressure and constant volume striking. The couple aspects to look out for here is Costa’s striking defense and cardio for five rounds. Both are potential issues.
As for the champ, Adesanya comes into this bout a perfect 19-0, with fourteen of those wins coming via T/KO. With technical and precise striking, Adesanya is a problem for anyone on the feet – especially those who leave themselves open to being countered. Adesanya also should be noted for having excellent striking defense, with head movement and footwork that put him in and out of trouble in the blink of an eye.
As for a prediction, I’m going against my initial thoughts and picking Costa to win via knockout. I feel that while Adesanya is elusive and could very well escape Costa’s pressure, potentially clipping him in the process – I also am not sure how he’s going to handle said pressure. Costa is going to be on him for three rounds of absolutely fury. I have to suspect that he’s going to land something significant and fight ending – which leads me to believing Costa gets this done via TKO.
205 lbs.: Dominick Reyes vs. Jan Blachowicz – It’s kind of crazy to think that Jan Blachowicz was probably nearly cut at some point in the UFC. He had lost four of five fights, with the last being a majority defeat to Patrick Cummins. Notably, the losses stemmed from the lack of takedown defense. Since the defeat, Blachowicz shored up that weakness and has proceeded to win seven of the next eight fights – thus leading to a title shot. Talk about a turnaround.
As for Dominick Reyes, the last time we saw him in the octagon – was against Jon Jones. While Reyes lost on the scorecards, fans and media had thought he did enough to get the job done. Regardless, Reyes is back in a title fight to capture what he thinks is rightfully his.
I believe Reyes will do just that. He’s got wrestling, powerful yet precise striking and an iron chin. Reyes also has good cardio, despite notably fading against Jon Jones in the later rounds. In what I expect to be a firefight out of the gate, I believe that Reyes is the more athletic and quicker of the two. I see Reyes beating Blachowicz to punch early and often. Come round two, Reyes is going to land a fight ending strike – capturing the vacant Light Heavyweight Championship via KO.
125 lbs.: Kai Kara-France vs. Brandon Royval – This is going to be a high paced battle, in which Kai Kara-France is going to want to keep it on the feet – while Brandon Royval will look to turn this into a grappling affair. In the end, I feel that Brandon Royval is going to prevail. I believe that due to the nature of this fight, it’s going to come down to cardio – and it’s Royval’s which I trust. Kara-France has shown to fade in the third round of fights and I believe that issue is going to get him caught him in fight ending submission by Royval.
135 lbs.: Ketlen Vieira vs. Sijara Eubanks – I honestly feel that Sijara Eubanks is being underrated here once again. I get that Viera looks to be a contender at 135 lbs. However, she’s fought once in over two years – with that one fight being a first round knockout defeat to Irene Aldana. So with that, give me the well rounded, more active fighter in Eubanks to get this done via decision – although I could see a late stoppage.
150 lbs.: Hakeem Dawodu vs. Zubaira Tukhugov – This should be a close fight, but I’ve got Hakeem Dawodu taking home a late TKO victory. Of the two, he is the better striker – with way more volume to boot. Zubaira Tukhugov gets the nod in the grappling department, but Dawodu is noted for having solid takedown defense. I see a battle for Tukhugov to get this fight to mat. Come the third round, Tukhugov is going to be zapped from trying to get the fight to mat – leaving him open to being picked apart by Dawodu. In the end, like I said – Dawodu wins this via a late TKO stoppage.
UFC 253 Prelims Card on ESPN2/ESPN+ (8 p.m. ET):
155 lbs.: Brad Riddell vs. Alex Da Silva – While Da Silva has an impressive record of twenty victories and two losses, it’s the nineteen finishes that stand out the most. He’s a pure finisher and can get it done anywhere the fights goes. Problem is, Riddell is a complete fighter, with excellent cardio and striking. I could see Da Silva try to get this fight to mat, but Riddell’s ability to pop back up is going to negate Da Silva’s attempts. Come the third round, I see Riddell finishing a tired Da Silva via TKO.
170 lbs.: Diego Sanchez vs. Jake Matthews – I get that Diego Sanchez still has durability, cardio and wrestling. He is also a shell of his former self, and fighting a young gun like Jake Matthews isn’t exactly the fights he should be taking. I think from the jump, this fight gets ugly – with Matthews dominating and ultimately finishing Sanchez via TKO.
145 lbs.: Ludovit Klein vs. Shane Young – This is a coin flip. Shane Young brings forth volume striking, an iron chin and just a will to win. Klein is an excellent striker, with good wrestling too. Of his sixteen victories, only one has come via decision. Klein is a finisher by nature, but will find it tough to get a stoppage against the durable Young. However, I do believe he will get the better of Young over three rounds, ultimately winning via decision.
205 lbs.: Aleksa Camur vs. William Knight – This fight is a tough call. On one hand, Aleksa Camur is the more polished striker and is better at putting together combinations. On the other hand, William Knight has legit knockout power and terrifying ground-and-pound. While Knight is a physical specimen and his strength could help get this fight to mat, something tells me that Camur training with Stipe Miocic is going to aid him in keeping this on the feet. While on the feet, I’ll take Camur’s volume and precision to pick apart Knight – eventually finishing the fight in the third round via TKO.
UFC 253 Prelims Card on ESPN2/ESPN+ (7 p.m. ET):
265 lbs.: Juan Espino vs. Jeff Hughes – While Jeff Hughes has solid cardio and is very durable at Heavyweight, he’s yet to turn that skill set into a victory inside the octagon. Perhaps the lack of striking volume has something to do with that. Meanwhile, at 39 years old, Espino makes his second walk to the octagon. Time is certainly running out, but his ground game has led him to becoming the Ultimate Fighter 28 winner – and a winner of nine consecutive fights. Make it ten, as I see Espino winning via decision.
205 lbs.: Khadis Ibragimov vs. Danilo Marques – This fight is a crap shoot, but I’m going with Khadis Ibragimov. While he’s lost all three of his fights inside the octagon, Ibragimov domination in M-1 still stands out in my head. If anything, it’s way better than Danilo Marques has done. He’s beaten nothing but mediocre fighters to cans. So with that, give me Ibragimov to win via knockout.