Adesanya defends belt, Blachowicz wins title at UFC 253

Nigeria's Israel Adesanya. (Andy Brownbill/AP)

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Unbeaten Israel Adesanya defended his middleweight title in style with a dominant second-round stoppage of Paulo Costa at UFC 253 on Sunday.

Poland’s Jan Blachowicz also stopped Dominick Reyes late in the second round to claim the light heavyweight title vacated by Jon Jones on Fight Island, the mixed martial arts promotion’s bubble performance venue in the Middle East.

Adesanya (20-0) carved up his previously unbeaten Brazilian opponent with flair and ease, battering Costa with leg kicks before ending it late in the second round. Adesanya crumpled Costa with a combination at the centre of the octagon, and the champion finished on the ground with 61 seconds left in the round.

The win was the ninth straight in the UFC for Adesanya, the Nigeria-born, New Zealand-based phenomenon who has soared to prominence in mixed martial arts over the past three years.

In UFC 253’s co-main event, the 37-year-old Blachowicz (27-8) capped his late-career surge by winning his first UFC title.

After controlling most of the action in a slow first round, Blachowicz abruptly ended it when he landed a high left hook to the side of Reyes’ head. Reyes wobbled, stumbled and fell, and Blachowicz promptly finished him on the ground with 24 seconds left in the round.

Unheralded flyweight Brandon Royval also had a highlight-reel win on Fight Island, stopping Kai Kara-France with a guillotine choke in the second round.

Adesanya won his title last year by beating Robert Whittaker, but he was in need of a redemptive performance after defending his belt last March with a stupendously boring decision over Yoel Romero in Las Vegas.

The champion known as “The Last Stylebender” reminded the UFC just what he can do while dispatching Costa with ease

The heavily muscled Costa opened the fight with a cocky swagger, daring Adesanya to kick his lead leg by putting his hands behind his back. Adesanya preened back at Costa, but largely kept his distance and tagged Costa with kicks.

Costa’s striking game never got going, and Adesanya wore him down before finishing the fight.

While Adesanya was a favourite, Blachowicz’s victory was a surprise. He is the first fighter other than Jones or Daniel Cormier to hold the UFC light heavyweight title since 2011, when Jones began his rocky reign.

Jones vacated his belt three times during the ensuing nine years for doping offences and criminal misbehaviours, but always reclaimed it. But he voluntarily relinquished the title earlier this year after lengthy negotiations over the future of his career with the UFC, apparently receiving the financial incentive to move to heavyweight.

But Jones doesn’t have a fight booked at heavyweight, and Blachowicz isn’t buying the move.

“Only one man is in my mind,” Blachowicz said. “Jon Jones, where are you? Don’t be a quitter. This is how we do it in Poland. I’m waiting for you.”

Blachowicz is a six-year UFC veteran from Poland who earned this title shot with three straight wins, including stoppages of former champion Luke Rockhold and Corey Anderson.

Reyes is a former college football player from Southern California who only recently devoted himself to the sport full-time, but his 12-0 start to his career landed him a title shot at Jones in February. Jones won their matchup by decision, but most observers thought Reyes had nearly pulled off the monumental upset, keeping him first in line for a second title shot when Jones vacated.

Meanwhile, featherweight (Mean) Hakeem Dawodu, fighting out of Calgary via Nigeria, earned a win by decision over Russian Zubaira Tukhugov.

Dawodu improved to 12-1-1 with the three-round victory, and demanded a top-10 opponent for his next bout in his post-fight interview.

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