On Saturday, the UFC returns to Fight Island for the first of five consecutive Saturday night events, culminating with a lightweight title fight between Justin Gaethje and Khabib Nurmagomedov on Oct. 24. Looking to build on the momentum of last week’s action-packed Covington-Woodley event, UFC 253 is topped with two competitive title bouts.
In the first title bout, Jan Blachowicz takes on recent title challenger Dominick Reyes for the vacant light heavyweight title. The title was vacated by Jon Jones, who is planning a move to the heavyweight division. Reyes was most recently seen against Jones, and in a very controversial decision, Reyes lost on each of the judges’ scorecards. This was Reyes’ first career loss. Jones got off to a slow start and struggled to match the pace of Reyes in the first three rounds, but when Reyes began to noticeably tire, Jones was able to take control in the final two rounds. However, as UFC fights are judged by the round, many fans thought that when the decision was read, Reyes would be declared the winner. Reyes out-landed Jones in each of the first three rounds, but unfortunately for Reyes, the judges stuck with the precedent of scoring close title fights in favor of the champ. To put things in perspective, Reyes outstruck Jones by 11 strikes in Round 2, but Jones was awarded the round by two of the judges. Reyes is likely entering his prime at age 30, and he publicly handled the loss well. Reyes and Blachowicz have nearly identical heights and reaches. “The Devastator” Reyes will have slight advantages in power and speed, but we might see Reyes take these down a notch in an effort to conserve his energy for later rounds.
Jan Blachowicz has had a much different path to the title. After his first six UFC fights, Blachowicz had an underwhelming record of two wins and four losses with the promotion, and was at risk of being cut from the roster. A 17-3 record prior to joining the UFC helped Blachowicz receive one more fight with the UFC. In a must win situation, Blachowicz secured a second-round finish by rear naked choke. Since his first six UFC appearances, Blachowicz has turned in an improbable record of seven wins and only one loss. Blachowicz prefers to keep the fight standing to utilize his Muay Thai style, but once in a blue moon, he will see an opportunity for a takedown and get to use his black belt jiu-jitsu skills. This fight is relatively even on the feet, but if Reyes tires in the later rounds like he did against Jones, Blachowicz will have a strong advantage if he is able to take the fight to the mat.
In the main event, Israel Adesanya looks to defend his belt against heavy-hitter Paulo Costa. Both fighters are undefeated, making this a showdown you won’t want to miss. Adesanya has taken the UFC by storm and won the title in only his second year with the promotion. Adesanya switched over to MMA in 2015 after an impressive kickboxing career where he boasted a record of 75 wins and only five losses. In MMA, Adesanya has gone 19-0, with eight of those has made him a fan favorite. Adesanya won the title by knocking out Robert Whittaker, and he has since defended it against Yoel Romero. Adesanya is sensational when he is the aggressor and has some of the best striking that the UFC has ever seen. On the other hand, Adesanya has a harder time when fighting off his back foot. Some fighters noticeably do not like being hit in the face and Adesanya is one of them. When his opponent is finding their rhythm, Adesanya prefers to circle backwards around the cage and stay out of his opponent’s range. In his victory over Romero, fans were a bit disappointed by how often he had to use this tactic, and a frustrated Romero compared Adesanya to fighting a track star.
Across the cage, Paulo Costa hopes to be the fighter who remains undefeated. Costa is a testament to what the human body can look like. Just by looking at a picture, you can tell he is a nightmare to fight against. Like Adesanya, Costa is earning his first title shot in his sixth career UFC fight. At 13-0, and no kickboxing bouts, “The Eraser” has significantly less experience than Adesanya. However, 11 of Costa’s wins came by knockout, and in his most recent fight, a decision victory against Romero, Costa did significantly more damage to Romero in three rounds than Adesanya did in five. Costa’s main disadvantage in this fight is his height and reach. Costa will have an eight inch reach disadvantage against Adesanya, and Costa will likely have to lure Adesanya into a brawl to be able to overcome this disadvantage. To bait his opponent, Costa posted a video on YouTube of him chasing a sprinting sparring partner around the cage until the sparring partner, intended to look like Adesanya, jumps out of the cage and runs away. This is an incredible matchup and if Adesanya is willing to trade strikes with Costa, this will be a candidate for fight of the year.