Three Title Fights will Headline a Massive UFC 259 Card
Several superstar fighters will headline UFC 259 this weekend in Las Vegas.
Updated: March 3, 2021 • 8:05 PM ET
Petr Yan - Wikimedia Commons
One of the biggest fight cards of 2021 thus far, Saturday’s UFC 259 card will showcase three title fights and a lineup of top contenders at the Apex in Las Vegas. The main event will be for the light heavyweight title, as champion Jan Blachowicz will defend the title for the first time against middleweight champion Israel Adesanya.
Once again displaying explosive power on his feet, Blachowicz won the belt with a powerful second-round TKO of Dominick Reyes at UFC 253 in September. The Polish fighter had to take a long road to a title shot, but he certainly made the most of it with an impressive showing against Reyes, a fighter who took former light heavyweight champion Jon Jones into deep waters.
Seeking his fifth straight victory, Blachowicz (27-8 overall record) will enter his first title defense as the underdog against the wildly popular and undefeated Adesanya. The 38-year-old Blachowicz, though, doesn’t mind being the underdog.
“I’m always the underdog, and I’ve always won the fight,” Blachowicz told MMA Fighting. “It’s really nice, and I’m happy. I could be the underdog every time. But maybe after this fight when I win this fight, I believe I will win this fight, maybe after this fight people will start believing in me, respect me and that’s it. But anyways, I don’t care about this.
“A funny story, after when I beat [Luke] Rockhold, I was also an underdog there and one guy after the fight came to me and said ‘thank you my friend, because thanks to you I’m a rich man right now’ and I said what happened? He said thanks to me he won $50,000. So it’s nice to hear something like that after the fight. Maybe right after this fight, someone will win big money also.”
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Blachowicz has respect for the middleweight champion, but he’s confident he’ll remain a champion himself.
“He’s a good fighter, a really good fighter,” Blachowicz said about Adesanya. “He’s a champion, nobody defeat him. 20-0 also, so he is good, he has to be good, but it’s time for 20-1. I believe that I’m going to be the first one to beat him, and I will do it.”
On the same card that Blachowicz won the light heavyweight belt, Adesanya successfully defended the middleweight title for the second time with a second-round TKO of Paulo Costa. After both fighters won at UFC 253, talks immediately began about Adesanya moving up to challenge Blachowicz for a second belt.
Adesanya had engaged in back-and-forth banter on social media with Jones, who vacated the light heavyweight title for a probable move up to heavyweight a little more than a month before Blachowicz won the vacant belt. So while his move up to light heavyweight seemed conceivable, one could have surmised that Adesanya’s first 205-pound bout would be against Jones instead of Blachowicz.
Aside a strange fight with Yoel Romero in his first title defense, Adesanya (20-0 overall, 9-0 in UFC) seems to be getting better with every fight. If he claims a second title on Saturday, he could arguably be the biggest star in the UFC — if he’s not already. The 31-year-old Adesanya speaks well, happily engages in trash talk and fights with flash in the Octagon. If he defeats Blachowicz, though, he doesn’t plan to solely focus on the light heavyweight division.
“I’ll definitely go back down to 185,” Adesanya told MMA Junkie on Monday. “I have something else in my head that might interest (me after). But definitely going back down to 185 is my goal. I want to keep my division moving.”
Retuning to middleweight could mean Adesanya’s next title defense will be a rematch with one of three fighters he has already defeated. In April, Costa will fight former champion Robert Whittaker, who Adesanya defeated at UFC 243 in 2019 to win the belt. If Costa defeats Whittaker, who has rebounded well from the loss to Adesanya, the UFC could give him a second crack at the belt.
Even more interesting for Adesanya would be a second fight with Marvin Vettori, who Adesanya defeated by a razor thin-split decision in his second UFC bout in 2018. Many people believe Vettori, who has since won four straight fights, won that fight against Adesanya. Vettori will fight Darren Till in April, but if Till wins that fight, he could represent a new challenger for the middleweight belt and one that Adesanya has not seen before.
If Blachowicz hands Adesanya his first loss in MMA, it will also be interesting to see who his next title defense could be against. Forty-one-year-old Glover Teixeira is the No. 1 light heavyweight contender and challenged for the belt against Jon Jones in 2014. He has never fought Blachowicz, so it would represent a new challenge for both fighters.
Thiago Santos, who will fight No. 4 ranked Aleksandar Rakic on Saturday, is the No. 2 ranked light heavyweight in the world. He defeated Blachowicz by third-round TKO in 2019 on his quest to challenging Jones for the title, so a rematch would be intriguing. However, if Rakic defeats Santos, he could represent a new, younger challenger for the title.
Circling back to Adesanya, it’s difficult to determine which of those fighters would represent the best challenge to the possible dual belt-holder at light heavyweight. More importantly, would Jones move back down to light heavyweight to attempt a third title run in the division?
Saturday’s co-main event will be for the women’s featherweight title, as champion Amanda Nunes will defend the title against Megan Anderson.
Nunes is coming off her first successful defense of the featherweight title at UFC 250 in June, winning by unanimous decision over Felicia Spencer. On an 11-fight winning streak, Nunes is also the reigning bantamweight champion with key victories in her career over Germaine de Randamie (twice), Holly Holm, Cris Cyborg, Raquel Pennington, Valentina Shevchenko (twice), Ronda Rousey, Miesha Tate and Sara McMann.
Most people in the MMA world agree that Nunes is the greatest women’s fighter of all time, and she solidified that status with her victory over Cyborg in 2018. However, another victory on Saturday in a division that is not loaded with contenders could mean a potential trilogy fight with flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko, who is ranked No. 2 in the women’s pound-for-pound rankings.
Anderson has won two straight bouts against Zarah Fairn dos Santos and Norma Dumont, finishing both following a submission loss to Spencer in 2019. The victory over Dumont was impressive, as Anderson finished the fight with a one-punch knockout.
Anderson entered the UFC as the Invicta FC featherweight champion in 2018, but lost her debut against former champion Holly Holm by unanimous decision. While the 31-year-old Anderson has looked great in her last two fights, she’ll face a woman in Nunes with power that she has never seen before.
Anderson will have a height and reach advantage against Nunes, which she’ll need to utilize to keep the double champion out of her power striking range. That, however, is much easier said than done.
A third title fight will be on the main card, as bantamweight champion Petr Yan will defend the belt for the first time against No. 1 contender Aljamain Sterling.
Yan (15-1) has won 10 straight fights, his last being for the vacant title at UFC 251 in July when he defeated legend Jose Aldo by fifth-round TKO. While the reigning bantamweight champ also has victories over Hall of Famer Urijah Faber, Jimmie Rivera and former title challenger John Dodson, the 28-year-old Yan seems to be getting better with every fight. He put that prowess on display in his last fight against Aldo, showing that he can put together a comprehensive game plan and pick apart his opponent.
Meanwhile, Sterling has won five straight fights, most recently making quick work of top contender Cory Sandhagen at UFC 250 in June with a first-round submission. In his career, the 31-year-old Sterling also has key wins over Rivera, Pedro Munhoz, Cody Stamann and Renan Barao.
Sterling has shown that when his opponents anticipate his grappling, he can surprise them with technical striking. Yan, however, will represent a tougher test on the feet than his last five opponents, so the biggest question for Sterling will be: can he get the fight to the ground? If he can, how well will Yan defend himself from submission attempts?
The rest of the main card on ESPN+ at 10 p.m. EST
Light heavyweight bout - No. 14 Islam Makhachev vs. No. 15 Drew Dober
Light heavyweight bout - No. 2 Thiago Santos vs. No. 4 Aleksandar Rakic
Prelims on ESPN at 8 p.m. EST
Bantamweight bout - No. 11 Dominick Cruz vs. Casey Kenney
Bantamweight bout - No. 14 Song Yadong vs. Kyler Phillips
Flyweight bout - No. 2 Joseph Benavidez vs. No. 3 Askar Askarov
Flyweight bout - No. 8 Rogerio Bontorin vs. No. 8 Kai Kara-France
Early Prelims on UFC Fight Pass at 6 p.m. EST
Flyweight bout - No. 12 Tim Elliott vs. Jordan Espinosa
Light heavyweight bout - Kennedy Nzechukwu vs. Carlos Ulberg
Welterweight bout - Sean Brady vs. Jake Matthews
Women’s strawweight bout - No. 15 Livinha Souza vs. Amanda Lemos
Lightweight bout - Uros Medic vs. Aalon Cruz
Bantamweight bout - Mario Bautista vs. Trevin Jones