In the main event of UFC 253 Israel Adesanya made things look easy. He chewed up Paulo Costa’s lead leg with kicks. Then, when Costa, who fought in a much more reserved style than usual, attempted to land a strike, Adesanya leaned out of the way, took a step to the side and decked Costa with a counter. The middleweight champion gave Costa no time to recover and swarmed him with ground strikes for the victory. That performance was impressive. As for Adesanya’s theatrics after the win, well, opinions probably differ on those.
The co-main event saw Jan Blachowicz claim the vacant UFC light heavyweight title with a calm, cool and collected stoppage win over the favored Dominick Reyes, who did not look like the man who went five rounds with former champion Jon Jones earlier this year.
As for the bout that preceded the two title fights on the UFC 253 pay-per-view card, Brandon Royval showed that he is a problem for the top of the flyweight division with his finish of Kai Kara-France.
Below are the real winners and losers from the UFC 253 fight card.
Israel Adesanya: At some point folks are going to have to start to believe that Adesanya is the real deal. Call him skinny, say he doesn’t have power, but don’t call him lucky. He is a technician. The years of kickboxing experience give him so much more knowledge than most MMA fighters. When you combine that with his confidence and the mind of his coach, well, that’s just too much for almost anyone to overcome. Adesanya had no problem putting Paulo Costa away at UFC 253 and it’s going to take a special individual to end his title reign.
Jan Blachowicz: Blachowicz looked excellent from the start of his fight against Dominick Reyes. He was patient and powerful and took advantage of every opening that was given to him. He lit up Reyes’ ribs with a nasty kick and then broke his nose with during a nasty combo on his way to the second-round TKO win.
This win is even more impressive when you realize that many people thought Reyes had defeated Jon Jones in February.
Blachowicz left no doubt that he is the rightful UFC light heavyweight champion.
Brandon Royval: I’ll admit that I was not on board with Royval after he submitted Tim Elliott in May. My thinking was that Elliott, who had a 2-4 record in his six fights ahead of the Royval matchup, was nearing the end of his run as an elite flyweight. I was wrong about Royval. He looked excellent in his UFC 253 fight against Kai Kara-France. Everything about Royval says that he is the real deal. The 28-year-old is going to give the top of the 125-pound division problems.
Ketlen Vieira: Vieira looked very good in her first fight since Irene Aldana knocked her out in December 2019. Vieira’s striking was more effective as she used her length and power to her advantage. If Vieira can stay active, she could be a problem for the higher ranked women in the bantamweight division.
Hakeem Dawodu: Dawodu’s fight against Zubaira Tukhugov was shaping up to be a great matchup. The first round seemed like a feeling out process. The second round was fantastic as both fighters made minor adjustments in their offense and defense that paid big dividends. Dawodu scored with kicks and body work while Tukhugov used his fast hands and footwork. The turning point was the third round where Dawodu did all he could to engage his opponent, who seemed to perhaps think he had the fight in the bag as he moved backward for the final five minutes.
Brad Riddell: Riddell and Alex Da Silva came out firing in their lightweight contest and Da Silva caught him with a takedown in the first five minutes. That was the last time Da Silva was in control of the fight (with the exception of Da Silva calling his own eye poke.) Riddell’s pace increased in the second round and remained high in the third stanza. Riddell fought a technical and aggressive final 10 minutes and should have won the bout via TKO, but the referee believed a punch was an eye poke and that cost Riddell the stoppage. This was a very good performance from Riddell that should help him advance to a tougher opponent in his next outing.
Jake Matthews: Matthews did not look like he was in any rush during this fight. He didn’t seem like he wanted to take any risks. He seemed more interested in fighting for a win than fighting for a finish and that’s fine with me, but I don’t know if those who saw how big a favorite he was share that thinking. An overwhelming 15-minute decision win for Matthews, who just turned 26 in mid-August.
Ludovit Klein: In the early going of the Klein vs Shane Young matchup, UFC commentator sang the praises of Klein’s head kicks. Klein did an excellent job setting up Young with punches and got him leaning back. With the space Young provided, Klein threw — and landed — a nasty kick that allowed him to wrap things up with his punches early in the first round. The only negative to note is that Klein came in overweight for this short-notice matchup.
William Knight: Knight looks as if he could go pretty far on strength alone. The light heavyweight big brothered Aleksa Camur over the course of their three-round contest. Knight’s kicks were nasty and marked up Camur legs as each one landed and when the fight was on the ground, Knight nearly scored a submission and his ground-and-pound was heavy. One thing that stood out that Knight needs to correct is how he lifted his chin when striking in close at the end of Round 1. Outside of that, he delivered a good performance in defeating Camur.
Juan Espino: Espino came back from a break of almost two years to score a first round submission win over Jeff Hughes. Espino, who was the more athletic of the two fighters, used five takedowns and quick advances on the mat to shore up the scarf hold submission win in the first round. Espino looked pretty good for someone coming off a long time away from the octagon.
Paulo Costa: I don’t know what Costa was thinking when he just ate kick after kick from Adesanya in the first round of the middleweight title fight. Did Costa think those strikes weren’t going to slow him down and take away his power? If so, he was wrong and he paid for it by getting stopped in the second round by Adesanya, who was clearly the better and more technical fighter. As Adesanya said, everyone has power, he has precision and it was that precision that won Adesanya the fight.
Dominick Reyes: It’s hard to know what wrong between Reyes’ fight against Jon Jones and his matchup opposite Jan Blachowicz, but something changed. I thought Reyes would take the experience from his five-round fight against Jones and learn from it. I thought the experience would be beneficial. Neither of those things happened as Blachowicz overwhelmed Reyes from the start of the fight.
Kai Kara-France: Kara-France was in trouble from the early moments of this fight and things did not get better for him from there. Kara-France is a very good fighter, but Brandon Royval was a better fighter tonight.
Sijara Eubanks: Eubanks did not look bad in her matchup against Ketlen Vieira, she just could not deal with her opponents striking. She did much better in the third round than in the first two. Eubanks might have been worried about her gas tank since she fought two weeks ago.
Zubaira Tukhugov: It’s hard to tell what happened in Tukhugov’s corner before the third round, but he spent most of the final five minutes retreating and that might have cost him a win against Hakeem Dawodu.
Alex Da Silva: Da Silva controlled the first five minutes of his matchup with Brad Riddell, but he could not keep up that pace for the final 10 minutes and that cost him. Da Silva will need to shore up his weaknesses, including his cardio, if he wants to advance in the lightweight division.
Diego Sanchez: Sanchez was aggressive and that allowed Jake Matthews to exploit Sanchez’s wild strikes with his much faster counters. Sanchez will always get fans to tune in to his bouts, but that is increasingly to his physical detriment.
Shane Young: Young had not fought since February 2019 and his comeback fight was not a good one. He became the first UFC fighter to land on Ludovit Klein’s highlight reel as he was knocked out in the first round.
Aleksa Camur: Camur looked okay in the clinch against William Knight, but he wasn’t much of a match for his powerful opponent anywhere else.
Jeff Hughes: Hughes offered Juan Espino in their heavyweight contest. Hughes’ stats for the fight was straight zeros. There’s not much else to say about this one for Hughes.
Khadis Ibragimov and Danilo Marques: No one really won in this bout. Ibragimov dropped to 0-4 in the UFC and he seemed to grab the cage more often than he landed a punch. As for Marques, he was at least trying to win. Marques had not fought in over two years ahead of his UFC debut, so it was not a surprise that he looked a little less than stellar. Even folks who are normally positive on social media were dismissive of this long 15-minute bout. Marques won via decision.
UFC: It was nice to see UFC pay tribute to Hispanic Heritage Month during the prelims. However, I couldn’t help but recall the UFC has not done anything for Black History Month for quite a while.
Lukasz Bosacki: Bosacki was the referee in the Brad Riddell vs. Alex Da Silva fight and he cost Riddell a TKO win when he called a punch an eye poke.