The UFC 259 fight card was a long, but entertaining. The event opened with five straight finishes and closed with one title changing hands by disqualification, one fighter remaining a two-division champion and another competitor failing to claim a second title while also losing their perfect record.
In the main event of the evening, Jan Blachowicz retained his light heavyweight crown with a patient and poised performance. With the decision win, Blachowicz sent UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya back to New Zealand with the first loss of his 21-fight MMA career.
As for Adesanya, he took the loss in stride, simply saying, “dare to be great.”
In the co-main event, Amanda Nunes dominated Megan Anderson in defense of her women’s featherweight crown. With the win, Nunes, who also holds the women’s bantamweight title, has nine straight UFC title fights and moved her overall winning streak to 12 in a row.
The title that changed hands was the bantamweight belt. Petr Yan, in his first attempted defense of the 135-pound title, landed a blatantly illegal knee to the head of Aljamain Sterling. The blow left Sterling unable to continue and he was awarded the belt via disqualification.
Read on for the winners and losers from the UFC 259 fight card, which took place at UFC Apex in Las Vegas. The pay-per-view event streamed on ESPN+ following prelims on ESPN and ESPN+ and early prelims on ESPN+ and UFC Fight Pass.
Jan Blachowicz: Jan Blachowicz was patient and controlled throughout his light heavyweight title fight opposite Israel Adesanya. Yes, he bit on too many feints, but Adesanya was unable to capitalize on Blachowicz’s movements. As expected, Adesanya was the quicker of the two fighters and Blachowicz was the more powerful, but the real difference came when the fight hit the ground. Blachowicz overwhelmed Adesanya there and kept his lighter foe from getting to his feet.
Blachowicz might be the most underrated UFC champion right now, but I doubt that matters to him because, the fact is, he is the champion and he is also a defending champion.
Israel Adesanya: Things did not go Israel Adesanya’s way in the main event. He dropped a decision to Jan Blachowicz, but he did so at light heavyweight and he fought at what seemed to be his walking around weight. It was the first loss of his MMA career, but let’s consider what he did for a second and give him credit for at least attempting to win a second title and be competitive why doing so over a much larger opponent. As Adesanya said after the fight, “dare to be great.” He did that and even though he failed, he seemed to have no regrets. Not many fighters with perfect records would have taken that risk.
Amanda Nunes: Amanda Nunes defended her featherweight title with ease at UFC 259. The win was not unexpected. The question now is what will the UFC do with the women’s 145-pound division?
Islam Makhachev: After his win over Drew Dober, Islam Makhachev said Dober was a good striker and that’s why he took the easy way to his win — take him down, make him tired and make him tap. I mean, that’s what happened.
Khabib Nurmagomedov expects Makhachev to become the next lightweight champion. That’s a lot of pressure, but Makhachev seems eager to live up to the expectations his friend has put upon him.
Makhachev was masterful against Dober, the UFC needs to test him in his next outing.
Dominick Cruz: One thing I noticed in this fight was the former champion did not seem to move at distance as much as he did in the past. Cruz used his footwork and movement when he moved in to striking range, which seemed to throw off Casey Kenney for a short while, but not for the entire contest. Cruz didn’t look bad and he got the win, but I would like to know if that change was part of his strategy or something he needed to do because of age, cardio, injuries or speed.
Song Yadong vs. Kyler Phillips: Kyler Phillips had a fast, effective and violent start to his fight opposite Song Yadong, attempting and landing some impressive kicks, including a head kick that seemed to bring some noise from everyone in attendance at the UFC Apex, but Yadong ate those strikes and kept moving forward.
Phillips never let up his attacks and Yadong never backed down. The fight went the distance and Phillips took the unanimous decision. Yes, Yadong lost a fight where he was a 2-1 favorite, but the effort and entertainment factor in this fight was high. With that, I’m hard pressed to call either fighter a loser in this high-level bantamweight scrap.
Askar Askarov: Trevor Wittman had a good assessment of Askar Askarov during Askarov’s fight opposite Joseph Benavidez. Wittman said that Askarov was controlling every aspect of the fight and forcing Benavidez to make mistakes.
The only thing to add to Wittman’s words is that Askarov made it look easy on his way to a win. Askarov could very well be the next challenger for the UFC flyweight title.
Kai Kara-France: Kai Kara-France spent most of the first round fighting off choke attempts and trying to relieve the unpleasantness of a body lock. He succeeded in doing so and got to his feet as the clock closed on the first round and scored an incredible knockout win over Rogerio Bontorin. There was no quit in Kara-France on Saturday night.
Tim Elliott: In the early going of the Tim Elliott vs Jordan Espinosa matchup, the UFC commentators mentioned Espinosa had a speed advantage over almost all UFC flyweights. Elliott did an excellent job of neutralizing that speed by getting the fight to the mat and keeping it there. Elliott racked up some significant ground control time on his way to a one-sided decision win.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Elliott called Espinosa a “woman beater” near the end of the second round, something the UFC mics picked up in the mostly empty UFC Apex.
This was an impressive performance from Elliott, who is looking to get himself back in the mix at 125 pounds.
Kennedy Nzechukwu: Kennedy Nzechukwu took a long while to get started against Carlos Ulberg, but once he did, he showed that his experience was a difference maker. Nzechukwu took a lot of shots from Ulberg, but his defense was much better than his opponent and that allowed him to stay in the fight and catch Ulberg with strikes of his own. Nzechukwu didn’t have a perfect performance, but he had a much better outing than his opponent, who Nzechukwu put away at the 3:19 mark of the second stanza.
Sean Brady: Sean Brady moved to 4-0 in the UFC and 14-0 overall with an excellent performance against Jake Matthews at UFC 259. Brady didn’t look bad on his feet, but he showed he is a monster on the mat. Brady completely dominated Matthews on the ground. He was calm and poised. He never forced positions on the ground, but he was always busy looking to make something happen. Brady ended Matthews’ three-fight winning streak. After the win, the 28-year-old called for a ranked opponent.
With the win, Sean Brady has reached “guy” status in the welterweight division.
Amanda Lemos: Amanda Lemos opened her MMA career with four first-round TKO wins. She added another striking stoppage in 2016, but things went dry for her as far as knockouts after that. Lemos turned things around at UFC 259 when she scored a first-round TKO win over Livia Renata Souza. Souza had nothing to offer Lemos in the striking department. Souza’s body language seemed to show that she wanted no part of that striking. Lemos dropped Souza early with a hook and not long after that first knockdown, a second knockdown followed via a jab. That jab was the finisher.
Uros Medic: Medic staggered Aalon Cruz with a left hook early in the lightweight bout and then teed off with nearly 50 unanswered strikes as referee Mark Smith allowed Cruz to take an unnecessary beating before ending things at 1:40 of the first round.
Medic got hit with two significant strikes in his DWCS fight in 2020. At UFC 259, Cruz hit him with zero.
An impressive UFC debut.
Trevin Jones: According to UFC commentator Jon Anik, Trevin Jones said he was going to kick off the UFC 259 fight card with a bang. If true, that was an understatement. Jones was behind in the striking in the first round, but he got things sorted at the start of the second. Jones threw a perfectly timed right shovel hook that dropped Mario Bautista. Several undefended hammerfists brought the fight to an end and Bautista did not offer any argument about the referee stepping in. A beautiful knockout win from Jones.
Megan Anderson: It felt and looked like the first time Amanda Nunes touched Megan Anderson the featherweight title fight was over. It also seemed as if Nunes did Anderson a favor by not beating her senseless and instead giving her the opportunity to submit.
Aljamain Sterling: Sterling left Vegas with the UFC bantamweight title. He didn’t exactly win the belt as much as Petr Yan gave it to him by landing an illegal knee.
Sterling was in a no win situation after the knee landed. If he continued to fight, Sterling would have been severely compromised. If he did not continue, he would hear criticism from fans about how he became the champ. With Sterling unable to fight on, that criticism came. It shouldn’t have. I understand the unhappiness, but no one should blame Sterling for how the title changed hands especially after he expressed his displeasure about how things turned out.
In the big picture, the concern should be for Sterling’s health more than who has the title right now.
Petr Yan: Petr Yan was fighting well and looked to be on his way to retaining his bantamweight title until he threw one of the most illegal knees in UFC history. The knee landed to a downed Aljamain Sterling and after a long and drawn out process the fight was waved off and the title went to Yan. Yan lost this fight the moment he made the decision to throw that knee.
Drew Dober: Drew Dober had absolutely nothing to offer Islam Makhachev. That’s it. End of story.
Casey Kenney: Casey Kenney struggled with the movement of Dominick Cruz early in this bantamweight contest, but he got his timing down near the end of the first round and had some luck with his kicks. However, his hands didn’t seem as effective as Cruz’s and Kenney looked as if he missed on his counters more often than Cruz connected. It was not a bad performance from Kenney, but Cruz was slightly better on Saturday night than Kenney.
Joseph Benavidez: In his first 33 professional fights, Joseph Benavidez went 28-5 and never lost two fights in a row. On Saturday, the former flyweight title challenger dropped his third straight contest when he dropped a one-sided decision to Askar Askarov. With three straight setbacks, no clear path to a title fight and a wage the UFC would consider high, Benavidez might not be long for the UFC.
Rogerio Bontorin: Bontorin muscled Kara-France to the ground early and then worked a choke. Bontorin controlled the fight for most of the first round, but things turned ugly for him when Kara-France showed his tank was not empty and he floored Bontorin with strikes to end the fight before the horn sounded to end the first stanza.
Jordan Espinosa: Not only did Tim Elliott beat Jordan Espinosa, at one point of the fight, Espinosa opened a cut on Elliott’s head and Elliott seemed to intentionally allow his blood to leak into Espinosa’s eye. That’s just mean.
Carlos Ulberg: Carlos Ulberg had much more confidence than he had striking defense at UFC 259. Ulberg was incredibly aggressive in his striking and he showed some flashes of impressiveness, but overall, Ulberg needs a lot of work before he will reach what was once considered “UFC quality.”
Jake Matthews: Jake Matthews did a nice job on the feet opposite Sean Brady, but he was no match on the mat and unfortunately for Matthews, that’s where most of the fight took place.
Livia Renata Souza: Amanda Lemos backed Livia Renata Souza to the cage in the early moments of the first round and then used her striking to quickly get Souza out of the octagon. Souza was no match on the feet with Lemos. The fight showed that Souza needs a lot of work on every aspect of her striking.
Aalon Cruz: Uros Medic put a vicious beating on Cruz in their lightweight bout. There’s not much else to say about this one.
Mario Bautista: Mario Bautista had a good first round against Trevin Jones. He did not have a good second round as Jones caught him with a beautiful right that ended the fight. Bautista has some good striking, but he got caught flush in this one.
Joe Rogan: While the doctor and referee were sorting out the Yan vs. Sterling fight, Rogan said he did not feel as if the title should change hands on a disqualification due to an intentional illegal blow. I’m sorry, but in that situation, Rogan shouldn’t be allowed to muddy the waters and express his opinion. That’s what he was doing. He created an environment where other felt emboldened to question the rules and say that Yan should have kept the belt.
Rogan also went against his own word when he interviewed a compromised, possibly concussed fighter. I know Sterling wanted to speak on the mic after the fight, but there was no reason to allow him to do so. Sterling should have been with a doctor that entire time. He wasn’t. Rogan is partially to blame for that. Fingers should also be pointed at the UFC and the Nevada State Athletic Commission.
Aleksandar Rakic vs. Thiago Santos: If fans were hoping for a statement performance from the highly ranked Aleksandar Rakic or Thiago Santos, they left UFC 259 disappointed. Neither fighter seemed interested in fully committing and both men fought very cautiously. With the light heavyweight title on the line at the top of this card, the expectation should have been for a bigger performance. Rakic was ranked No. 4 in the 205-pound weight class entering this contest and Santos was ranked No. 2. Rakic should move up the rankings, but I don’t expect anyone to call for him to get a title fight off this performance.