This last weekend we saw arguably two of the greatest title fights in the history of the UFC. A pair of five round wars to decide the Interim Middleweight and Lightweight champion respectively were the standout highlights of a card many anticipated to be one of the most exciting this year. The Co-Main Event saw rising star and elite striker Israel ‘The Last Stylebender’ Adesanya take on the equally formidable Kelvin Gastelum, with the winner moving on to face Undisputed Middleweight Champion Robert Whittaker later in the year. Gastelum had previously been booked to face Whittaker a few months prior at UFC 234 in Melbourne, however Whittaker was forced to withdraw from the bout due to a hernia that could have proved fatal had the fight taken place. As the fight was pulled from the card, much to the disappointment of fans who were eager to see Whittaker face this latest test after two wars with Yoel Romero, Israel Adesanya and Anderson Silva stepped up to fill the main event slot. Adesanya won the fight by unanimous decision and this was seen by many as a passing of the torch, due to Adesanya’s similar fighting style to that of Silva’s. This victory prompted the creation of the fight between Adesanya and Gastelum which did not disappoint.
In the main event of UFC 236, current Featherweight Champion Max ‘Blessed’ Holloway challenged himself by moving up a weight class to face Dustin ‘The Diamond’ Poirier for the Interim Lightweight Title, with the winner moving on to face Undisputed Lightweight Champion Khabib Nurmagomedov after his suspension for his involvement in the post-fight brawl at UFC 229 in September. Holloway came into fight the -210 favourite, however it was Poirier who stepped up to shock the crowd in Atlanta’s State Farm Arena, walking Holloway down for the duration of the fight and landing the lion’s share of the damage inflicting strikes.
The rest of the card saw Khalil Rowntree JR. come back from his devastating KO loss to young star Johnny Walker to convincingly beat Eryk Anders at Light Heavyweight, landing 158 significant strikes over the three five-minute rounds, scoring several knockdowns to earn him a unanimous decision victory.
At Welterweight, Alan Jouban took on Dwight Grant, losing a very close split-decision which enraged Jouban, who in his post-fight interview stated his desire to speak to the judges and ask about their background in Martial Arts so as to better understand their reasoning behind what he saw as a clear win for himself.
Opening the main card at Light Heavyweight, Nikita Krylov was able to submit Ovince Saint Preux via a Rear Naked Choke in the second round. Krylov lost their first bout at UFC 171 in 2014 to a submission, so was clearly fired up for their second meeting, despite Saint Preux stating his desire to beat Krylov in a similar or worse way than last time.
The UFC 236 Prelims were made special by two fights in particular. Germany’s Khalid Taha proved his potential at Bantamweight by steamrolling his way through Hawaii’s Boston Salmon in just 24 seconds, landing ten strikes to Salmon’s zero, before a perfect left hook folded the Honolulu native, finishing the fight with ground and pound strikes to earn a TKO victory and improve his record to 12-2. The other fight that took centre stage in the prelims ended in similar fashion, with Flyweight’s Wilson Reis and Alexandre Pantoja squaring off. Less than three minutes into the fight, Pantoja was able to land a beautifully timed right hand and finished with ruthless ground and pound to earn his TKO victory. The two other fights in the prelims saw Max Griffin end Zelim Imadaev’s unbeaten run at Welterweight by outworking him to a majority decision victory, and at Lightweight Matt Frevola was able to outpoint Jalin Turner to a unanimous decision victory.
To many, Kelvin Gastelum would be the first real test for Israel Adesanya. The number 4 ranked fighter is a formidable opponent, with brutal wins over former Middleweight Champion Michael Bisping (KO), Jacare Souza (Decision) and Vitor Belfort (KO). Gastelum’s boxing skills would prove to be a cause of concern for Adesanya, who was visibly rocked by a strong right-hand in the opening round. However, Adesanya, whose power was questioned by many, proved his doubters wrong, dropping Gastelum in the second round with a looping right-hand.
Gastelum’s moment came in the fourth, catching Adesanya with an unexpected head kick which sent Israel stumbling back towards the fence. Had Gastelum continued striking at this point, it looked possible for him to finish the fight, with referee Mark Goddard asking for a response from Adesanya. Instead, Gastelum strangely decided to shoot for a double leg takedown, which was shrugged off by Adesanya, who showed phenomenal takedown defence to stand up and continue to punish Gastelum with accurate and powerful strikes.
In the end, it was the accuracy of Adesanya which proved to be the difference, dropping Gastelum twice in the fifth and final round with clean punches, almost finishing the bout in the final seconds. After the final bell, the two warriors showed their appreciation of each other’s efforts, embracing as Jon Anik described the fight as ‘one of the best championship fights you will see’, a statement echoed by UFC owner Dana White in the post-fight press conference, with the fight earning the Fight of the Night bonuses.
The judges each scored the contest 48-46 in favour of New Zealander Adesanya, who now moves on to face Australian Robert Whittaker for a Middleweight Unification bout for the right to be called the Undisputed Middleweight Champion of The World. Here’s to hoping for another classic match-up and another thrilling Adesanya performance. As for Gastelum, he moves down the Middleweight rankings to number 5, with his next fight potentially taking shape in the form of number 2 ranked Yoel Romero, or rising prospect Paulo Costa.
The Main Event
The main event treated fans at The State Farm Arena to another classic title fight for the Interim Lightweight Title. A lot was laid on the line for this bout; Max Holloway was moving up a division to challenge number 3 ranked Lightweight Dustin Poirier, putting at risk his unbelievable 13 fight win streak at Featherweight, which featured milestone victories against the likes of Jose Aldo and Brian Ortega. For Poirier, this was his chance to prove that he was worthy of a title shot against Khabib Nurmagomedov, after two thrilling victories over Eddie Alvarez and fan-favourite Justin Gaethje.
The big question going into the fight was whether or not Holloway’s power would be transferred due to the difference in weight. Known typically as a volume striker, it became quickly evident that Holloway’s power was not up to the level of Poirier’s, with The Diamond almost finishing the fight within the opening round, landing huge punches, forcing Holloway to cover up. However, being the champion that he is, Holloway refused to back down, pushing back against Poirier’s advances, challenging his opponent to fight harder.
The third and fourth round saw the peak of the fight for Holloway, as he rocked Poirier with fast, accurate volume strikes, pushing Poirier back up against the fence, landing strikes to the body and head respectively. Poirier was visibly rattled by the exchanges but was able to land a vicious knee to the head of Holloway, opening up a nasty cut on the forehead that proceeded to leak blood into Holloway’s eyes. However, this only motivated the Hawaiian, calling for Poirier to stand and bang with him. Poirier rallied in the fifth round, with both men swinging for the fences in the last ten seconds of a truly unbelievable title fight. The fight was scored 49-46 by all three judges in favour of Poirier, who was visibly fired up at the end of the fight, knowing he had finally captured UFC gold. The bout also won Fight of the Night bonuses and ended a truly historic card.
The next event sees Alistair Overeem take on Aleksei Oleinik in the main event of Fight Night St Petersburg in what promises to be an exciting bout. The next big event we see will take place on May 12th at the Jeunesse Arena in Rio de Janeiro, where the Brazilian takeover features the likes of Jessica Andrade, Anderson Silva and Jose Aldo to name but a few, with ‘Thug’ Rose Namajunas putting her Women’s Strawweight Title on the line. 2019 certainly promises to be one of the most thrilling and monumental years in the history of the UFC.
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