A year ago, the UFC put together UFC 236 with two interim title fights. The first was Kelvin Gastelum facing Israel Adesanya for the interim middleweight title. The second was Dustin Poirier facing Max Holloway for the interim lightweight title. MMASucka presents Fight Card Flashbacks, starting with UFC 236, which was arguably event of the year in 2019.
UFC 236 Honorable mentions
Apart from the two title fights, UFC 236 had some other entertainers. The main card kicked off with Ovince Saint-Preux facing Nikita Krylov. The two had faced each other before. In fact Krylov had lost to Saint-Preux, in his first move up to the light heavyweight bracket. Saint-Preux, submitted Krylov with a von-flue choke. OSP is in fact known for how good he is with the Von-Flue choke. But Krylov had since improved. He won ten out of twelve fights since that loss. His only losses came against Jan Blachowicz and Misha Cirkunov. So while this was a rematch, it was as good as two new fighters facing off. Krylov and OSP squared off, but this time it would be Krylov who walked away with the win.
There was a second light heavy-weight bout at UFC 236. This time it was between Khalil Rountree Jr. and Eryk Anders. Both fighters were explosive and dangerous. But Rountree Jr. had spent time training in Thailand, and it showed. Rountree’s performance was clean and dominant. He landed four knockdowns. He landed over five times the number of significant strikes as his opponent. His performance earned him a spot on Joe Rogan’s podcast where he told his story with touching honesty.
Gastelum vs. Adesanya
What an epic fight this was. At the time, Gastelum was the latest of Ali Abdelaziz’s fighters to reach a title stage. Kamaru Usman, Henry Cejudo and Khabib Nurmagomedov all had titles by then. Truth be told, Gastelum may have won the title at UFC 234 when he was supposed to face then champion Robert Whittaker. However, that was not to be. Whittaker pulled out due to injury and Adesanya faced Anderson Silva in the main event. He picked up the win against his idol, Silva. Just after, Gastelum posed with Cejudo’s title.
“Hey Kelvin, put that belt down!” quipped Adesanya from inside the cage.
Everything about this fight was amazing. Adesanya was already making a name for himself as a wily striker with fantastic head movement and terrific range. At six feet, four inches, he had a significant height advantage over Gastelum who is five foot nine inches. The last Stylebender alluded to this at the face-off.
Gastelum on the other hand was displaying incredible cardio in the vlogs leading up to the fight. He also showed his one punch knock-out power against Michael Bisping.
The clash of styles was as interesting in their walk-outs. Adesanya sauntered out. Gastelum sprinted out.
The fight itself was a classic with both fighters having their share of moments. For Adesanya, a number of question mark kicks and other long range jabs had landed. The biggest highlight was the spinning elbow which landed flush. For Gastelum, it was when Adesanya was rocked a couple of times. Notably towards the end of the fourth round, Gastelum connected with a high kick and followed it up with a flurry. As Izzy retreated and Gastelum went for a takedown. Some fans are to this day critical of that decision.
At this point in the fight, the wide consensus was that both fighters had two rounds each. But it would be Adesanya who would dig deep and come out the clear winner of the last round. Gastelum was on the verge of getting knocked out as the round ended. As the round was starting, Israel kept repeating “heart of a lion” in his native tongue. He would later tell the world that he was ready to die in there. The judges awarded Izzy the unanimous decision. Izzy broke down when he got the belt and his coach Eugene Bareman entered the spotlight that night. It was a sign of things to come for the rest of the year.
Holloway vs. Poirier
The second interim title fight was the main event. At this point, fans had already gotten their money’s worth. Poirier and Holloway gave us the icing on the cake. Apart from being amazing fighters, both are beloved by fans for their kindness. The two had faced off before as Poirier held a win over a young Holloway.
Now Holloway was considered the favourite going in. He was just coming off a big win against Brian Ortega from UFC 231. It was a performance so dominant that Holloway looked unstoppable. One of Holloway’s traits is his cardio, particularly in the later rounds. Poirier himself was on a streak, beating the likes of Eddie Alvarez, Justin Gaethje and Anthony Pettis.
The fight delivered. Both men landed almost an equal a number of significant strikes. Poirier seemed to have a greater impact as Max suddenly looked small for the bigger weight class he was competing in. The judges ruled in Poirier’s favour.
Adesanya would go on to unify the middleweight title by beating Whittaker at UFC 243. Poirier unfortunately would lose to Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 242. All in all, UFC 236 was one of the best cards that the UFC put on last year. Most importantly, it may have been the bullet that silenced critics of the interim title concept. No one said it better than Dana White.
Featured image: Embed from Getty Images