The UFC made their return to Fight Island in Abu Dhabi on Saturday with an action-packed UFC 253. Two title fights topped the card as Israel Adesanya looked to defend his middleweight title in the main event. Standing in his way was undefeated knockout artist Paulo Costa. Plus, the vacant light heavyweight title was on the line in the co-main event. Earlier this year, Dominick Reyes lost a close fight to Jon Jones at UFC 247. He got his chance to fight for gold once again as he faced Jan Blachowicz for the vacant title. Blachowicz entered the fight having won seven of his last eight as he got his first shot at UFC gold. Also on the main card were impressive decision wins from Hakeem Dawodu and Ketlen Vieira.
UFC 253 featured tons of action with back and forth decisions and impressive finishes. With that being said, it is time to take a look at the five standout performances from Saturday night. In order for a fighter to make this list, their performance must stand out among their peers. This could be quick finishes, flashy knockouts, great submissions, dismantling an opponent, or providing an all-around exciting fight. Along with every performance will be a look at what could potentially come next for each fighter.
UFC 253 Standout Performances
#1 Israel Adesanya
def. Paulo Costa via TKO (Strikes) at 3:59 of Round Two
Following his UFC debut in early 2018, Adesanya quickly put together five straight wins in the octagon. Those wins included decision wins over Brad Tavares and Anderson Silva as well as a TKO win over Derek Brunson. Following his win over Silva, Adesanya faced Kelvin Gastelum for the interim title at UFC 236. After a hard-fought five rounds, Adesanya would win the interim title with a unanimous decision win. After he won the interim title, Adesanya’s date with the undisputed champion Robert Whittaker was set for UFC 243. In the second round of that fight, Adesanya finished Whittaker by knockout to become the new UFC middleweight champion. In his last fight, Adesanya made his first title defense as he took on Yoel Romero at UFC 248. The fight saw very little action as Adesnya was awarded the unanimous decision win.
Paulo Costa entered the UFC just a year earlier than Adesanya in 2017 at UFC Fight Night 106. In his debut, Costa faced off against Garreth McLellan and defeated him by TKO in just over a minute. He would win his next fight by TKO as well before earning a fight against former welterweight champion Johny Hendricks. Costa improved his UFC record to 3-0 as he finished Hendricks by TKO in round two. After the win over Hendricks, Costa fought Uriah Hall at UFC 226 and won yet again by TKO in round two. Before getting his shot at the title, Costa faced Yoel Romero at UFC 241. Costa saw the third round for the first time in his career against Romero as he defeated him by unanimous decision.
In the first round, Costa started off pretty slow, throwing barely any punches. Meanwhile, Adesanya was staying busy, landing very good leg kicks to Costa’s lead leg. By the end of the round, Costa’s leg had already been reddened as they headed into the second.
The second round was much of the same story as Costa did not throw many strikes. Adesanya continued to carve up Costa’s lead leg, giving him the chance to go high in this round. He began bringing the kick up as Costa dodged the first few head kicks. Adesanya would end up landing some nice body kicks while still chopping at the leg opening up a perfect head kick that cut up Costa with just over two minutes left. About a minute later, both fighters exchanged in the center of the cage where Adesanya landed the left hand that dropped Costa. Once Costa was down, Adesanya started raining down hammer-fists and elbows before the ref stopped the fight.
After his flawless performance over Paulo Costa, Adesanya named who he would like to face in his next title defense. That name was Jared Cannonier, as Adesanta mentioned he has texted Cannonier and told him he is next if he wins his next fight.
Cannonier’s next fight takes place at UFC 254 as he faces former middleweight champion, Robert Whittaker. Should Cannonier win that fight, he would definitely deserve the next crack at Adesanya’s belt. Cannonier has been on fire since he moved down to the middleweight division in 2018. In his divisional debut, he finished David Branch by TKO in the second round. Then, he would go on to finish Anderson Silva by TKO in their co-main event at UFC 237. In his last outing, Cannonier earned his first main event fight as he faced Jack Hermansson at UFC Fight Night 160. Cannonier won his third straight in that fight, finishing Hermansson in round two by TKO.
If Cannonier gets through Robert Whittaker next month he will undoubtedly be next for Adesanya. But, if Cannonier were to lose, it would not be surprising to see a rematch between Adesanya and Whittaker.
#2 Jan Blachowicz
def. Dominick Reyes via TKO (Punches) at 4:36 of Round Two
After starting his career 6-0, Dominick Reyes earned his shot to fight in the UFC. He made his debut at UFC Fight Night 112 taking on Joachim Christensen. Reyes won the fight in thirty seconds, finishing Christensen by TKO. His next two straight fights would also be finished in the first round with a submission over Jeremy Kimball followed by a TKO win over Jared Cannonier. He would then pick up his first decision wins in the octagon with a UD win over Ovince Saint Preux and a split decision win over Volkan Oezdemir. To earn himself a shot at Jon Jones, Reyes defeated former middleweight champion Chris Weidman by first-round knockout. He brought a very tough fight to Jon Jones but unfortunately would end up losing by unanimous decision. Reyes looked to capitalize on his second shot at gold.
Jan Blachowicz has been fighting in the UFC since 2014 when he defeated Ilir Latifi by TKO in his debut. Following his debut, Blachowicz went 1-4 in his next five fights with the one win coming over Igor Pokrajac. During that time he suffered notable losses to Jimi Manuwa, Corey Anderson, and Alexander Gustafsson. He would then win his next four straight fights, avenging his loss to Manuwa in the process. His win streak was snapped after he hit four straight when he met Thiago Santos at UFC Fight Night 145. Santos defeated him that night by third-round TKO. Blachowicz quickly bounced back, putting together three straight wins heading into UFC 253. Among those wins was a knockout win over former middleweight champion Luke Rockhold. He also avenged his loss to Anderson with a first-round knockout over him at UFC Fight Night 167.
As the first minute and a half of the fight went by, each fighter had landed their own good shots. They started off the round trading some good leg kicks before closing the distance and landing combinations. Just after the three and a half minute mark, Blachowicz landed what would become his best strike of the fight as he capped off a combo with a heavy left body kick right to Reyes’ ribcage. A couple of minutes later, Blachowicz moved in and threw the same combination followed by the hard body kick. Moments later, he marched forward throwing punches, and landed the kick again. At this point, Reyes’ right side looked badly damaged with about a minute to go in the first round. As round one came to a close, it seemed that Blachowicz had done enough to take the lead heading into round two.
Round two started and Reyes knew he had to be a little busier as he came out of the gate with a nice combination followed by an inside leg kick. Reyes did a good job of getting out of the way of Blachowicz’ strikes for a bit before Blachowicz landed a nice combination with just over three minutes left. The round continued and Reyes seemed to be finding more success with his strikes. He continued landing the inside leg kick and some good combinations as well as coming close with his left high kick.
Blachowicz was still in it though as he walked forward and landed another body kick with about a minute left. He then moved forward and landed some nice punches followed by a high kick. Blachowicz moved forward again throwing heavy punches as Reyes nose was most likely broken at this point. But Reyes began to return fire as he started landing his own punches followed by his left high kick. As they continued throwing, Blachowicz eventually landed a left hand that dropped Reyes. After some follow up punches, the ref stepped in and Blachowicz was the new light heavyweight champion.
After his massive finish over Dominick Reyes, Jan Blachowicz quickly called out former light heavyweight champion Jon Jones. If Jones decides to come back and fight at 205 again, that would be a perfect match up as Blachowicz is someone Jones has never faced. However, it does not seem like Jones will be back soon and if he does come back, it could likely be at heavyweight.
With that being said, there is a number one contender fight already lined up for later this year. That fight will take place in November at UFC Fight Night 182 as the main event features former title challengers Thiago Santos and Glover Teixeira. Before Reyes, Santos was the most recent guy to face Jones for the title at UFC 239. Santos also fought a very close fight against Jones but would end up losing by split decision. He suffered injuries to both of his knees during that fight and has been out of competition since. But if he can come back and pick up a big win over Teixeira who has been on quite a streak of his own, he can earn another crack at the title. Santos has also already faced Blachowicz, finishing him by TKO in their meeting at UFC Fight Night 145.
As for Teixeira, he has looked amazing this late in his career lately. Following a unanimous decision loss to Corey Anderson in 2018, Teixeira has not lost since. After the loss, he faced Karl Roberson at UFC Fight Night 143 and submitted him in the first round. He picked up another submission win in his next outing over Ion Cutelaba before a split decision win over Nikita Krylov. In his most recent fight, he dominated former title challenger Anthony Smith in their UFC Fight Night 171 main event, winning by round five TKO. A big win over Santos and Teixeira could be fighting for a title at the age of 41.
#3 Brandon Royval
def. Kai Kara-France via Submission (Guillotine) at 0:48 of Round Two
Coming off season 24 of The Ultimate Fighter, Kai Kara-France did not earn a contract right away. Two years later, he would be signed to the UFC as he made his debut against Elias Garcia at UFC Fight Night 142. He would win in his debut, defeating Garcia by unanimous decision. Kara-France would then win his next two fights defeating Raulian Paiva by split decision and Mark De La Rosa by unanimous decision. He suffered his first loss in the UFC when he met TUF 26 cast-mate, Brandon Moreno, at UFC 245. Moreno defeated him that night by unanimous decision. Kara-France bounced back from the loss in his most recent outing, facing Tyson Nam at UFC Fight Night 168. He defeated Nam in that fight, winning by unanimous decision. He looked to make it two straight with a win at UFC 253.
Originally scheduled to appear on Dana White’s Contender Series, Brandon Royval was given a contract early when the pandemic started to keep fights going. He made his debut in May at UFC on ESPN 9 as he took on UFC veteran Tim Elliott. Royval picked up a big upset win that night as he submitted Elliott with an arm-triangle choke in round two. He looked to keep the momentum rolling during his UFC 253 appearance against Kara-France.
Royval opened up the fight throwing multiple kicks in the first thirty seconds as he backed Kara-France to the fence. But just seconds later, Kara-France lunged forward with a powerful right hand that landed perfectly and dropped Royval. Royval quickly recovered and got back to his feet where he threw a spinning elbow that landed and dropped Kara-France as he was dropped by another Kara-France punch. But once again, Royval quickly got back to his feet and threw what appeared to be an illegal knee. Later in the broadcast, it was shown landing around the neck, making it legal.
Anyway, the fight went on and Royval ended up on his back with Kara-France in his guard. From his back, Royval started working to lock up an omoplata but Kara-France did a good job defending it. Soon, Kara-France was able to get back to his feet, but Royval started to look at attacking a leg. Eventually, Royval ended up on top where he worked to get to multiple positions including the top mount and taking Kara-France’s back. However, Kara-France defended everything very well and soon got back to his feet. Once back on the feet, Royval continued landing really good strikes before dropping Kara-France with a knee. Royval was unsuccessful in a guillotine attempt afterward and Kara-France soon got back to his feet. As the round came to an end, each fighter rocked one another with heavy punches.
Round two began and they picked up right where they left off as Royval pushed forward throwing everything. As he moved forward he was landing knees and head kicks as well as leg kicks. After about thirty seconds had gone by, Kara-France shot for a takedown, and Royval immediately sunk in the guillotine. Moments later, Kara-France was forced to tap as Royval moved to 2-0 in the UFC.
After picking up yet another huge win in just his second UFC outing, it is time to take a look at what could be next for Brandon Royval. He should continue fighting up in the rankings as he has proved that he can compete with the best flyweights. With that being said, a possible opponent for his next fight could be Askar Askarov.
Askarov could currently have a case for a title shot but with Cody Garbrandt getting the next shot and with Brandon Moreno vs. Alex Perez happening soon, Askarov may have to win one more fight, which is where Royval comes in. After putting together an undefeated record of 10-0 outside of the octagon, Askarov made his UFC debut in 2019. That fight happened at UFC Fight Night 159 as he faced off against Brandon Moreno. After three rounds, it was announced that the two had fought to a split draw. Since then, Askarov has won two in a row in the octagon. The first of those wins was at UFC 246 as he defeated Tim Elliott by unanimous decision. In his most recent fight, Askarov defeated Alexandre Pantoja by unanimous decision at UFC Fight Night 172.
#4 Juan Espino
def. Jeff Hughes via Submission (Arm Triangle) at 3:48 of Round One
It has been a long time since Juan Espino has stepped foot in the octagon. In 2018, he competed on season 28 of The Ultimate Fighter. He made it all the way to the final round of the show as he met Justin Frazier at the TUF 28 Finale. Espino defeated Frazier in the first round, submitting him with a straight armlock. Unfortunately, due to injuries, Espino has been on the sidelines since and finally made his return at UFC 253.
Facing Espino in his return to the octagon would be Jeff Hughes. Hughes earned his shot in the UFC coming off the Contender Series as he appeared in the sixth week of season two. To earn himself a contract, Hughes defeated Josh Appelt by first-round TKO in that fight. He made his debut the following year at UFC Fight Night 146 as he took on TUF 28 alum, Maurice Greene. Hughes lost that fight as Green was awarded the split decision win. His next fight was at UFC Fight Night 158 as an accidental eye poke caused his fight with Todd Duffee to be a no contest. In his most recent outing, Hughes faced off against Raphael Pessoa at UFC Fight Night 162, losing by unanimous decision. Hughes hoped to grab his much needed first win at UFC 253.
During the first minute or so of the fight, Espino did a good job of changing levels and then coming over the top with an overhand right. He landed that a few times before he moved in and actually began looking for a takedown. Espino got Hughes down but he still had to put in some extra effort to secure the takedown. After he got Hughes down, Espino quickly moved into side control.
Hughes was soon able to move towards the fence and get back to his feet but Espino quickly pulled him back down. Hughes was once again able to stand back up to his feet but Espino stuck on him and dragged him down immediately after. Time and time again, Hughes would get back to his feet for a second and then quickly be pulled back down. Eventually, Espino got into a position where he locked up a scarf hold that forced Hughes to tap in seconds.
After nearly two years away from the octagon due to injuries, Espino came back in a huge way at UFC 253. Being an Ultimate Fighter winner, why not give him somewhat of a big step up in his next fight? That fight being against Ilir Latifi who recently made his UFC heavyweight debut after 12 straight UFC bouts at 205 pounds.
While at light heavyweight, Latifi put together a record of 7-5 with notable wins over Ovince Saint Preux, Tyson Pedro, and Gegard Mousasi. His wins over OSP and Pedro came back-to-back, but he would end up losing his next two straight after that before moving up to heavyweight. The first of those was a unanimous decision loss to Corey Anderson, followed by a knockout loss to Volkan Oezdemir. Latifi moved up to heavyweight in his most recent fight as he faced off against former title challenger Derrick Lewis. That fight took place earlier this year at UFC 247as Lewis would defeat Latifi by unanimous decision. After three straight losses, a fight against Espino gives Latifi the chance to bounce back while Espino gets a chance to inch closer to the top fifteen.
#5 Ludovit Klein
def. Shane Young via Knockout (Strikes) at 1:16 of Round One
After starting his career 11-3, Shane Young made his UFC debut in November 2017. That fight occurred at UFC Fight Night 121 as he faced Alexander Volkanovski. Young ended up losing his debut as the soon-to-be champion defeated him by unanimous decision. Young picked up his first UFC win in his next fight as he finished Rolando Dy by second-round TKO at UFC Fight Night 132. In his most recent fight, Young extended his win streak to two in a row. That win came against Austin Arnett at UFC 234 as he won the fight by unanimous decision. Young looked to win his second straight as he took on Ludovit Klein at UFC 253.
Making his pro debut in 2014, Klein quickly put together a record of 16-2 outside of the octagon. In his last three fights before earning a shot in the UFC, Klein fought three times under the Oktagon MMA banner. In those three fights, he finished each of them by KO/TKO. The first of them was a first-round TKO win over Willian Lima at Oktagon MMA 12. He would then go on to defeat Joao Paulo Rodrigues de Silva by knockout in the third round of their matchup. Finally, in his most recent outing, Klein picked up another first-round TKO win as he defeated Lukasz Sajewski.
Through the first minute of the round, there was not much action as each guy did a good job of getting out of the way of each other’s strikes. However, just over a minute into the round Klein would land a head kick followed by a couple of punches that dropped Young. Klein moved in to land the fight-ending ground and pound as the ref quickly stepped in to stop the fight.
After a big performance in his UFC debut, it is time to take a look at who Klein could face in his sophomore outing. However, he did miss weight before his fight at UFC 253 so he should not deserve any big jump in competition. A possible opponent for his next fight could be against Chris Fishgold.
Fishgold is 1-3 since he entered the UFC in 2018 with his last two being losses. He made his debut in October of 2018 when he faced off against Calvin Kattar at UFC Fight Night 138. Fishgold lost to Kattar that night in the first round as Kattar finished him by TKO. Following the loss to Kattar, Fishgold faced off against Daniel Teymur at UFC Fight Night 145. He picked up his first win in the octagon that night as he submitted Teymur with a rear-naked choke in the second round. In his last two fights, he would end up losing to Makwan Amirkhani and Jared Gordon. The loss to Amirkhani occurred at UFC Fight Night 153 as he was submitted in the second round with an anaconda choke. His most recent loss was against Gordon as Gordon defeated him by unanimous decision at UFC on ESPN 13.
Next week the UFC remains on Fight Island with a women’s bantamweight main event at UFC on ESPN 16. That main event will feature former bantamweight champion Holly Holm as she takes on rising contender Irene Aldana. Since the beginning of 2018, Holm has put together a record of 2-1. After a featherweight title loss to then-champion Cris Cyborg in 2017, Holm faced Megan Anderson at UFC 225. She ended up winning the fight by unanimous decision, earning her a bantamweight title shot against Amanda Nunes. She would lose that fight by TKO in the first round. In her most recent fight, Holm defeated former title challenger Raquel Pennington by unanimous decision at UFC 246.
As for Aldana, she has appeared twice as much as Holm has since the start of 2018, putting together a record of 5-1. From 2018 to mid-2019 she had put together a three-fight win streak starting off with a unanimous decision win over Talita Bernardo. Her next win came at UFC 228 where she defeated Lucie Pudilova by split decision. In her third straight win, Aldana earned her first finish in the UFC when she faced former title challenger Bethe Correira. That fight happened at UFC 237 as she submitted Correira in the third round with an armbar. After that, Aldana would lose by split decision to Raquel Pennington at UFC on ESPN 4. In her first fight following the loss, Aldana took on Vanessa Melo at UFC Fight Night 159, defeating her by unanimous decision. In her last fight, Aldana finished Ketlen Vieira by knockout at UFC 245.
Be sure to check back here next week for a chance to catch UFC on ESPN 16’s standout performances.
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