UFC 253: Previewing The Return to Fight Island

In what should have been a packed VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena on May 9, President of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Dana White followed through with his plan to revive his company when he held UFC 249 with no fans in attendance. The kicks felt more tangible than ever, each punch to the face felt all the more gut-wrenching, and the clear strategic call-outs brought out an often hidden side of fighting. Amidst the lockdowns, quarantine, and isolation of the coronavirus pandemic, this was the light at the end of the tunnel for martial arts fans.

After bouncing around from Jacksonville to Las Vegas to Abu Dhabi and back to Las Vegas, Dana White and the UFC are heading back to Fight Island, where all events will be held on a popular island in Abu Dhabi called Yas Island. The promotion will hold five events, starting off with UFC 253, a top-heavy pay per view event taking place, this Saturday, September 20 featuring two championship fights at two weight classes: middleweight and light heavyweight.

When relatively unknown light heavyweight contender Dominick Reyes went up against defending champion Jon Jones, who is widely regarded as the greatest mixed martial artist of all time, Reyes shocked fans with his energetic movement and precise striking. While Jones sneaked out with a split-decision victory, fans immediately called for a rematch as they had at last found a worthy opponent for the light heavyweight championship.

So when Jones announced in August that he would relinquish his belt in search for heavyweight gold, the UFC swiftly made a co-main event bout at UFC 253 for Reyes and his opponent Jan Blachowicz for the vacant light heavyweight title. Reyes is the projected favorite due to his showing against Jones, but Blachowicz should not be overlooked. The former Konfrontacja Sztuk Walki (KSW) promotion’s Light Heavyweight Champion has had 34 mixed martial art (MMA) fights compared to Reyes’s 13. In the UFC, he’s garnered attention for knockouts against the top contenders of his division by catching his opponents off guard with explosive punches. However, Blachowicz’s striking works best against stagnant and heavier fighters, which Reyes certainly is not. Reyes can swiftly enter Blachowicz’s range, strike, and evade without getting touched. On the other hand, if Blachowicz tries to enter Reyes’s range, Reyes has shown he can laterally avoid power punches and counter with a left-straight of his own. Though Reyes does not have nearly the same amount of fighting experience that Blachowicz has, Reyes does have the experience of going toe-to-toe against Jones, a match which many considered a victory for Reyes. Based on the styles of the two fighters, Dominick Reyes looks to be the new light heavyweight Champion at UFC 253.

For the main event, champion Israel “The Last Stylebender” Adesanya faces off against Paulo Costa in a grudge match for the Middleweight Championship. Over the past year, Adesanya and Costa have been hurling insults and online jabs at each other, and their contentious interview on SportsCenter has garnered millions of views online.

In addition to their mutual bitterness, the two fighters are nearly exact opposites. Adesanya’s skinny frame is built for technical striking: He is almost exclusively a counter puncher, regularly backing up, timing his shots, and making his opponents pay for their miscalculated aggression. His poor showing last March was solely due to the fact that his opponent, Yoel Romero refused to initiate offense. On the other hand, Costa utilizes his muscular frame to push for his trademark power punches. The one similarity they share is their undefeated MMA records, as Adesanya and Costa have gone 19 fights and 13 fights without losing respectively. However, what Adesanya’s record does not show is the illustrious kickboxing career he had, going 75-5 as a professional kickboxer, and for a technique-based fighter like Adesanya, that experience adds up to championship material; there isn’t a punch, fighter, or style that Adesanya hasn’t seen. Adesanya will likely retain his middleweight belt.

Though the rest of the card doesn’t hold top-name fighters, much anticipation awaits for the co-main event and the main event. Interestingly enough, in one bout, Reyes is favored to win despite his lack of experience, whereas in the other fight, Adesanya has the upper hand because of his experience. The sport of unarmed fighting naturally favors technique and precision over power and brute strength, something both fighters share in common. UFC 253 will be a display of pure championship-level technicality, and the UFC will be riding their wave of success amidst the pandemic.

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