The last time a UFC middleweight champion moved up to light heavyweight during his title reign was when Anderson Silva did so in 2012.
Israel Adesanya will do the same thing as did Silva, the man he grew up idolizing, in the main event of UFC 259 on Saturday in Las Vegas. But there are major differences between what Silva did and what Adesanya will seek to do. Adesanya will face light heavyweight champion Jan Blachowicz in an attempt to become only the fifth fighter in UFC history to hold titles in two weight classes at the same time.
“Adesanya’s move reminds me of when Anderson moved up,” said Brandon Gibson, the coach for UFC pound-for-pound great Jon Jones. “He had a few bouts at light heavyweight against James Irvin and Forrest Griffin. But by no means is Blachowicz a James Irvin or Forrest Griffin. I think Blachowicz is much more of a skilled martial artist — well rounded and much more dangerous.”
Adesanya has a chance to make history Saturday. But does he have what it takes against a bigger, stronger man such as Blachowicz, who happens to have big-time knockout power and durability? Blachowicz is likely to outweigh Adesanya by more than 10 pounds in the Octagon. Adesanya, meanwhile, is one of the best pure kickboxers in MMA history with the ability to outstrike anyone.
There are two other title fights on one of the most stacked UFC cards in some time, too. Amanda Nunes, the women’s featherweight and bantamweight champion, puts her featherweight belt on the line against 6-foot slugger Megan Anderson, and Petr Yan looks to make his first men’s bantamweight title defense against Aljamain Sterling.
Several top coaches and fighters break down Blachowicz vs. Adesanya, as well as the other two title fights, and share their predictions.
Editor’s note: Some content has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Adesanya vs. Blachowicz
Israel Adesanya describes how he’ll approach his weight ahead of his light heavyweight title fight at UFC 259, saying he expects to be below the 205-pound limit.
Anthony Smith, UFC light heavyweight
I’ve been singing Jan’s praises for a long time, all the way back when I came into the division in 2018. He’s very basic, but I don’t want it to seem like it’s simple. He has great fundamentals. He lulls people into his pace. Thiago Santos did a good job of speeding up the pace, and Jan doesn’t do a good job with that frantic kind of style. He does better when he’s fighting at a pace he was when he fought Dominick Reyes, where he can just plod forward, walk you down, and you’re trying to zig and zag and get away — he’s so good at fighting like that. It’s hard to catch that guy out of position unless you’re like Thiago and force him into fighting a pace he doesn’t like, and that’s how he got clipped.
That’s why this matchup is so interesting, because Izzy fights similarly. He doesn’t fight at a crazy-high pace. He’s very much a sniper who sets traps. He’s mobile, but all of his movements are really purposeful. So, they like to fight at the same pace. I don’t see Jan shooting doubles or singles, but Luke Rockhold, his clinch and cagework and grappling game is like the s— of legend in MMA gyms. And Jan did really good against Rockhold. He was able to defend Luke’s takedowns on the fence, and that was crazy impressive to me because of how dangerous Rockhold is in those positions. He seems good at using that to drag you down and fight at his speed. So, if I were Blachowicz, I’d want to use that a little bit and not overextend himself. And if you’re Izzy, you have to get him out of position.
Honestly, this is one of those fights, I really don’t know what’s going to happen. I want to lean toward Blachowicz, I really do. But I’ve kind of learned my lesson counting Izzy out. Every time you start to think, “This might be a little too much,” he just busts right through him. It’s like damn, this guy is really good.
On Unlocking Victory, Gilbert Melendez shows how UFC light heavyweght champion Jan Blachowicz frustrates his opponents with his standup game.
Javier Mendez, American Kickboxing Academy head coach
I will never pick against Adesanya. He’s awesome. I enjoy watching that guy. He has a great MMA IQ. That’s a kickboxer that really knows how to use his game in MMA. That guy is badass. He’s my favorite to watch outside my guys — by far. If he doesn’t knock Blachowicz out, he’s gonna give him a clinic. The other guy has a knockout chance, but I’m sorry — that’s all I give him. Adesanya is just too damn technical and too smart.
If Yoel Romero couldn’t grind out Adesanya, Blachowicz wouldn’t be able to do it. I think Adesanya finishes him. I don’t like talking about finishes, but I think Adesanya could finish the fight early or late. I would say 150 million percent Adesanya has been the best I’ve ever seen at implementing his kickboxing in MMA. I would put my stamp on that. He’s got cat-like reflexes.
I’m very impressed with Adesanya. He’s humble enough. He’s not too humble, but not too cocky, either. To some degree, you have to have a little cockiness in MMA. My fighter Khabib Nurmagomedov is a little cocky, too. You have to have that confidence in yourself, that belief in yourself. If you don’t have that, then there’s no purpose for you to fight.
Belal Muhammad, UFC welterweight
I feel like a lot of people are underestimating Jan. But, man, Adesanya’s striking is just next level. I don’t think the weight difference will be that big a deal. Jon Jones is going up from light heavyweight to heavyweight. He’s going against huge guys, so I feel like he had to put all that muscle on. I don’t think Adesanya does. I think that his precision and his accuracy and his speed are gonna be enough to get him through this guy. I don’t think it’s gonna be that one-punch knockout power, but I feel like volume-wise, he’s gonna be able to pick apart Jan from the outside.
Jan just really needs one punch with his power. But Adesanya is too smart. In that last fight against Paulo Costa, Adesanya showed me how good he is and how smart he is. His striking mentality is a whole other level. I like Adesanya.
In this excerpt from Unlocking Victory, Angela Hill breaks down how Israel Adesanya’s ability to counter led to his knockout win vs. Robert Whittaker.
Brandon Gibson, JacksonWink MMA striking coach
Jan has looked like an amazing knockout artist the past few years, right? He has big wins over Dominick Reyes, Corey Anderson, Luke Rockhold. Jan can fight out of both stances and has a devastating left kick. Look at his Ilir Latifi knockout. He just ran him over with it. Up against the fence is one of those areas where Jan has a real strong advantage. Very strong clinch, can wrestle very well against the fence. He can throw up aggressive submissions, if you look at his Devin Clark fight or Nikita Krylov fight. Sometimes he’ll lose positions going for very aggressive chokes as well.
One thing I’m really impressed with, which is something underrated of Jan, is his double-leg takedown. Look at his fight against Jared Cannonier. He was just running him over in the open mat with double-leg takedowns. Very, very explosive. Jan’s greatest weapon is his left hook, especially when he throws it at the end of a combination or in a clinch break. I think that’s a very gifted strike of his. I think it’s worth noting that Alex Pereira KO’d Adesanya with a right-hook-to-left-hook combination [at Glory of Heroes 7 in 2017].
Adesanya is a genius. I think he’s one of the most brilliant fighters of this generation. Master of distance and rhythm change and counterstrikes and accuracy and defense. With the exception of the Kelvin Gastelum fight, Israel hasn’t taken much damage. His past few matchups have been against great power punchers, like Paulo Costa, Yoel Romero and Robert Whittaker.
Can Jan tire Israel out in the clinch or off the takedown and with the ground work? Can Adesanya kind of evade him and pick his shots and find his opportunities? I think Jan has all the tools to defend the belt. But on this one, I have a personal stake. I’m gonna pick Adesanya. That’s mainly because I want to see a superfight between Israel and my fighter Jon Jones. Raiders Stadium [in Las Vegas], this year. Who knows?
Check out highlights from Israel “The Last Stylebender” Adesanya.
Sayif Saud, Fortis MMA head coach
You’ve got to give Izzy tons of credit. This guy steps up and fights anybody. I think the thing to worry about is Jan is a brick house. He’s a big, solid dude. Izzy’s got power, but Jan’s got more. Izzy can definitely outkickbox him, 100 percent. For five rounds. But if Jan touches him … he could definitely put him out. I think it’s a risky fight for Izzy. Jan has a shot to catch him in the first two or three rounds. He’s a battle-tested guy. He went on a losing streak in the UFC, was on the verge of getting cut and came back and became a champion. Those guys are dangerous. They know what it’s like to lose and build themselves back up. It takes a totally different level of commitment to come back from the bottom.
There aren’t a lot of guys who have done that, to reach the UFC, fail and still reach the top. What was he, 2-4 in the UFC at one point? You won’t find that often. But we’ve seen Izzy against dangerous punchers, and he’s shown he can adapt and figure things out. I think Adesanya is going to go out there and establish the range and pick him apart, see if he can hurt him from the outside. The guy is always adapting. In the Kelvin Gastelum fight, that was a war, and Adesanya just turned it up a notch. When I saw that fifth round, I said, “This guy’s a champion, man.”
Izzy has shown he has the ability to adapt to whatever he needs to. And if he gets confident touching him like he did with Paulo Costa, I think he’ll go after him. He has faced this problem many times, a dangerous guy with punching power. He’s an intelligent guy and getting better and better. I’ll pick Izzy, but I think Jan is a very live ‘dog. He’s a champ.
Before he attempts to defend his light heavyweight title on March 6, check out some of the best moments that have defined Jan Blachowicz’s UFC career.
Din Thomas, MMA coach for Tyron Woodley and others
Yeah, I think Israel runs through him and kind of makes it look easy. Israel right now is on a different level. I’ve watched thousands of fights and I’ve never been more impressed by a live performance than I was by Adesanya’s fight against Paulo Costa — the amount of focus and execution of his game plan in that match. I don’t think Jan has the firepower to match someone like Israel. I think Israel is going to be too slick, too quick, and he’s just going to pick him apart and have his way. I think he’s going to knock him out. I don’t think he’s going to be terribly conservative at all. His speed is on a different level — and not only his physical speed, but his decision-making. He’s on top of it before you can even think about it. He’s just going to pick Jan apart. It’ll be ugly.
Nunes vs. Anderson
On Unlocking Victory, Angela Hill displays how Amanda Nunes uses leg kicks and long jabs early in fights.
Felicia Spencer, UFC women’s featherweight fighter
It’s really hard to bet against Nunes, but I think a lot of people are looking at it like a washout — like, no matter what, she’s going to win. I don’t really see it like that. I might be biased, because I kind of want Megan to win. I think a Megan win would make things really interesting in the division. Obviously, it sets up something really good for me, since I beat Anderson in 2019. So it might just be my own inner bias. But like in any fight, we’ve seen time and time again someone can get caught. Having the right game plan, setting something up the right way can make a big difference.
Especially with Megan’s reach — if she can avoid taking damage and be in a good state of mind for long enough to be able to make a good decision, that could lead to something. Even when I fought Amanda, I could see things going into the fight that I wanted to exploit that I didn’t do, like putting the kind of pressure on Amanda that she doesn’t feel often and that she didn’t used to react well to. Like getting down and dirty in the fight, in the clinch positions and things like that. These are things I didn’t have much success doing, but I can see Megan having a chance to do.
I think Megan’s size is going to play in her favor. I think that’s going to be more of a problem for Amanda than it was for me. Megan is good at using her reach. Amanda hasn’t really faced anyone that tall. I think if Megan were to win, it would have to be that she hurts Amanda and finishes the fight. Amanda has a great team behind her and she’ll also have the right game plan to win the fight. She’ll be ready like she always is to make the right decisions and win each round the way she has to.
If I have to pick, I wouldn’t go against Amanda. But I really want Megan to win for my own benefit. I think it would really spice things up in the division.
Belal Muhammad, UFC welterweight
Amanda Nunes is the GOAT. She’s next level. I feel like she’s gonna be smarter with it. She’s gonna take Megan Anderson down like we saw Holly Holm do against Anderson. Amanda has been fighting smarter lately. She’s gonna take Anderson down and beat her with her grappling, I think. I feel like it’ll end up being a submission, probably in the third round. I think she’ll get a finish.
Brandon Gibson, JacksonWink MMA striking coach
Megan Anderson discusses her upcoming UFC featherweight title shot, and how some of Amanda Nunes’ strengths also provide opportunities.
Nunes is the double champ, in her prime. She’s made it look easy against Hall of Famers and great champions. Her most recent fight, against Felicia Spencer back in June, was just an incredible five-round performance by Nunes. Excellent wrestling, ground-and-pound, submissions. I think her greatest skill factors — or just fight factors — are her aggression and confidence.
Anderson is greatly improved. She had some trouble with our fighter Holly Holm, especially in the clinch-wrestling area. I think Nunes will look to expose that. Megan has great power, excellent accuracy and range. I think the world of her coach, James Krause. He’s a brilliant coach. I’m sure they’re developing a strong game plan. Megan has nothing to lose.
I’m gonna be cheering for the underdog in this one, but I see Nunes retaining her featherweight belt. I think Nunes can get it to the ground and find a ground-and-pound or submission finish. Maybe in the third round.
Yan vs. Sterling
Check out some of the best moments that have defined Petr Yan’s incredible UFC career leading up to UFC 259.
Dominick Cruz, former UFC bantamweight champion
I see Sterling as a specialist. Yan fought one other adversary who was similar to Aljamain Sterling: Magomed Magomedov (twice). They’re 1-1. I believe Magomedov was the perfect matchup to prepare Petr Yan for Aljamain Sterling. The guy is a sick grappler — he’s a pure grappler. He’s looking to grapple you, and there’s no secret about it. He’s looking to take you down and submit you or just hang on you, just like Khabib does. Same style.
While Magomedov did beat Yan once, Yan made the adjustment and was able to beat him in the rematch. As a result, I think Yan can get it done with Sterling. I think Sterling’s wrestling is highly underrated. He’s got way better wrestling and way better grappling than he has shown. You saw what he did to Cory Sandhagen, but that was so fast you couldn’t really see how good he is. With trainer Matt Serra and those other guys on the team, they focus very heavily on tactics and positions in those areas. I think he has the edge there. But the fight starts standing.
Aljamain Sterling is a kick-heavy fighter. And a kick-heavy fighter generally needs space. And Yan moves in and out, in and out. And the stance switch creates another variety as well. I think Yan gets it done.
Belal Muhammad, UFC welterweight
People are still underestimating Aljo a lot. I feel like they underestimate his striking a lot, too. Against Pedro Munhoz, he stood up with him the whole time and he looked good doing it. He’s so good with his front kicks and push kicks, keeping that distance. I’ve been talking to a lot of guys that train in Vegas and they were like, “Man, he’s on another level. He looks good right now, he looks amazing.”
What Sterling did to Sandhagen showed me that his grappling is at another level than a lot of these guys. Sandhagen is one of these dudes — he’s a killer. He’s a monster. I think he’s gonna end up being champion sooner rather than later. But the way Aljo manhandled him on the ground, it just showed that there’s levels to it. Petr Yan’s only loss was to a grappler, a guy who kept taking him down (Magomedov). Now, Aljo is training with that guy. I think Aljo will wind up taking this one. I think it ends up being a decision.
Brandon Gibson, JacksonWink MMA striking coach
Yan is just resilient. He has grit, he has toughness. He showed great stamina and championship composure in the later rounds against Jose Aldo. Excellent striking. And, man, he has a dog fight in him. He’s shined against talented strikers like Aldo and Jimmie Rivera and John Dodson.
For Aljamain Sterling, this is a long time coming. He’s always been in the title mix. He’s definitely grown and evolved very much as a fighter. He might be the most crafty submission artist at 135. In the past, he’s really focused a lot on his long-range kick game and his wrestling. His boxing has become much sharper over the years. I think one of Aljamain’s biggest advantages is his size. He’s one of the bigger 135ers out there. His submission over Sandhagen was ultra-crafty. But I think my biggest unknown for Aljamain is, what is he gonna look like in a five-round bout? What’s he going to look like in Rounds 4 and 5?
I can see this fight playing out mostly on the ground. I think the times they are standing up, Petr Yan is going to have a striking advantage. That and his championship-round experience will be the difference. I’m going with Petr Yan by decision on this one. I think it’s going to be a very close, competitive, back-and-forth fight. I do think Aljamain is gonna be able to find his takedowns. I don’t know if he’s going to be able to hold Yan down long enough to do any kind of real damage.
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