The return to Fight Island brought the continued dominance of the middleweight champion, the coronation of a new light heavyweight champion, and the emergence of a new flyweight competitor.
Israel Adesanya found a way to hold onto his title and unbeaten record with a win over previously undefeated Paulo Costa. While Costa's power was often discussed in the run-up, Adesanya's relentless kick enabled him to hit his mark and come out with the second round victory.
Jan Blachowicz silenced the doubters – and quota makers – with a brilliant performance over Dominick Reyes that ended with Reyes on the floor and his ribs turning a purple hue. Blachowicz wasn't the fighter many expected to hold the light heavyweight title in 2020, but the statement has been made and his reign at the top of the division is now beginning.
Brandon Royval also turned heads in a highly entertaining match with Kai Kara-France tonight. The two flyweights held nothing back and Royval's agility led him to a big win and a place in the top 10 of the division.
Where do the winners and losers go from here? Brett Okamoto is investigating the possible matchups under UFC 253.
Israel Adesanya (defeated Paulo Costa by TKO in the second round)
Israel Adesanya used his kicks to dominate Paulo Costa, preparing Costa for a final spate of strikes that resulted in a second round of TKO. Josh Hedges / Zuffa LLC
Who should be next: Robert Whittaker v Jared Cannonier winner on October 24th
When Adesanya left for Saturday, he was already talking about fighting Cannonier next. The champion is very good at Cannonier's ability (like many of us) and predicted he would "destroy" Whittaker on Fight Island next month. In this case, making Cannonier the best contender is a breeze. He's been a monster since moving to middleweight in 2018. If Whittaker wins it will be less of a breeze, as Adesanya beat Whittaker for the title less than a year ago.
This fight would be less of a blast from the promotional side, but the reality is that Whittaker shouldn't be denied a title shot if he wins next month. He has lost once in the past six years. And personally I would very much like Adesanya vs. Whittaker II interested.
Placeholder: Winner of Darren Till against Jack Hermansson on December 15th
Despite the fact that he has suffered defeat, it doesn't feel like Till is far from a title shot. At all. He's incredibly popular, and Adesanya pretty much has said that it's inevitable that they'll fight at some point. If this fight takes place it will be big and there is a chance it will come next if Till decisively wins in December. Don't forget how the UFC Till accelerated to its first welterweight title in 2018.
Paulo Costa, middleweight
Who should be next: Robert Whittaker loses to Jared Cannonier on October 24th.
Well you know what they're saying. Someone's "0" had to go on Saturday, and in the end it was Costas. There isn't much to be annoyed about here, however. Costa is only 29 years old and still has many elite years to go. And if you look at his résumé, he actually didn't fight many of his fellow weights near the top of the division: Whittaker, Cannonier, Darren Till, Jack Hermansson, Derek Brunson, and Kelvin Gastelum. I am interested in each and every one of them.
And although he lost to Adesanya on Saturday, there was obviously a lot of heat in this matchup and I doubt the UFC would avoid making it again if Costa wins a few fights and Adesanya is still champion. In terms of the immediate future, it makes the most sense to pair Costa with the loser of this fight next month.
Placeholder: Kelvin Gastelum
Stylistically, this is one of the top matchups for Costa. The only problem is that, as I understand it, Gastelum wants to fight sooner rather than later. But if the UFC sinks its teeth into this fight because it's who the promotion wants, I could see it's next for Costa.
Jan Blachowicz (defeated Dominick Reyes by TKO in the second round)
Jan Blachowicz defeated Dominick Reyes to win the UFC light heavyweight title at UFC 253. Josh Hedges / Zuffa LLC
Who should be next: Winner of Thiago Santos against Glover Teixeira on November 7th
I don't think anyone would have predicted that Blachowicz would finish 2020 as the UFC light heavyweight champion, but here we are. The perennial outsider did it again. Now we'll see how long he's been able to hold on to the belt – and whether the odds makers keep putting lines against him even as a champion!
Santos and Teixeira are clearly in the light heavyweight division. Santos actually won a win against Blachowicz from February 2019. I think this division will be one of the most interesting in the UFC in 2021. There is great uncertainty here. But one certainty in my opinion is that the Santos, Teixeira winner should be next.
Placeholder: Anthony Johnson
& # 39; Rumble & # 39; Johnson is planning a comeback in 2021 and there is a lot of excitement. I asked UFC President Dana White if Johnson's first fight could be a title shot, and he replied, "No" … but I'm not entirely convinced he wouldn't change his mind.
Johnson is a name and one of the most feared puncher in the history of the division. I don't think it's likely, but you can't tell me the UFC would rule it out completely.
Dominick Reyes (lost to Jan Blachowicz by TKO in the second round)
Who should be next: Winner of Volkan Oezdemir against Nikita Krylov on October 17th
Part of me just wanted to say Oezdemir no matter what. It's a very fun stylistic match-up between two former title challengers in the top 10. But Krylov deserves his name included here too. Despite losing, Reyes still ranks high and defeating him means something.
This is what the winner of Oezdemir vs Krylov will be looking for after October. 17. A fight that really means something. An opponent who if you beat him can turn you into a possible title shot.
Placeholder: Loser from Thiago Santos to Glover Teixeira on November 7th
Either way would be a fun fight for Reyes. Depending on how November 7th goes, I can't imagine that the loser would want to take a lot of time. Santos has had a long hiatus due to knee surgery and time is not on Teixeira's side at 40. I could see a relatively quick turnaround in a fight like this, especially as all of these guys are scrambling to take advantage of the suddenly wide-open landscape of a Jon Jones less light heavyweight division.
Brandon Royval (defeated Kai Kara-France in the second round)
Brandon Royval defeated Kai Kara-France by submitting to UFC 253. Josh Hedges / Zuffa LLC
Who should be next: Alexandre Pantoja
Man. What a performance by Brandon Royval – are you kidding me? Late in the first round it was almost like he wanted Kai Kara-France to beat him. He went right through Kara-France's offense looking for blood.
I didn't see this coming from Royval. Not that I thought he couldn't win the fight, but he has been talking all week about how happy he was to be there and how he wanted to snap a picture with Israel Adesanya. Then he went out and fought like he knew he belonged in the UFC. And not just in the UFC, but right at the top of his division. I would love to see him fight Brandon Moreno one day. That would be an enormous struggle. Moreno is fully booked though, so let's move on to another fun, stylistic matchup. Pantoja loses to Askar Askarov, but stylistically I would like to see him fight Royval.
Placeholder: Askar Askarov.
It's entirely possible the UFC won't agree with me and match Royval with Askarov. Which, to be honest, probably makes more sense since he beats Pantoja. Stylistically I prefer the other. But this matchup is good for the leaderboard and the winner would be right there for a title shot.
Ketlen Vieira (defeated Sijara Eubanks by unanimous decision)
Ketlen Vieira defeated Sijara Eubanks in her first fight since December 2019. Josh Hedges / Zuffa LLC
Who should be next: Winner of Germaine de Randamie against Julianna Pena on October 3rd
Vieira looked pretty good at times and was uninspiring with others. On the one hand, her strike was crisp early on and her takedowns were effective against Eubanks. It was good to see she looked part of a top 10 bantamweight after long layoffs in 2019 and 2020. On the other hand, she didn't look like a title challenger. Nobody licks their chops to see Vieira against Amanda Nunes afterwards.
However, she deserves a high-level opponent. De Randamie is in a difficult position as she lost to Nunes in her last fight. She's kind of a title shot goalkeeper right now, and for Vieira she would be a bloody test. And if Pena wins this fight, she'll be back on the map but not yet ready for a title shot. I think the UFC could be Pena vs. Book Vieira and promote it as Nunes' next 135 pound title challenger.
Placeholder: Raquel Pennington
For the same reasons as above. Vieira needs someone with a number next to her name. Pennington meets these criteria. I think it would be a greater advantage for Vieira to face the De Randamie winner against Pena, but depending on how this fight goes and how the division develops, this one too would make sense.