Fight Island 2 kicks off in style this weekend in Abu Dhabi with two title fights, and a number of pivotal divisional bouts at UFC 253.
Top of the bill on Yas Island sees current middleweight king Israel Adesanya pitted against number one contender Paulo Costa. Both fighters are unbeaten, and a genuine animosity between the pair adds even more spice.
At light-heavyweight a new champion will be crowned in the form of Dominick Reyes or Jan Blachowicz.
Elsewhere on the main card Kai Kara-France will look to push his credentials at the top of the flyweight division. While Zubaira Tukhugov and Ketlen Viera will look to break into the top-15 of their respective divisions.
Here are three things to look out for on Sunday morning….
Someone’s ‘0’ has got to go
Israel Adesanya (19-0, 8-0 UFC) and Paulo Costa (13-0, 5-0 UFC) have 32 unblemished professional MMA fights between them. Only six of those bouts have gone the distance.
Just on stats alone it would be obvious to expect fireworks, but there is so much more to this fight that just two studs at the top of the 185lbs class.
The verbal jibes, instigated primarily by Costa, have crossed the line from promotion into the personal. Hotel altercations, social media spats, and a fiery confrontation at the weigh-ins have added a layer of genuine bad blood.
On the face of things that is something that suits Costa. A muscle-laden powerhouse who wouldn’t look out of place at light-heavyweight, the Brazilian is a ball of fast-twitch fibres – relentless in forward pressure and possessing genuine knockout power – only one of his 13 fights going the distance attests to that.
Adesanya on the other hand, is long and wiry. He’ll take in an eight-inch reach advantage, and will strike with accuracy from the wildest of angles. A hybrid of Anderson Silva and Jones Jones, Adesanya has shown finishing power to see off the like of former champ Robert Whittaker and the battle hardened Derek Brunson, but has also shown his staying power in distance battles with Anderson Silva, Kelvin Gastelum and Yoel Romero.
If this goes deep the advantage is heavily with the African-born Kiwi champion, and we have already seen Costa has needed more time to put away opponents as he has climbed the ranks.
Adesanya will look to withstand the expected early onslaught, and look to take proceedings into deep water – there will be many a keen onlooker waiting to see if Costa sinks or swims.
A new champ at 205
There is always something a little unsatisfying about a vacated title and two contenders fighting for the crown.
Look beyond the fact that arguably the greatest MMA fighter ever in Jon Jones relinquished the light-heavyweight title, and you have the makings of an exciting fight between Amercian Dominick Reyes and Poland’s Jan Blachowicz.
Reyes is best known for taking Jones the distance in his last outing back in February, it remains the only loss in a 13-fight pro career (12-1, 6-1 UFC). Knockout wins over Chris Weidman and Jarrod Cannonier are standouts on a stellar record.
Blachowicz is a little more weathered in his 34-fight career (26-8, 9-5 UFC). He got off to a pretty inauspicious start in the UFC, losing four of his first six fights. Since then he has gone 7-1, including wins in each of his last three fights. Vicious knockouts of Luke Rockhold and Corey Anderson, and a decision win over Jacare Souza helped propel him to the upper echelons of the 205lbs division.
After coming as close as anyone to beating Jones, Reyes will start favourite on Sunday morning – but do not discount Blachowicz and his heavy hands as he looks to become Poland’s second UFC champions after Joanna Jedrzejczyk.
The Kiwi invasion
With a wealth of famous fight teams across the US, Brazil, and parts of Europe – there is another that has quietly gone about some frankly astonishing work.
Over the course of the last two years City Kickboxing in Auckland has amassed an incredible 23-3 record across the UFC.
At Fight Night Auckland, they ‘three peated’ with wins for Dan Hooker, Kai Kara France and Brad Riddell, in Abu Dhabi they are looking to go one better.
We have already discussed Adesanya, but Kara-France has the chance of putting himself a win or two away from a title shot in the flyweight division, while Riddle and Shane Young will be looking to progress their standings in the lightweight and featherweight divisions respectively.
This is an exciting, and unprecedented, time for MMA in New Zealand, and UFC 253 could be the next springboard it needs to really take the world by storm.
You can watch UFC 253 on the UFC Arabia App, with the main card starting at 6am UAE time on Sunday September 27.