One month after one of the biggest main events in MMA history, the UFC is keeping the stakes high as they head back to Fight Island for UFC 253.
After a successful stint in Abu Dhabi for the UFC’s first stretch back in July, Dana White will bring his fighters back to Yas Island for five more events, kicking off with a massive main event between middleweight champion Israel Adesanya and challenger Paulo Costa at UFC 253.
Not to be lost in all of they hype surrounding the main event, UFC 253 will also serve as the host for a second title fight: a bout for the vacant light heavyweight championship between top-ranked Dominick Reyes and Jan Blachowicz.
With so much excitement ahead of one of the year’s biggest cards, it’s easy to get lost and confused when it comes to the stakes and storylines behind each fight.
To help out both the casual fan trying to enjoy one of their first UFC cards, or the diehard fan just looking for a refresher, here’s a beginner’s guide ahead of UFC 253 on Fight Island:
Main event for the Middleweight Championship: Israel Adesanya (C) vs. Paulo Costa (2)
Arguably one of the biggest fights the UFC could possibly put together at this point in its history, the middleweight title fight between champion Israel Adesanya and the No. 2-ranked Paulo Costa promises to provide fireworks on September 26.
An undefeated champion squaring off with an undefeated challenger. 32 wins in total between the two fighters, both on a collision course en route to a massive fight to prove who the greatest middleweight on the planet truly is.
The 6-foot-4 sniper in Adesanya, whose precision and speed when it comes to striking is among the best in the UFC when he lets loose, up against a 6-foot tank in Costa, capable of clobbering you and taking your title with a single punch or head kick.
Fans may have been turned off by Stylebender’s passive title defense against Yoel Romero, Costa’s last opponent, and may see another slow-paced bout on the way when Saturday rolls around.
However, Costa isn’t the type of fighter to let you dance and tiptoe your way to victory. He’ll push the pace, bring the power, and do so consistently throughout the fight. But, he’s never gone five full rounds in a fight before, so Adesanya’s championship-round experience could prove to be the most pivotal factor in this fight.
It could be the fight that furthers Adesanya’s legacy in the Octagon and puts him back in the good graces of any UFC fans that may have soured on him back in March. Or, it could be the fight that puts Costa on the map and creates a nightmare scenario for the UFC’s middleweight division.
Either way, it’ll be a nerve-wracking, star-studded fight to top off a stellar card when UFC 253 takes over Fight Island.
Co-main event for the Light Heavyweight Championship: Dominick Reyes (1) vs. Jan Blachowicz (3)
After Jon Jones vacated the light heavyweight title back in August, many wondered what the appropriate next step would be for the UFC as it relates to the division. Fans got their answer rather quickly, as an interim title fight between Dominick Reyes and Jan Blachowicz was quickly announced as the co-main event for UFC 253.
Yes, the fight doesn’t provide the same star power that a Jon Jones fight would bring to the table, but these two light heavyweights aren’t exactly slouches, either. Reyes challenged Jones for the light heavyweight title back at UFC 247 in February, and arguably came closer than anyone to actually taking out the division’s G.O.A.T.
While many, including Reyes, called for a rematch, Blachowicz knocked out Corey Anderson a week after UFC 247 to solidify himself as a top-tier fighter in the division, and established himself as the apparent number one contender to Jones’ title in the process.
So, when Jones vacated the belt in August, the next step seemed pretty obvious for many UFC fans. No more “What if?” scenarios. No more disinterest in a Jones-Blachowicz fight. Just two fighters in the center of the Octagon looking to become the new face of the light heavyweight division.
It’s a unique matchup: Reyes brings a 12-1 record with seven knockouts and the lone loss against Jones to Yas Island in September, while Blachowicz is seven years older than Reyes with 34 fights under his belt. Will the 30-year-old Californian bring the title back to the United States, or will Polish power win out?
It may not have the same spectacle as the main event, but it’s a fight to watch out for on Saturday night.
Flyweight bout: Kai Kara France (7) vs. Brandon Royval (9)
The UFC’s flyweight division hasn’t received much attention ever since Henry Cejudo vacated the title in February of 2020, and even before then if you consider the fact that his last flyweight title defense came on January 19, 2019.
Unfortunately, what looked like a clear path for Joseph Benavidez to win the belt in 2020 turned into a rocky road for the UFC veteran, and instead led to the crowning of Deiveson Figueiredo as the division’s new king.
Now, the entire division is a wide-open field. There aren’t many clear-cut contenders behind the champion, and any single star-making performance could shoot a single fighter right up the rankings en route to a title shot in 2021.
So, when No. 7 Kai Kara France and No. 9 Brandon Royval step into the cage on Fight Island on September 26, expect the two of them to be firing away in search of a highlight reel-worthy moment.
France will look to continue his momentum after a decision victory over Tyson Nam in February, while Royval will hope for his new full-time focus on fighting to pay off after a submission victory against Tim Elliott in May.
Flyweights across the division will have their eyes all over this fight on Saturday night, and it may be a head-turner for fans who don’t expect much from these two up-and-comers.
Women’s bantamweight bout: Ketlen Vieira (7) vs. Sijara Eubanks (13)
The women’s bantamweight division will take center stage as the first bout between ranked fighters on UFC 253’s main card, and both No. 7 Ketlen Vieira and No. 13 Sijara Eubanks will look to jump up in the rankings in the process.
The division seems to get looked over due to the dominating presence of bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes at the top of the mountain, especially with the lack of a true threat to Nunes’ throne.
No one, outside of a few of Nunes’ former challengers, has any signature wins on their resume, and it might be making everyone hungrier for a big-time victory to prove their worth.
Vieira (10-1) will be looking to get back on track after suffering her first defeat in a knockout loss against Irene Aldana at UFC 245 at the end of 2019. Meanwhile, Eubanks (6-4) will hope to break a recent trend, given the fact that she has accumulated two wins, followed by two losses, followed by two more wins ahead of this bout.
A win for Vieira places her towards the top of the totem pole as it relates to bantamweights, while a Eubanks’ victory could give some confidence and direction to a fighter who has lacked consistency throughout her UFC tenure.
Featherweight bout: Hakeem Dawodu vs. Zubaira Tukhugov
Opening up UFC 253’s main card is a featherweight bout between two unranked fighters: Hakeem Dawodu and Zubaira Tukhugov.
A solid opener for such an action-packed card, Dawodu and Tukhugov provide interesting challenges for each other as they head out to Abu Dhabi for their next bout. Dawodu, a striker with an 11-1-1 record and a 70% knockout rate, brings loads of striking to the cage, while Tukhugov brings a 19-4-1 record and a more grappling-centered approach.
Stylistically, it’s a good fight for the two to prove themselves with as UFC’s top brass look on to start such a big event. Perform well, and you could find yourself with an even bigger fight on any of the massive cards on the way to start 2021. Disappoint, and you may find yourself back on the prelims.
The stakes are high, even without a title on the line, and it’ll serve as a good warmup for fans to enjoy when UFC 253 kicks off on September 26.
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UFC 253 will stream live from Fight Island in Abu Dhabi on September 26, 2020 at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+. Early preliminary fights will begin at 6 p.m. ET, while the main prelims will start at 8 p.m. ET.