There was no new inductee into the UFC’s exclusive champ-champ club on Saturday night.
That’s what this UFC 259 main event was all about, right? Middleweight champion Israel Adesanya‘s quest to add the light heavyweight belt to become the fifth fighter to rule two weight divisions simultaneously and push toward becoming one of the biggest stars in MMA.
Jan Blachowicz? In the prevailing narrative leading into this superfight, the 205-pound champ was just a supporting actor, a role to which he has become accustomed — and a role in which he has thrived.
In fact, it would have come as no surprise if, mixed in with his victory celebration, Blachowicz experienced a little déjà vu.
Going into UFC 259, Blachowicz had felt the familiar sensation of being overshadowed. Over the past several weeks, most of the attention had been on Adesanya and on the superstar opponent he was not facing in Jon Jones. Oddsmakers even installed Blachowicz as a rare underdog champion. Underdog status isn’t anything new, either; Blachowicz has only been favored to win twice in his past 10 fights.
But Blachowicz simply went ahead and did what he has done again and again over the past 3½ years: He rose above expectations and made it his night.
Jan Blachowicz proved himself to be a worthy UFC light heavyweight champion with an impressive performance against Israel Adesanya. Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC
Blachowicz is no stranger to being overlooked or seeing opportunity slip from his grasp, only to step confidently into our field of vision and assert his presence at a most opportune moment. As recently as the fall of 2017, he was 2-4 in the UFC and on the verge of losing his spot on the roster. He has won nine of his 10 bouts since then.
And yet, as Blachowicz, 38, was steadily rising through the ranks of light heavyweight contenders, the division’s champion at the time, Jones, was looking in every direction but toward the powerful slugger from Poland. Jones had his eye on Adesanya, the middleweight champion with a fast-rising star and the potential to jump up in weight. Jones later set his gaze on the heavyweight division and its gigantic challenges, and that is where he eventually opted to steer his career, vacating the light heavyweight title.
Blachowicz then proceeded to capture the vacant title in September with an odds-defying second-round KO of Dominick Reyes. But even in taking possession of the belt, Blachowicz still felt the pang of opportunity lost. He is in this game to challenge himself, and there is no bigger challenge for a light heavyweight than trying to solve Jones.
It’s impossible to ignore that MMA is fueled by star power and how defeating a superstar like Jones could have turbocharged Blachowicz’s career.
Blachowicz established a base upon which he can build a considerable legacy atop the UFC light heavyweight division. Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC
Now we’ll find out if defeating Adesanya, who entered Saturday’s bout on the verge of superstardom himself, has a similar effect. It was not the most dynamic of victories for Blachowicz, lacking a signature highlight-reel moment, but handing a fellow champion his first loss is a significant achievement. Blachowicz faced still another challenge head-on and once again came out on top.
It clearly was Blachowicz’s night in the end, but early on, the fight was an even back-and-forth tussle in which both men mostly kept their distance and exercised caution. Adesanya used his footwork to steer clear of the light heavyweight champion’s power, and Blachowicz showed respect for the slick, all-angles attack of the middleweight champ, reacting to every feint and movement. Neither man severely hurt the other, but both felt the effects of several significant punches and kicks. And when the championship rounds finally arrived, Blachowicz took over and refused to surrender control.
The prevailing thought coming into the fight had been that Blachowicz’s power would be the difference if he could land a big punch. But as things turned out, it was strength on the canvas that won Blachowicz this fight.
He spent the final three minutes of Round 4 on top of Adesanya, who never presented a serious threat to escape the position and get the fight back to standing. And midway through the final round, Blachowicz took the fight back to the mat, once again securing position on top of his challenger, again with no escape route.
Jan Blachowicz shows off his impressive grappling skills as he dominates the later rounds in his main event win vs. Israel Adesanya.
The bout ended with Blachowicz in full mount, the most dominant position in the sport, landing punches and elbows as the horn sounded. He took the unanimous decision, with two judges scoring the bout 49-45 and the other seeing it 49-46. It was the first loss of Adesanya’s pro MMA career. Blachowicz took the circumstances he was given and made the most of it.
This might not be the Blachowicz performance that will get Jones to come rushing back to the 205-pound division. Jones is expected to make his heavyweight debut this summer, challenging the winner of this month’s title fight between Stipe Miocic and Francis Ngannou. Should Jones win the heavyweight championship, the 205-pound division likely would never see him again.
But if Jones’ bid were to come up short, especially in a bad loss during his first fight against someone bigger than him, might he look back down toward light heavyweight and view Blachowicz through a new lens? Jones has made it clear, after all, that he looked elsewhere because he did not see the benefit of facing such a low-profile fighter. Blachowicz surely has raised his profile by handling Adesanya, the Nigeria-born New Zealand resident. It’s a start.
Should circumstances send Jones his way, Blachowicz would welcome the challenge, even if it would take a bulked-up Jones some time to get back to 205 pounds.
“I believe in the future I will get that fight,” Blachowicz told ESPN’s Brett Okamoto during the lead-up to this weekend’s fight. “If not in the UFC, I will go to Albuquerque and fight him in his gym. We will do this.”
Despite the loss, Adesanya was all smiles afterward. Adesanya simply said, “Dare to be great,” in regard to his motivation for moving up in weight to take the fight with Blachowicz. Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC
For Blachowicz, that was just talk about future matchmaking. As he spoke those words, his focus was on Adesanya. But now that the middleweight champ is out of the way, Blachowicz’s full attention will shift to the next man in line at light heavyweight. That would appear to be Glover Teixeira, who has won five fights in a row and at age 41 doesn’t have a lot of time to wait.
Blachowicz is on board. “I would like to fight Glover next,” he said.
That’s the way Jan Blachowicz operates. He took care of business Saturday night, and now it’s on to the next piece of work. He is the type to keep his head down and move forward, not distracted by fantasy matchups or being the A-side on the marquee. Being a champion is what he always dreamed of, and that’s enough for him. For now.