UFC 253 takes place tomorrow night on Fight Island, Abu Dhabi and we’ve got our predictions for all the bouts below.
Israel Adesanya vs. Paulo Costa
With all the firepower on display in the main event middleweight title fight this clash of undefeated stars should make for quite a spectacle to cap off the first show of the UFC’s second stint at Fight Island.
There’s no doubt that technically and creatively Adesanya is the better striker here, with his kickboxing skills having been honed competing at the highest level in the likes of Glory before transitioning to MMA. He has a wide variety of strikes at his disposal, but his speed, movement, range management, accuracy and fight IQ are all crucial components in making him a formidable stand-up technician.
On the other hand, Costa is a physical specimen with thunderous power, an aggressive, high-volume style and surprisingly respectable cardio for his size, and while he might not have the versatility and flair of the champion, he has very solid fundamental skills.
Just how far Costa’s stamina can last remains to be seen though as we’ve never seen him in a five-round fight before and in fact he’s only been to the third round once in his career thanks to his hard-hitting style getting the job done early.
Meanwhile, Adesanya is no stranger to finishing fights himself, but also has shown he can go the full 25-minutes if required, doing so with a positive outcome on three occasions so far in the UFC.
Whatever happens it’s likely that Adesanya will have to weather an early storm, and with his precision striking, speed and sharp counters, together with an 8″ reach and 4″ height advantage he’s well equipped to operate from range and look to pick apart Costa, who’s aggression and urge to load up on punches will leave openings to be exploited.
Nevertheless, those early rounds do spell real danger for Adesanya, but I think his vast striking experience will get him by, and I do believe that Costa won’t be able to maintain his intensity for the full five rounds, which will enable ‘The Last Stylebender’ to emerge with a late finish here to successfully defend his title.
Israel Adesanya wins by TKO in Rd5.
Dominick Reyes vs. Jan Blachowicz
After coming as close as anyone to defeating Jon Jones in their title encounter last time out, Reyes heads straight back into a fight for the belt, this time against Blachowicz after the aforementioned ‘Bones’ vacated it ahead of a move up to heavyweight.
Blachowicz has also been in fine form, quietly compiling a 7-1 run in the division in recent years, including his recent three-fight winning streak that included KO stoppages against Luke Rockhold and Corey Anderson to help propel him to this shot at the title.
It’s worth remembering though that Blachowicz actually had a spell earlier in his UFC career where he won just once in five fights, so he deserves a lot of credit for the improvements he’s made to his striking game in particular.
He’s still somewhat of a plodding stand-up fighter, but Blachowicz now has refined his boxing skills and has a quality jab, kicks well to the legs and has demonstrated his stopping power.
Nevertheless, in this fight I still feel Reyes is the better striker overall, being the faster of the two on the feet, operating at a faster pace and delivering a higher output of strikes, with his punches and kicks likely to be a constant threat.
Despite his striking improvements, Blachowicz’s ground game has traditionally been his best weapon, possessing solid wrestling and submission skills, but Reyes is hard to take down and I favor him to keep this one standing and gradually take a toll on his durable opponent with his work-rate and volume of strikes, leading to a TKO stoppage in the third round.
Dominick Reyes wins by TKO in Rd3.
Kai Kara-France vs. Brandon Royval
Royval’s submission prowess was on full display in his short-notice debut against Tim Elliott recently, tapping out the grappler in the second round.
Now the former LFA champ goes up against Kara-France, a well-rounded fighter, but nonetheless still one who does his best work on the feet, and can wilt opponents with his consistently high pace.
As dangerous of a submission specialist as he is, I think Royval’s merely serviceable striking at best will be his downfall here as Kara-France keeps the fight upright and takes full advantage of his superior stand-up to secure a decision victory.
Kai Kara-France wins by decision.
Ketlen Vieira vs. Sijara Eubanks
It’s only been a couple of weeks since Eubanks claimed a confidence-boosting victory over Julia Avila, yet here she is back in action on Fight Island against a tough opponent in Vieira.
if Eubanks had finished that fight early perhaps such a quick turnaround would have made more sense, but the fight actually went the distance, so I feel that is a concern here as Vieira is known for pushing a hard pace from start to finish and that could take a toll on the former TUF finalist.
Vieira is coming off a KO loss, but before that she’d gone undefeated in 10 fights and beaten the likes of Cat Zingano and Sara McMann thanks to her pressure-heavy style and well-rounded skills.
Nevertheless, Eubanks is a solid all-rounder too with good boxing, wrestling and a BJJ black-belt, but still I feel she should have taken more time to recuperate and get a longer fight camp under her belt before facing an opponent of Vieira’s capabilities and so I’m taking the Brazilian to apply plenty of pressure and utilize her clinch game and grappling to grind out a decision win.
Ketlen Vieira wins by decision.
Hakeem Dawodu vs. Zubaira Tukhugov
This should be an intriguing one, with Dawodu being a very talented, athletic muay thai striker with a multitude of weapons, even though he’s only secured one finish in his current four-fight winning streak in the Octagon.
Meanwhile, Tukhugov is a less refined striker, but nonetheless is still skilled and dangerous in his own right due to his aggression. A bigger threat in this fight though is the fact that Tukhugov is also a very capable wrestler, as you might expect coming out of Khabib Nurmagomedov’s camp.
The biggest problem for Tukhugov has tended to be his cardio failing him due to his all-action style, and that could lead him to be picked apart later in the fight, which would be a real worry against a striker of Dawodu’s caliber.
Still, I do think if Tukhugov does utilize his ground game then that will enable him to steal rounds and ultimately he’ll emerge with the nod from the judges after 15 minutes.
Zubaira Tukhugov wins by decision.
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Juan Espino vs. Jeff Hughes
Khadis Ibragimov vs. Danilo Marques