New Zealand's Israel Adesanya has taken another step towards UFC middleweight glory with a captivating unanimous decision victory over Brazilian great Anderson Silva at UFC 234 in Melbourne.
- NZ's Shane Young takes unanimous decision win over Austin Arnett
- Kai Kara-France earns split decision win over Raulian Paiva
- UFC 234 - Israel Adesanya vs Anderson Silva
Thrust into the headline act at the last hour after an injury put paid to Robert Whittaker's title defence against Kelvin Gastelum, 'The Last Stylebender' soaked up the bright lights and combined with the Brazilian great to conduct a striking symphony on Rod Laver Arena's centre-court.
UFC President Dana White agreed, awarding both athletes the $US50,000 ($NZ74,000) bonus for Fight of the Night and comparing the electric opening round to a "Kung Fu movie".
Adesanya spoke openly pre-fight about the impact the iconic Silva - undoubtedly the greatest middleweight of all time- had on his style as an amateur fighter, and that influence was plain to see as the two almost mirrored one another on the feet at times.
Coming off a two-year absence from the Octagon and with three losses in his last four fights, the 43-year-old Silva's chances had been widely written off against the younger, sharper Adesanya.
However, 'The Spider' - who still holds the UFC's win streak record (16) - displayed gplenty of glimpses of the skill and showmanship that made him the organisation's flagship superstar for so many years.
But ultimately, the torch was passed to the next generation of 'Matrix' strikers as the Kiwi recorded a comfortable decision win to boost his unblemished record to 16-0 and cement his status as one of MMA's premiere talents.
"This is like playing basketball against Michael Jordan," Adesanya said post-fight. "This is it to me."
Adesanya's victory put the cherry on top of a flawless day for the New Zealand contingent, following the wins of his City Kickboxing stablemates Kai Kara-France and Shane Young earlier in the card.
After an extended feeling out period to start, Adesanya was the first to establish himself in the striking duel, leading with leg kicks and wobbling Silva twice as he circled out of the Brazilian's range.
Both fighters soon warmed into their rhythm and the entertainment ensued, the two drawing awe-inspired roars from the 15,238 in attendance as they exchanged unorthodox techniques and playful taunts, relishing the improvisational nature of the contest.
The gamesmanship continued into the third round, Silva - somewhat surprisingly, clearly the crowd favourite - beckoning Adesanya into his range as the Kiwi looked to operate from distance.
That approach appeared to pay dividends as the contest drew to a close, with Adesanya varying his shots to good effect as Silva - whose face wore the majority of the damage - was unable to keep pace.
Predictably, there was plenty of respect in the immediate moments following the conclusion of the fight, Adesanya taking to the mat in an extended bow after having hoisted the Brazilian's hand to defeaning cheers.
As to what's next for the Kiwi, the outlook is a touch murkier in light of Whittaker's injury. The Kiwi-born Australian had surgery for his abdominal hernia on Sunday, and has an estimated recovery time of four-to-six weeks.
Adesanya's win should've cemented his status as the number one contender for the middleweight title. But if - as White suggested - they opt to wait for Whittaker to return and give Kelvin Gastelum the shot he'd been expecting on Sunday, that could push the timeframe on Adesanya's bid back considerably.
The 29-year-old couldn’t resist a dig at Whittaker in the post-fight interview, alluding to 'The Reaper' and his failure to "show up for work", which drew a slew of jeers.
The other two New Zealanders in action both impressed in entertaining undercard bouts. Kara-France earned a split decision over Raulian Paiva, while Shane Young prevailed over Austin Arnett on all three judges' scorecards.