Opinion: Israel Adesanya v Jan Blachowicz, UFC 259 fight breakdowns, predictions

  • 06/03/2021

OPINION: UFC 259 has the potential to be one of the biggest mixed martial arts events of the year, with three world title fights atop the billing and an undercard stacked with intriguing match-ups.

With a trio of Kiwis in action, including headliner Israel Adesanya, can City Kickboxing 'repeat the threepeat'? 

Here's how we see the main action going:

Carlos Ulberg v Kennedy Nzechukwu

Nzechukwu and Ulberg square off at weigh ins.
Nzechukwu and Ulberg square off at weigh ins. Photo credit: Getty

Stephen Foote, Newshub sports reporter

City Kickboxing's newest UFC export will make his official Octagon debut against Nigeiran-American Kennedy Nzechukwu on Sunday.

The 'Black Jag' announced his arrival with a devastating knockout in a Dana White Contender Series bout to earn a multi-fight contract and his debut match-up is tailor made for the Kiwi to make an instant statement.

Nzechukwu’s minimal takedown threat will likely afford Ulberg the luxury of unleashing his exceptional kickboxing-based striking game, without much concern over any grappling reprisal.

Debut Octagon jitters are real, but so is ring rust and Nzechukwu has spent almost 19 months sidelined by injury. 

The 'African Savage' has had promising moments in the cage - most notably, his 2018 head-kick knockout of Dennis Bryant in the Contender Series - and while he has power, his lack of technical proficiency compared to the razor-sharp Ulberg will be glaring.

The former King in the Ring champion has already provided an appetiser of his abilities, but can expect a three-course meal, come Sunday.

The UFC has seen the instant marketability of the former catwalk model. White will have his fingers crossed that Ulberg's performance can get that snowball rolling.

Prediction: Ulberg wins by first-round TKO

Brad Lewis, Newshub sports reporter

Carlos Ulberg has been poised to showcase his skills on a global stage for two years. 

The City Kickboxing prospect has Adesanya-like precision striking, with heavyweight stopping power. He's just been waiting for his ground game to level up and while it's probably not as good as his teammates’, it's good enough that the runway model-turned fighter is ready to announce himself to the world.

Kennedy Nzechukwu is no joke, holding an 8-1 record, but if he intends to strike with Ulberg, as his previous fight history suggests, then his night will be quick, but painful.

Prediction: Ulberg wins via first-round knockout

Luke Robinson, Newshub sports reporter 

Expect Carlos Ulberg to kick off a massive night for City Kickboxing in style. 

He will look to make a mark in his UFC debut and was certainly impressive in his last fight against Bruno Oliveira.

Kennedy Nzechukwu will try to stand and trade blows, and will regret it, against the Kiwi who looks very slick. 

Prediction: Ulberg wins by brutal TKO in the first or early second round

Kai Kara-France v Rogerio Bontorin

Kara-France and Bontorin.
Kara-France and Bontorin. Photo credit: Getty

BL: Kai Kara-France's pro record of 21-9 is far from desirable, but closer scrutiny tells a different story. 

Since a 2015 move to flyweight, the Kiwi is 13-3 and one of the most complete fighters to come out of City Kickboxing.

In a division short of obvious contenders, the 1.63m, 27-year-old is just two wins away from a title shot.

Rogerio Bontorin is highly touted, but suffered his first Octagon setback in his last fight. 

Expect fireworks between two guys desperate for victory in an early contender for Fight of the Night.

Prediction: Kara-France by first-round knockout 

LR: A pretty close fight on paper. Bontorin is aggressive, loves to swing and is good in the clinch.

That's not to say Kara-France isn’t, but Bontorin will come forward, throw bombs and big knees at close range.

Kara-France has been on the back foot at one point or another in each of his fights. It's close but the Brazilian takes it.  

Prediction: Bontorin wins by decision 

SF: The flyweight division lacks in depth, but makes up for that in quality. No-one has an easy fight, particularly in the upper echelon, where Kara-France lives.

Over the past year, the 27-year-old's fortunes have been mixed, with each step forward followed by a step backwards, unable to string together the consecutive impressive performances he needs to contend for a title in such a hotly contested division.

The Aucklander has the athleticism and dynamism to match any fighter, but he's often under-sized against elite competition.

That won't be the case against the Bontorin. The Brazilian is predominantly a jiu-jitsu practitioner, whose striking is serviceable, but opportunistic, and lacks the refinement of Kara-France's, who's much more explosive and powerful.

Kara-France will be able to dictate terms on the feet, and as long as he can keep the fight standing and avoid being put on his back - where Bontorin's ground-and-pound and submission abilities come into play - he should accumulate his way to a unanimous decision.

You can always rely on Kara-France for a high degree of entertainment value and here's hoping for a trademark 'Don't Blink' overhand right to send a timely statement to the division.

Prediction: Kara-France wins by decision

Petr Yan v Aljamain Sterling, men's bantamweight world title

Yan and Sterling.
Yan and Sterling. Photo credit: Getty

BL: On paper, this is a Fight of the Night sleeper. Yan has been near-flawless in seven UFC fights, dispatching some of the division's elite.

He has overwhelmed Jose Aldo, Urijah Faber, Jimmie Rivera and John Dodson, stamping himself as a well-rounded UFC champ. Think Khabib Nurmagomedov, with better striking. 

Aljamain Sterling brings a lot to this fight. He comes from the championship-winning Serra-Longo gym, he is riding a five-win streak against top contenders and is arguably the most complete opponent of Yan's career. 

But he doesn't have fight-stopping power and getting the fight to the ground will be tough, so the champ has the edge.

Prediction: Yan by unanimous decision 

SF: Petr Yan's performance against Jose Aldo to win the vacant bantamweight title was an emphatic indication that the Russian is a championship-calibre fighter.

Yan went for shot for shot with Aldo, before turning up the pressure late and eventually finishing the Brazilian great with a deft display of elite kickboxing.

Sterling has hovered in the title picture, biding his time patiently, before his recent five-win streak made his case for championship contention.

This fascinating match-up has Fight of the Night potential.

Yan will need to maintain his range, and prevent Sterling from making his fluid and highly effective transitions from competent boxing to exceptional grappling, where the American's fundamental strengths lie.

'Aljo' tends to find the minute windows of space through which to jump into submissions - and from every angle imaginable - meaning the most momentary of lapses by Yan could be fatal.

Yan can hold his own on the mat, but his supreme takedown defence means he's not often on his back. Those defences will be tested more than ever by Sterling's pressure.

As incredible as Yan has looked over the past two years, expect his undefeated UFC run to continue.

Prediction: Yan by unanimous decision

LR: This is one of the easier fights to predict on the card.

Both fighters come forward and throw a high volume of shots, mixed in with submission attempts, and Yan will be able to sustain that production longer to clinch a close win. 

Prediction: Yan by unanimous decision

Amanda Nunes v Megan Anderson, women's featherweight world title

Nunes and Anderson.
Nunes and Anderson. Photo credit: Getty

SF: The greatest women's fighter of all time, Nunes has fast been running out of legitimate opponents that can genuinely put her to the test.

Anderson certainly does not fit that bill. The Aussie arrives fresh from two impressive finishes, but has always struggled against elite competition.

Nunes is a renowned savage, with extraordinary power in both of her hands and a strong, high-pressure grappling game to go with it.

Her one Achilles heel has been a tendency to fade late in fights, but Anderson won’t hang around long enough to claim any advantage there.

Anderson has also proven highly susceptible off her back and will crumple under Nunes' relentless striking output, and eventually fall victim to a submission.

Prediction: Nunes wins by submission

BL: Megan Anderson brings great tools to the table for this fight - massive reach and height advantage, power strikes and a decent defensive grappling game.

But she will need to be perfect to have any hope of dethroning the greatest women's combat athlete of all time.

Nunes is just too good and Anderson will need to pick her poison - stand and risk a knockout, or grapple, and risk being stopped with strikes or submitted. 

The Aussie has no clear path to victory.

Prediction: Nunes wins by first-round TKO

LR: Amanda Nunes is the massive favourite for this fight and rightfully so - she hasn’t lost in seven years.

Many believe Anderson's time has come to shine on the biggest stage. Whether or not she can tame the ‘Lioness’, that's another story.

Anderson’s last loss was to Felicia Spencer, the same fighter that Nunes absolutely destroyed in her last fight.

The Aussie is the tallest fighter in the women’s roster, but it won’t matter. Nunes will breeze through another title defence. 

Prediction: Nunes wins by TKO

Israel Adesanya v Jan Blachowicz, light-heavyweight world title

Blachowicz and Adesanya stare each other down.
Blachowicz and Adesanya stare each other down. Photo credit: Getty

SF: All the talk from Blachowicz and his camp leading into this bout has been about the so-called 'legendary Polish power' that he'll inflict on Adesanya.

While fight-finishing one-punch ability is all well and good - and the Pole undeniably has that - you must still put yourself into a position to find your target and Blachowicz will struggle there.

Adesanya's movement and Octagon control are among the best in the UFC. The Kiwi-Nigerian is as fleet-footed as they come, and combined with his head movement and supreme management of distance, that speed is at the core of a defence that most have failed to penetrate.

And despite stepping up a weight class, Adesanya will also have a 5cm advantage in both height and reach, which makes Blachowicz's attempts to close the gap and land shots even more daunting.

Blachowicz is an excellent grappler, and his best chance starts with getting Adesanya against the cage and working his dirty boxing in the clinch, and the smaller Octagon at the Apex centre will help that cause.

But Adesanya's masterful use of feints and his quickness will only be magnified at a heavier weight class, and his takedown and overall grappling defence makes that strategy even more difficult for the Pole.

And while Blachowicz is a heavy-hitter, he isn't the most nuanced of strikers and has a habit of advancing recklessly with his shots, without moving his head, which could spell disaster against Adesanya's diverse arsenal of laser-accurate counter strikes.

Expect one of those shots to find their mark in the early stages to put a second belt over the Kiwi's shoulder.

Prediction: Adesanya wins by TKO

BL: This will be closer than most oddsmakers are suggesting.

Israel Adesanya is a big favorite to add a second UFC title to his resume, but the power-punching Pole has several paths to victory.

When Blachowicz told the pre-fight press conference he would punch, wrestle and grapple his way to a win, he virtually revealed his gameplan to the world.

The reigning champion will not win the fight staying on the outside - he has to pressure Adesanya, get his hands on him and take the fight to the ground, where opportunities will come for him, either back on the feet or even a submission on the mat.

But 'Izzy' is the master of distance and he could survive a difficult round-and-a-half, before imposing his will and taking over the fight. 

Prediction: Adesanya wins by TKO

LR: So many questions leading into this fight - and we're about to get the answers. 

Can Blachowicz handle Adesanya’s speed? Can Adesanya handle Blachowicz’s power? 

Adesanya really hasn’t been tested in his middleweight division yet. Whittaker, Costa and Romero all brought big striking reputations to their fights with Adesanya, and he handled them with ease.

Blachowicz is coming off a very impressive win over an opponent that many believe beat Jon Jones, but the big Pole faces a style nightmare.

Adesanya has made all his opponents look average, and his speed and precision will be far too much for Blachowicz too.

A win would cement his spot in the all-time greats conversation. 

Prediction: Adesanya wins by TKO

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