The UFC is about to hit a compelling stretch of events in which we will see five title fights (featuring six champions) in the span of one calendar month.
It starts on Saturday night with UFC 259, which will be the seventh event in UFC history to feature three title fights. In the main event, light heavyweight champ Jan Blachowicz (27-8) will look to spoil a bid by middleweight champion Israel Adesanya (20-0) to become a two-weight champion.
The event at UFC Apex in Las Vegas also features the GOAT of women’s MMA, two-division champion Amanda Nunes (20-4), who will defend her featherweight championship for the second time, facing Megan Anderson (10-4). The third title bout is at men’s bantamweight, where champ Petr Yan (15-1) will try to knock off red-hot No. 1 contender Aljamain Sterling (19-3).
When I look at UFC 259, this is one of those events you need to watch from start to finish. Adesanya is coming off one of the best fights of his career, a TKO of Paulo Costa in September, and will be leading the charge in terms of PPV buys. But the key reason this card is incredible is the sum of its parts.
Allow me to rattle off some of the storylines that immediately jump off the page — and that don’t include the three title fights:
Islam Makhachev might be the true heir to Khabib Nurmagomedov‘s throne at lightweight. You talk to people around the American Kickboxing Academy camp, the training home of both men, and you’ll hear that Makhachev is every bit as talented as his famous friend, whom he grew up with in Dagestan and has been training with since they were kids.
Thiago Santos vs. Aleksandar Rakić is just a heck of a fight. And with Jon Jones having moved on from light heavyweight, at least for now, the division is wide open and has a lot of fresh faces. Younger talents like Rakić, Jimmy Crute, Johnny Walker, Ryan Spann and Jamahal Hill help make light heavyweight interesting.
I was surprised when Dominick Cruz accepted a fight against Casey Kenney. No disrespect to Kenney, but he’s not a household name at all, and he’s a tough fight. This is a crossroads fight for Cruz, who is still the best bantamweight of all time, in my opinion.
What’s Joseph Benavidez got left in the tank? We’re talking about a man who was the second-best flyweight in the world for years and now is in what could be the twilight of his career. Benavidez is coming off back-to-back knockout losses in title fights. I do genuinely wonder what Benavidez will look like this weekend. Askar Askarov will certainly test him.
This card is heavy on young prospects who haven’t yet completely proved themselves: Mario Bautista, Uroš Medić, Aalon Cruz, Carlos Ulberg, Kennedy Nzechukwu, Kyler Phillips and Rogério Bontorin. These are all names I believe are good enough to crack the top 10 and be contenders at some point. That’s a lot of young talent in one prelim lineup.
Honestly, I could go on, but you get the point. In a week in which I’m assuming you’ll get your fill of Blachowicz vs. Adesanya content, I wanted to take this opportunity to point out: Do not sleep on this undercard! There are no squash matches. Every fight is worth your attention. Clear your entire schedule for Saturday night. You won’t regret it.
PPV (via ESPN+), 10 p.m. ET
Jan Blachowicz (c) vs. Israel Adesanya | Light heavyweight
Amanda Nunes (c) vs. Megan Anderson | Women’s featherweight
Petr Yan (c) vs. Aljamain Sterling | Men’s bantamweight
Islam Makhachev vs. Drew Dober | Lightweight
Aleksandar Rakić vs. Thiago Santos | Light heavyweight
ESPN/ESPN Deportes/ESPN+, 8 p.m. ET
Dominick Cruz vs. Casey Kenney | Men’s bantamweight
Song Yadong vs. Kyler Phillips | Men’s bantamweight
Joseph Benavidez vs. Askar Askarov | Men’s flyweight
Rogério Bontorin vs. Kai Kara-France | Men’s flyweight
ESPN+, 5:15 p.m. ET
Tim Elliott vs. Jordan Espinosa | Men’s flyweight
Kennedy Nzechukwu vs. Carlos Ulberg | Light heavyweight
Sean Brady vs. Jake Matthews | Welterweight
Livinha Souza vs. Amanda Lemos | Strawweight
Uroš Medić vs. Aalon Cruz | Lightweight
Trevin Jones vs. Mario Bautista | Men’s bantamweight
(c) = defending champion
7: Fighters who have won UFC championships in multiple weight classes. Adesanya is looking to join Randy Couture, BJ Penn, Conor McGregor, Georges St-Pierre, Daniel Cormier, Amanda Nunes and Henry Cejudo in accomplishing that feat. He would be the fifth (along with McGregor, Cormier, Nunes and Cejudo) to hold both titles simultaneously.
52: Percent of takedown attempts on which Blachowicz is successful, the best accuracy among active light heavyweights with a minimum of five UFC fights. He rarely goes for takedowns, however, and is 0-1 in his past four fights.
6-14-2, 1 NC: Combined record of challengers who were betting favorites in UFC title bouts (since 2008, the time in which complete odds are available). Adesanya is a -240 favorite to win the light heavyweight belt.
10: Fights in which Blachowicz was an underdog, among his 15 UFC appearances. He is 7-3 as an underdog, including 4-1 when facing odds of at least +180. That ties Blachowicz with Daniel Kelly, Tim Boetsch and Andrei Arlovski for the most wins as a +180 underdog in the past decade. This is the third straight time he has been an underdog.
Sources: ESPN Stats & Information and UFC Stats
Jan Blachowicz’s most recent results
Win: Dominick Reyes (TKO2, Sept. 27, 2020; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Corey Anderson (KO1, Feb. 15, 2020; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza (SD, Nov. 16, 2019; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Luke Rockhold (KO2, July 6, 2019; watch on ESPN+)
Loss: Thiago Santos (TKO3, Feb. 23, 2019; watch on ESPN+)
Israel Adesanya’s most recent results
Win: Paulo Costa (TKO2, Sept. 27, 2020; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Yoel Romero (UD, March 7, 2020; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Robert Whittaker (KO2, Oct. 6, 2019; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Kelvin Gastelum (UD, April 13, 2019; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Anderson Silva (UD, Feb. 10, 2019; watch on ESPN+)
Gilbert Melendez on Blachowicz’s standup:
On Unlocking Victory, Gilbert Melendez shows how UFC light heavyweght champion Jan Blachowicz frustrates his opponents with his standup game.
Angela Hill on Adesanya’s counterattack:
In this excerpt from Unlocking Victory, Angela Hill breaks down how Israel Adesanya’s ability to counter led to his knockout win vs. Robert Whittaker.
“I will never pick against Adesanya,” said Javier Mendez, coach at American Kickboxing Academy. “He’s awesome. I enjoy watching that guy. He has a great MMA IQ. That’s a kickboxer that really knows how to use his game in MMA. That guy is badass. He’s my favorite to watch outside my guys — by far.”
That’s high praise, considering that the list of Mendez’s guys includes a UFC champion (and pound-for-pound No. 1), Khabib Nurmagomedov, as well as former champs Daniel Cormier, Cain Velasquez and Luke Rockhold.
Check out how Mendez and other experts break down the main event.
-1100: Betting odds on Nunes. Fighters favored by at least -1000 are 12-2 in title fights in the past decade. A victory by Anderson, a +700 underdog, would be the second-largest upset in a UFC women’s title fight, behind +870 underdog Holly Holm‘s 2015 knockout of Ronda Rousey.
0: Fighters who have defended UFC titles in multiple weight classes multiple times. Nunes is seeking to be the first. She already has defended at both bantamweight (five times) and featherweight (once), making her one of just three two-division champs (along with Henry Cejudo and Daniel Cormier) to successfully defend both of their titles.
5: UFC fights at featherweight by Anderson, tying her with Cyborg for the most in a division in which there have been just 15 total bouts. Anderson’s three wins at 145 pounds are the second most, one behind Cyborg’s total.
1,702: Days it will have been, on fight night, that Nunes has been a UFC champion. She won the bantamweight title at UFC 200 on July 9, 2016, making her the longest-reigning current champ.
Sources: ESPN Stats & Information and UFC Stats
Amanda Nunes’ most recent results
Win: Felicia Spencer (UD, June 6, 2020; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Germaine de Randamie (UD, Dec. 14, 2019; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Holly Holm (TKO1, July 6, 2019; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Cris Cyborg (KO1, Dec. 29, 2018)
Win: Raquel Pennington (TKO5, May 12, 2018; watch on ESPN+)
Megan Anderson’s most recent results
Win: Norma Dumont Viana (KO1, Feb. 29, 2020; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Zarah Fairn dos Santos (Sub1, Oct. 6, 2019; watch on ESPN+)
Loss: Felicia Spencer (Sub1, May 18, 2019; )
Win: Cat Zingano (TKO1, Dec. 29, 2018)
Loss: Holly Holm (UD, June 9, 2018)
Angela Hill on Nunes’ quick starts:
On Unlocking Victory, Angela Hill displays how Amanda Nunes uses leg kicks and long jabs early in fights.
“It’s really hard to bet against Nunes, but I think a lot of people are looking at it like a washout — like, no matter what, she’s going to win. I don’t really see it like that,” said UFC women’s featherweight Felicia Spencer, who has fought both women. “I might be biased, because I kind of want Megan to win. I think a Megan win would make things really interesting in the division.”
Check out the breakdowns and predictions by Spencer and other experts.
0: Yan opponents who were in the top five at men’s bantamweight in the UFC’s rankings at the time of their fight. He won the championship in July with a victory over Jose Aldo, who was No. 6 at the time. Only two of Yan’s victories have come against fighters currently in the UFC’s top 15.
3: Consecutive victories by Sterling against opponents in the top five in the UFC rankings. He has fought five fighters who are currently ranked by the UFC, including No. 2 bantamweight Cory Sandhagen, whom Sterling defeated by first-round submission in June.
4: Submissions in the UFC by Sterling, the third most in men’s bantamweight history behind Urijah Faber‘s six and Rani Yahya‘s five. Sterling’s 11 submission attempts are one shy of the record for UFC 135-pounders.
Sources: ESPN Stats & Information and UFC Stats
Petr Yan’s most recent results
Win: Jose Aldo (TKO5, July 12, 2020; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Urijah Faber (KO3, Dec. 14, 2019; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Jimmie Rivera (UD, June 8, 2019; watch on ESPN+)
Win: John Dodson (UD, Feb. 23, 2019; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Douglas Silva de Andrade (TKO2, Dec. 29, 2018)
Aljamain Sterling’s most recent results
Win: Cory Sandhagen (Sub1, June 6, 2020; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Pedro Munhoz (UD, June 8, 2019; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Jimmie Rivera (UD, Feb. 17, 2019; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Cody Stamann (Sub2, Sept. 8, 2018)
Win: Brett Johns (UD, April 21, 2018)
Check out some of the best moments that have defined Petr Yan’s incredible UFC career leading up to UFC 259.
“I think one of Aljamain’s biggest advantages is his size. He’s one of the bigger 135ers out there,” said Brandon Gibson, striking coach at JacksonWink MMA. “His submission over Sandhagen was ultra-crafty. But I think my biggest unknown for Aljamain is, what is he gonna look like in a five-round bout? What’s he going to look like in Rounds 4 and 5?”
This is the most evenly matched of Saturday’s three title fights, according to oddsmakers. Check out how Gibson and other experts break it down.
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This is the seventh fight card in UFC history with three title bouts and the fourth on which three reigning champions will be putting their titles up for grabs, according to ESPN Stats & Information. All of these events have happened within the past 4½ years.
UFC 205 (Nov. 12, 2016): One champion won (Joanna Jedrzejczyk), one lost (Eddie Alvarez) and one fought to a draw (Tyron Woodley). The challenger who won was Conor McGregor, who moved up from featherweight to become the UFC’s first champ-champ.
UFC 217 (Nov. 4, 2017): Challengers went 3-0, with Georges St-Pierre submitting Michael Bisping at middleweight, TJ Dillashaw knocking out Cody Garbrandt at bantamweight and Rose Namajunas knocking out Jedrzejczyk at strawweight.
UFC 245 (Dec. 14, 2019): Champions went 2-1, as Kamaru Usman successfully defended at welterweight and Amanda Nunes did so at bantamweight. Max Holloway lost his featherweight belt to Alexander Volkanovski.
Note: The other cards featuring three title fights were UFC 33, 214 and 251, all of which had fights for vacant belts. And aside from UFC 217, there have been three other events at which multiple belts changed hands (UFC 46, 92 and 185).
1. Islam Makhachev, who faces lightweight Drew Dober, has won six straight fights on the strength of not getting hit very often. He absorbs 0.76 significant strikes per minute, the fewest in UFC history (minimum of five bouts). Dober comes into the fight off three straight knockouts and has 11 in his career.
2. Thiago Santos has 11 knockout wins in the UFC, one shy of Derrick Lewis‘ modern-era promotion record. He faces Aleksandar Rakić, who is good at beating opponents to the punch. Rakić’s +2.67 significant strike differential is second best in the UFC’s modern era. Santos is No. 5 in the ESPN light heavyweight rankings, Rakić No. 9.
3. Former men’s bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz is in just his second fight since 2017 and has lost his past two. His last win was a decision over Urijah Faber in June 2016, and his last nontitle bout was a KO of Takeya Mizugaki in September 2014. He faces Casey Kenney, who has won three in a row.
5. Joseph Benavidez has lost his past two fights, both against current men’s flyweight champion Deiveson Figueiredo, but is 15-1 in UFC nontitle bouts. Benavidez, No. 4 in the ESPN rankings at 125 pounds, takes on sixth-ranked Askar Askarov, who is undefeated.
ESPN’s Jeff Wagenheim contributed to this fight preview.