On Sunday, the UFC serves up a truly formidable card, with three title fights and a host of other intriguing bouts taking place at UFC 259. Here are four very valid reasons to tune into the Las Vegas event.
Israel Adesanya eyes “champ champ” status
Only four fighters have done it: hold two UFC belts simultaneously. Already the middleweight champion, Adesanya looks to join Conor McGregor, Daniel Cormier, Amanda Nunes and Henry Cejudo on a pretty lofty list.
The unbeaten Nigeria-born New Zealander, who last fought in September in Abu Dhabi when he inflicted Paulo Costa’s first professional defeat, is 20-0.
However, instead of seeking to consolidate his superiority in that division, Adesanya has jumped up immediately to try to claim another crown. The sturdy Jan Blachowicz stands in his way, another to prevail in the UAE capital last year, when he knocked out Dominick Reyes to secure the vacant light-heavyweight title. Intriguingly, Adesanya begins as heavy favourite, although can the UFC’s next transcendent superstar handle the Polish power should it land?
New mother Nunes adding to “Goat” legacy
On the surface at least, this looks a straightforward victory for Nunes. The Brazilian is comfortably the UFC’s greatest female athlete of all time, a current two-division champion who rides an 11-fight win streak. In Megan Anderson, Nunes defends her featherweight title against a fighter with two defeats in her past five outings, albeit the Australian has most recently reeled off two first-rounds wins.
More broadly, the division is in danger of fading out, with only five fighters on its roster. However, this represents Nunes’ first bout since becoming a mother in September, which adds an altogether different layer of intrigue to the contest. Has parenthood mellowed Nunes in any way? How has it impacted her preparations and, subsequently, will it her performance? Anderson will need any chinks in the armour whatsoever to pull off a hefty shock.
Aljamain Sterling making up for lost time
This was the title fight everyone expected in July. Henry Cejudo had retired two months previously, with Petr Yan and Sterling at the front of the queue for the vacant bantamweight belt. Yet the UFC instead booked Yan against Jose Aldo, that despite the Brazilian’s two defeats at bantamweight.
Yan duly obliged, triumphing in style at UFC 251 in Abu Dhabi. Finally, though, Sterling gets his title shot, and the highly skilled American coming into the tussle on a five-fight win streak – including June’s stunning first-round victory against Cory Sandhagen. Sterling is a joy to watch, exciting and explosive. In Yan, he faces a guy unbeaten in 10 fights and five years. His pro record stands at 15-1. Champion against No 1-ranked contender: a thrillingly competitive clash is anticipated.
Islam Makhachev focuses on lightweight
It’s hard to believe Makachev hasn’t fought since September 2019, when he defeated Davi Ramos at UFC 242 in Abu Dhabi. The Russian, who trains alongside lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, was supposed to compete three times since, but each bout fell through. It seems, though, that absence has only exacerbated the clamour to see Makachev return to action. He has lost once in 19 pro bouts, winning his past six. He has been talked up - as you would expect - by his respected coach Javier Mendez, who tips Makachev to become the next lightweight champion. With Nurmagomedov expected to stay retired and vacate, there’s a lot of contenders ahead in the pecking order. Yet shine against Drew Dober on Sunday, and the climb towards gold will accelerate.