Israel Adesanya’s scrap against Light Heavyweight Champion, Jan Blachowicz, represented what will quite possibly be the most exciting fight card of 2021. After clearing out the Middleweight division, Adesanya looked to make history, by becoming one of five athletes to hold two UFC belts simultaneously. Two other Kiwis fought on the card, Kai Kara-France, and Carlos Ulberg who made his debut in the organisation.
Coming off a first-round knockout on Dana White’s Contender Series, Carlos Ulberg was a betting favourite going into his UFC debut. The 30-year-old was matched up against Nigerian, Kennedy Nzechukwu, who had not been in the cage for 19 monthsdue to injuries. Ulberg set a blistering pace as the fight began, landing big shots on his opponent who was throwing nothing in response. It looked like it may be an easy night’s work for the Kiwi as his opponent slowly started to return fire, landing a few punches of his own. Ulberg showed very little defensive responsibility as he came forward with his hands down, displaying no head movement, allowing the tide to turnin Nzechukwu’s favour towards the end of the first round. The second round started with Ulberg picking his shots much more carefully, having great success landing kicks to the Nigerian’s body and legs. However, it was clear the Kiwi was gassed and running out of options as Nzechukwu began to land some heavy counter-punches. It came to an end three minutes into the second round, as Ulberg went down after eating a massive right hand. A disappointing debut for the Kiwi, who displayed excellent striking, but will head back to New Zealand with a lot to work on.
27-year-old Kai Kara-France was the next Kiwi to step into the octagon, looking to get back in the win column after two consecutive losses. Kara-France stated he had fresh motivation heading into the fight after the recent birth of his son, Kobe. His opponent, 28-year-old Rogerio Bontorin gained control of the fight early in the first round, taking Kara-France to the ground and threatening the choke. The Kiwi showed extreme composure as he was maneuvered into various dangerous positions on the ground, staying in the fight by controlling his opponent’s hands, disallowing the choke. After being dominated on the ground for more than three minutes, Kara-France managed to get back to his feet and immediately landed a vicious three-piece combination to crumple Bontorin and end the fight. Incredible awareness was displayed by the Kiwi to take advantage of a tired opponent, ending the fight with five seconds left in the first round.
Before long it was Israel’s turn to make the walk, daring to be great, and looking to bring two UFC belts back to New Zealand. The fight began like many of Adesanya’s previous scraps, with the long Kiwi throwing plenty of feints and looking to download data on his opponent. Blachowicz was biting on almost every one of Adesanya’s feints and the Kiwi was effectively controlling range, with his opponent looking for opportunities to counter.
It was apparent both men were showing a lot of respect, as Blachowicz did not brazenly walk into distance as he has become known for, and Adesanya paying a lot of attention to the massive counter shots coming back at him. Blachowicz looked to gain confidence as the fight progressed, throwing his hands more liberally. However, it looked like vintage Adesanya as he slid in and out of range, viciously attacking the legs of his opponent with strong low kicks. The Kiwi also looked to be handling himself in the clinch exchanges, an area Blachowicz is considered particularly dangerous. Both men showed a great jab in the third round, with both landing some big shots off the back of it. The “legendary Polish Power” was unsuccessful in putting Adesanya to sleep, but it certainly got his attention.
It looked to be an incredibly even fight going into the fourth round, with the previous three being difficult to score. Adesanya looked to pick up the pace, sniping Blachowicz with strikes in the fourth. However, the Pole wisely changed the dynamic of the fight, by successfully taking Adesanya down and holding him there, something no fighter has been able to do in the UFC thus far. Blachowicz controlled Adesanya on the ground for three minutes, with the Kiwi expending a lot of energy to keep himself out of dangerous positions. Both men looked knackered heading back to their corner before the final round.
Adesanya was no doubt pleased to start the fifth round back on his feet, and quickly landed a beautiful jump-spinning-back-kick to the midsection of Blachowicz. The Pole wasn’t looking to take any chances and soon secured a second takedown on Adesanya. Again, he maintained control on the mat, to disallow from Adesanya getting back up to his feet. Blachowicz managed to land some good shots as he was on top of the Kiwi and put a definitive stamp on the final round.
It looked clear that Blachowicz had done enough to retain his belt, and the judges agreed. However, no fight as big as this one comes without controversy, and this one was no different. Two judges gave Blachowicz 10-8 rounds in four and five, something that is reserved for when one fighter is getting absolutely dominated to the point where it would be acceptable for the ref to stop the fight. There is little dispute Blachowicz clearly won the two rounds, and the fight overall, but such questionable scoring undoubtedly put a dampener on a historic evening