Mixed martial artist Israel Adesanya is looking to be the UFC’s next champ-champ. Stylebender, the promotion’s middleweight titleholder, will move up to light heavyweight for UFC 259 and fight the division’s champion, Jan Blachowicz of Poland. A win will put Adesanya in elite company as the fifth member of the champ-champ club, whose membership so far includes only Conor McGregor (the first to accomplish this feat), Daniel Cormier, Amanda Nunes and Henry Cejudo.
Adesanya, arguably one of MMA’s best already, received his BJJ purple belt from Andre Galvao last December after months training with Galvao, a BJJ legend, and some of the world’s best grapplers in Kaynan Duarte and Lucas “Hulk” Barbosa. This experience figures to help the ambitious Adesanya not only in defending his middleweight crown, but also in pursuing the light heavyweight belt come March 7.
An improved ground game ought to make the 31-year-old Adesanya even more dangerous, as having top-level BJJ skills makes Stylebender a more well-rounded fighter — one with the ability to change levels, and possibly win fights on the mat rather than on his feet. And at the very least, better BJJ will help Adesanya keep fights standing up, where he has a distinct advantage thanks to his world-class striking. Stylebender’s stand-up is so good, in fact, that he has gone unbeaten — and has often looked unbeatable — in his MMA career.
Adesanya has been dominant in the UFC, in particular, with wins over Paulo Costa, Yoel Romero, Robert Whitaker, and Kelvin Gastelum. Given this dominance, Adesanya has been installed as the favourite by Bwin to win the UFC 259’s headline bout, despite the fact he is moving up from 185 to 205. That’s not a knock on Blachowicz, though, who is on a four-fight winning streak punctuated by a KO of light heavyweight contender Corey Anderson in UFC Fight Night: Anderson vs. Błachowicz 2 and a TKO of Dominick Reyes in UFC 253 (to win the then vacant light heavyweight title).
Instead, Adesanya being tagged as the favourite over Blachowicz is a nod to the former’s otherworldly striking, and it could very well be the difference-maker in what will likely be a stand-up battle. Of course, there’s an off-chance that this fight goes to the ground in light of Blachowicz being a BJJ black belt (under the tutelage of Jose Carlos Moreira) and Adesanya now the proud owner of a purple belt. However, like Adesanya vs. Costa at UFC 253, the chances of Adesanya v Blachowicz becoming a tactical BJJ battle are slim, what with Stylebender preferring to utilise his kickboxing and the Prince of Cieszyn showing a propensity to trade at the centre of the Octagon rather than use his high-level BJJ.
Tellingly, Israel Adesanya seems unconcerned about the challenge ahead, recently dismissing fellow UFC champ Blachowicz as “just another guy” and rating him a 7 out of 10. With this combination of skills and confidence, Adesanya may be well on his way to becoming the UFC’s next concurrent two-division champion — and possibly its undisputed pound-for-pound king.