DUBAI: Fight Island 2 kicked off in Abu Dhabi in the early hours of Sunday with undefeated New Zealander Israel Adesanya inflicting a first career loss on Paulo Costa of Brazil to claim the middleweight belt in the headlining clash of UFC 253.
The five event series — UFC 253, three Fight Nights and UFC 254 — comes just two months after Fight Island originally took place on Yas Island between July 12 and 26, included UFC 251 and three Fight Nights, and was the first international sporting event to take place following the outbreak of the coronavirus.
Fight Island 2 will conclude with UFC 254’s highly anticipated meeting between unbeaten lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and Justin Gaethje on October 24.
In the build-up to the main event, Adesanya and Costa had been embroiled in a war of words that had led to, albeit in a benign manner, a shouting match at the W Hotel on Yas Island, where the fighters are staying, and then to a far more bitter confrontation following their weigh-in at Yas Forum. And it was Adesanya who would come out victorious in the octagon via a TKO after 3.59 of round 2.
“I know this game, I don’t just play this on EA Sports, I play this for real, so when I do this, I know what I’m talking about,” the winner said. “I still have to watch it again, little bit sloppy, but I’m a dog and I do what I do.”
“I still don’t like him. I don’t know him personally, I don’t wish he dies or anything, he’s alive, I let him be alive,” Adesanya said of the opponent who had just suffered his first career defeat. “This is the game we play, this is violence and I told you guys that it was going to be violent . . . and it’s going to end fast and that’s what I did. I’m fresh, I can go next weekend, I can go anytime. I want to spend time with my family because it’s been a crazy year, so I want to go spend time with my people.”
Before leaving, Adesanya, whose career record stands at 20 wins, set his sights on his next target.
“(Jared) Cannonier, I want Cannonier next.”
In the co-main event, Jan Blachowicz of Poland stopped the American Dominik Reyes in the second round of their Light Heavyweight title clash, and could barely hide his delight afterwards.
“I still don’t believe it, but it’s here. It’s not a dream, right? It happened,” he said. “I have the legendary Polish power, I proved it one more time, amazing.”
Blachowicz, now with a record of 27-8-0, said that he never stopped believing in himself despite those untimely defeats on his journey to the top of the division.
“Here I am, the champion,” he said. “Like I said before, even a pandemic can’t stop me right now. I feel really great in the fight. I saw that my left kick to his body, that he slowed down a little bit. I saw almost everything he did. In the second round when I broke his nose, I knew that the finish will be soon. This is something that we prepared in our gym with coaches. On paper, we knew everything, and now in real life also. We do a great job in the gym, I am the champion.”
Prior to that, the American Brandon “Raw Dawg” Royval was able to stop Kai Kara-France, another unbeaten New Zealander, after only 48 seconds of the round 2 in their flyweight clash.
“I’m happy it worked out, that round had its ups and downs, which sucked a little bit, but we were pulling it off,” he said. “At the end of the first round, I know I got dropped twice, but I thought I won it. I thought, I’m winning this round for sure.”
In a women’s Bantamweight bout, Ketlen Vieira of Brazil beat Sijara Eubanks of the US via a unanimous decision.
“The fight was a lot harder than I thought,” she said. “I didn’t train for Sijara, obviously my opponent got changed a couple of weeks before. It was a very tough fight, she doesn’t get rocked by anything. It’s really important for me, it proves that I am here for a reason, I didn’t just fall in here. I’m ready to fight anyone. I prove that I can do it and that I have a lot to evolve and I can fight the best in the world.”
The top card had kicked off with Canadian Featherweight Hakeem Dawodu, who is of Jamaican origin, overcoming Zubaira Tukhugov of Russia via a split decision.
“I’m my own worst critic, I wanted a finish, I promised a finish,” he said. “I finished his teammate years ago with a body shot, I really wanted to put him away with a body shot. I think he was smart, I think I threw something that made him feel funny and that’s why he started running. Me and my coach, we are going to go back to the dressing room and we’re going to work on catching these guys. I’m going to summon my inner Jamaican, my Usain Bolt, and I’m going to run these guys down and prevent them from running from me.”
Dawodu said he was “not thrilled” with the fight and that he will be working on how to finish off fighters who refuse to engage with him.
“I just need to stop these guys from running from me,” he said. “So maybe I gotta sit back and work on my counter striking because they just run and it’s frustrating because I’m a KO fighter if you look at my record, I just haven’t been able to catch as many people as I have lately, but I put the full blame on myself, I’m going to go back to my gym and I’m going to work on catching these guys and prevent them from running.”
In the prelims, Welterweight Jake Matthews beat UFC legend Diego Sanchez with a unanimous decision in an emotional meeting.
“That last bit of ground and pound, I was this close to apologizing to him,” Matthews said. “I’ve watched him since I was 11 years old. Between him and BJ Penn, they’re two of my all-time favorites. I didn’t let it get to my head before the fight, but now it’s going to sink in and it’s crazy being able to beat a guy like that.”
Also in the earlier action, Brad Riddell beat Alex da Silva via another unanimous decision in their lightweight bout; Ludovit Klein knocked out Shane Young in the first round; William Knight scored a unanimous victory over Aleksa Camur in their heavyweight clash; Juan Espino defeated Jeff Hughes via submission at 3:48 of round 1 of another heavyweight bout; and heavyweight Danilo Ibragimov had kicked off the night by beating Khadis Ibragimov via a unanimous decision.
Fight Island 2 will now move onto three UFC Fight Nights, on Oct. 4, 11 and 18 before wrapping with UFC 254 on Oct. 24.