We’re only at the beginning of April and the UFC has already produced some iconic events, and what better way to start than with UFC 287?
Israel Adesanya finally banished his demons with a stellar knockout over Alex Pereira, whose short tenure as champion was brought to an abrupt halt.
The BMF champion Jorge Masvidal pondered retirement before the event and his subsequent dismantling at the hands of Gilbert Burns meant there was no reason for him to reconsider.
Rob Font and Kevin Holland increased their respective stocks with TKO victories and Paul Rosas Jr finally encountered the reality of the UFC, as his youthful exuberance was routinely managed by Christian Rodriguez, who cantered towards a unanimous decision over his boyish opponent.
There was also a return to the spotlight for Kevin Gastelum, who emerged victorious from the Fight of the Night with Chris Curtis.
UFC 287, was a belter.
Isreal Adesanya (C) def. Alex Pereira via TKO:
In the main event, at the fourth time of asking, Adesanya finally banished his demon Pereira and retained his middleweight title urgently and emphatically.
The first round was a much more measured affair in which both men seemingly felt the pressure of the occasion and opted for a less chaotic encounter which we saw in their previous bout at UFC 281.
Given how much it impacted Adesanya’s balance in their previous meeting, it was no surprise to see Pereira utilise those devasting leg kicks he possesses in the opening exchanges.
Adesanya struck the figure of a man who had much more respect for his opponent and was more calculated and composed in his approach.
Plenty of strikes, but no damage in the first.
Just forty seconds into the second round, Pereira found his range with a beautiful jab that forced Adesanya up against the cage. A position that would have triggered trauma in the brain of Adesanya who was again playing the game of his opponent.
Daniel Cormier said on commentary at the time that Adesanya needed to manage the exchanges better and not retaliate as much- but quite the opposite occurred. Anything Pereira dished out was dutifully returned by the number one contender.
Adesanya did manage to fend off the Pereira barrage but a minute out from the round the Brazilian struck another nasty leg kick which buckled his opponent. In an almost carbon copy of their last fight, Pereira was now walking down Adesanya with a series of devasting blows up against the cage.
Dazed and blistered, Adesanya found his resolve and emerged from the onslaught with a quite brilliant over-hand right that flatlined Pereira. He followed it up with another for good measure which sent Pereira crashing to the canvas.
Adesanya wasn’t gone for long as he reclaimed his title at the first time of asking and is now on an expedition to cement his legacy as one of the all-time middleweight greats. Maybe a date with Khamzat Chimaev, who is currently at welterweight, is the spectacle Dana White has in mind.
Gilbert Burns def. Jorge Masvidal via unanimous decision:
Jorge Masvidal has been widely recognised as a favourite in the UFC roster since his debut in 2013. His rise was meteoric but his downturn in performances when he was knocking around the number one contender spot is what always held him back from creating a dynasty.
Having lost his last three fights against Covington and Usman twice, Masvidal had flirted with the idea of retirement should he lose to Gilbert Burns at UFC 287.
The contrast between a fighter seeking title credentials and one contemplating leaving the sport was quite apparent in the opening round.
Burns dominated the entire fight, landing a series of monstrous punches that Masvidal, to his credit, did well to stomach.
The Brazilian looked the superior fighter in the stand-up, but also on the ground, landing 4 takedowns and obtaining a control time of five minutes.
Masvidal seemed to slow down with every passing round, but his granite chin illuminated what has made him such a standout figure in this sport. It was bizarre how he stayed on his feet for three rounds whilst dishing out some meaningful strikes of his own.
After three rounds, all three judges unanimously scored the fight for Burns who won the fight at a canter. It was a stellar performance from the Brazilian, who will be looking for a number contender-type bout in his next time out.
As for Masvidal, a victory may have forced his hand to stay in the sport but having notched up 52 professional fights in his career, it was time for the ‘baddest’ in the game to call it a day.
Rob Font def. Adrian Yanez via TKO:
Holding a record of 5-0, Adrian Yanez’s short tenure in the UFC has been short and sweet. Yanez has shown impressive boxing skills in fights with Tony Kelley and Randy Costa, although he has never faced someone inside the UFC top 15 rankings.
And also, not someone with the pedigree of Rob Font, who gave Yanez a welcome package about the upper echelons of the UFC.
Yanez had started brightly with a lovely jab that wobbled Font, who had done well to recover and weather the early storm from his youthful adversary.
Font was able to land his punches on the inside and midway through the first he landed a devastating three-punch combo that rocked Yanez.
The American could not replicate the resilience Font had shown earlier in the round and it allowed Font to unleash a series of strikes which ended with a sharp right hook that floored Yanez.
A good old-fashioned ground and pound made sure of the victory for Font.
This was a statement win for him, but it proved to be too much of a jump up in quality for Yanez, who is still only 29 and with a bright future ahead of him.
Kevin Holland def. Santiago Ponzinibbio via TKO:
Kevin Holland has looked assured since his step-up to welterweight, and he delivered one of the best wins of his career with a stunning victory over the seasoned Santiago Ponzinibbio.
Holland has been a knockout artist during his tenure in the sport, and Ponzinibbio’s search-and-destroy approach meant both fighters began the bout in an apprehensive manner, very much aware of what their opponent could produce.
Holland detracted from his usual chaotic nature and was more calculated in his approach, outpointing and outpunching Ponzinibbio in the first two rounds.
In the final round, Holland connected with a swift left hook that dropped Ponzinibbio. Holland moved in for the kill and finished the fight in style. An excellent win for him, who will probably be in the official welterweight rankings next week.
Christian Rodriguez def. Raul Rosas Jr. via unanimous decision:
The boyish Raul Rosas Jr. has had a bullish start to life in the UFC after his first-round submission over Jay Perrin at UFC 282 announced his intentions on the scene.
The step-up in quality for Rosas was seemingly too much with Christian Rodriguez, who at the age of 25, is still in the infancy of his UFC career too.
Rosas Jr. started the fight on the front foot and illuminated his exceptional ground game, completing two takedowns on Rodriguez and controlling the majority of the opening round.
Even though he is in the springtime of his life, the 18-year-old gassed out from his output in the first and it was evident with how the control of the fight majorly shifted towards Rodriguez. The American capitalised on his opponent’s fatigue, landing some vicious blows and showing off his own skills on the ground.
Rodriguez was described as cool, calm and collected on commentary following that shaky opening round and he went on to score a clear-cut win. The hype train is over for Rosas Jr. for now, but best believe he will be back.