Israel Adesanya’s performance on Saturday night was truly something to behold.
The Nigeria-born New Zealand fighter faced what was supposed to be his most testing challenge to date as he defended his 185lbs belt against the ferocious Brazilian Paulo Costa. The odds-makers had it quite close and ever the optimist, UFC President Dana White constantly predicted we were about to witness the “fight of the year”.
In the end the contest – if you could even call it that – wasn’t even close, as Adesanya bludgeoned his opponent relentlessly before dispatching him in ruthless fashion midway through the second round.
Adesanya used his laser-accurate striking to outwork and confuse his opponent and in the end ‘The Last Stylebender’ was simply too classy for Costa, who many had predicted would cause Adesanya many problems when they tangled. The performance was a master class, and it has many of us wondering exactly how great the new middleweight king’s legacy can be.
With 4 title fight victories to his name – albeit one of them an interim – he already ranks among the greatest 185lbs-ers in the promotion’s history and you could argue he slots in just behind middleweight GOAT Anderson Silva at number two. Not bad for a man who only made his UFC debut two-and-a-half years ago!
Compared to other standouts in the division’s history, he already has a more impressive CV than the likes of Rich Franklin, Michael Bisping and Luke Rockhold, all of whom had less title defences against arguably inferior opposition.
Perhaps the only other former champion who could argue a case is Chris Weidman, who holds two victories over Silva, albeit at the tail-end of the Brazilian’s greatness. Weidman also defeated Lyoto Machida and Vitor Belfort – two legends in their own right – which makes his reign an impressive one. But his one-sided beat-down at the hands of Rockhold burns bright in the memory, and most fight fans would now argue Adesanya leapfrogs Weidman as well, making him the second greatest middleweight of all-time.
The question is can Adesanya go one better and cement his place at the top of the mountain one day? After Saturday night’s performance, don’t bet against it. Although Silva’s 13-straight title defences will be hard for Adesanya to topple, if the Kiwi can continue to defeat the division’s best in the manner he has so far, he may eventually go on to become the best ever.
While Silva’s reign as the middleweight champion was undoubtedly incredible, some forget he was involved in a number of snoozefests during his reign. Then there was that time he was on the brink of defeat to Chael Sonnen before miraculously managing to slap on a triangle choke in the dying seconds to cling onto his title. His time in the UFC has petered out somewhat, too, with multiple PED violations and a string of losses putting a stain on his legacy in the eyes of some.
So can Adesanya overtake the ‘Spider’ to become the greatest middleweight in history? If he’s to get there, there’s no doubt he has a lot of work ahead, but at 31 years-old he certainly has time on his side. He’s also a fighter who never seems to get injured and tends to make the walk to the cage at least three times a year, so if Adesanya continues to improve at the rate he has and his dedication remains, don’t be surprised to see him pull it off one day.
There are still talks of Adesanya moving up in weight to face Jon Jones, and the former world champion kick boxer has hinted he has his eye on the light heavyweight division too. This could ultimately put the brakes on any attempt to usurp Silva as the best middleweight ever, but as a young-ish fighter who visibly improves every time he steps inside the Octagon, this is the Adesanya era and it looks like it’s here to stay.