Jan Blachowicz upset the odds with a grinding unanimous points decision over the previously unbeaten Israel Adesanya to retain his world light heavyweight title at UFC 259 in Las Vegas on Sunday.
“If I had knocked him out it would have been better, but anyway I love this win because he is one of the best in the world,” said the 38-year-old Polish fighter after the judges scored it 49-46, 49-45, and 49-45 in his favour.
It was the first defeat inflicted on the 31-year-old Adesanya, who was stepping up in weight, in his 21-fight career.
The New Zealander, the middleweight title holder, was looking to become only the fifth double-weight world champion in UFC history.
The Nigeria-born fighter found the bigger size of Blachowicz difficult to handle, especially when the Pole drew his opponent into clinches and down on to the mat late in the bout.
Blachowicz only really became a contender after passing the age of 35 and had also been the underdog when he won the vacant title last year against American Dominick Reyes.
“I thought that he would be a little bit faster but he hit harder than I thought,” said Blachowicz, who has spent his career being underestimated, after a successful first defence of the title.
“He was slower and harder which is something I didn’t expect. I knew that if I took him down, I’m bigger, stronger a little bit, so I would be better on the ground.
“I just had to wait for a good moment. I should have used my left hand more, put more pressure on him, but game plan is one (thing), fighting is a different thing.”
Blachowicz, whose win-loss record improved to 27-9, initially looked for a one-shot punch to finish the fight early but Adesanya opted to score points by picking at Blachowicz from range.
Blachowicz began to take control in the fourth. A big left hand and a takedown saw him keep Adesanya under wraps on the ground.
He had Adesanya down again in the fifth for a sustained period of pressure that put the decision beyond doubt.
“Back to the drawing board,” Adesanya said.
There were three world title fights on the card but no fans in attendance as the United States still battles with the coronavirus pandemic.
The opening championship fight made history when Russian Petr Yan was disqualified for an illegal knee to the head against American challenger Aljamain Sterling, who was deemed the winner -– the first time a UFC title had changed hands in that fashion.