Updated March 6, 2021 - 5:29 am
A breakdown of the fights on the main card of UFC 259 on Saturday at the Apex, with picks from the Review-Journal’s Adam Hill and Heidi Fang:
Jan Blachowicz (27-8) vs. Israel Adesanya (20-0)
■ Class: For Blachowicz’s light heavyweight title
■ Line: Adesanya -235
■ Storyline: Adesanya, the middleweight champion, is attempting to make history by becoming just the fifth UFC fighter to simultaneously hold belts in two weight classes. He stepped on the scale 4.5 pounds under the 205-pound weight limit for this fight and drove home the point by bringing a pizza to the scale with him on Friday. Only two fighters have ever weighed in at less than 202 pounds for a light heavyweight title bout and both lost. Adesnya believes his speed and kickboxing advantage will be enough to change that, though Blachowicz should have a decided edge in power. With all the hype on Adesanya and the fact he has never lost, he is a rightful favorite here. Blachowicz is just fine with being an underdog, however. This will be the ninth time in the last 11 times he has stepped in the cage that he will close as an underdog, yet he’s 8-2 in the previous 10 fights. Bettors looking for a reason to back him will be intrigued by the size and power advantages as well as his distinct edge on the ground. He will also be aided by the fact this fight is in the smaller 25-foot cage instead of the 30-foot cage used for arena shows, which could limit some of Adesanya’s movement.
■ Hill’s pick: Adesanya by decision
■ Fang’s pick: Adesanya by fourth-round knockout
Amanda Nunes (20-4) vs. Megan Anderson (11-4)
■ Class: For Nunes’ women’s featherweight title
Line: Nunes -1100
■ Storyline: This could come down to how motivated Nunes is for this fight. That has been an open question the last two times she has fought as she cruised to decisions over Germaine de Randamie and Felicia Spencer but failed to show the killer instinct that was often so evident earlier in her current 11-fight winning streak. Anderson is talented and perhaps the first true featherweight Nunes has faced in her run as both the bantamweight and featherweight champ. She could pose a problem to Nunes if the champion is not performing at her peak, but after a brief flirtation with retirement she insists the birth of her first daughter has rejuvenated her desire to dominate.
■ Hill’s pick: Nunes by third-round knockout
■ Fang’s pick: Nunes by second-round knockout
Petr Yan (15-1) vs. Aljamain Sterling (19-3)
■ Class: For Yan’s bantamweight title
■ Line: Pick’em
■ Storyline: Yan has run through the division like a wrecking ball since signing with the UFC in 2018, beating all seven opponents and knocking out four of them. While it seems strange to say about someone holding a UFC belt, the level of competition has been a bit suspect. Yan has beaten a combination of aging veterans and fringe contenders, eventually winning the vacant title with a win over Jose Aldo, who came in the fight off two straight losses. Sterling has taken a less direct route to this point. After losing three of five fights from 2016 to 2017, Sterling turned the corner and has won his last five fights. His wrestling always has been elite, and he has become much better at incorporating an aggressive submission attack with a wide array of kicks to set up his takedowns and wear down opponents. Yan will feel comfortable and confident as long as he’s able to keep the fight standing.
■ Hill’s pick: Sterling by fourth-round submission
■ Fang’s pick: Sterling by third-round submission
Islam Makhachev (18-1) vs. Drew Dober (23-9, 1 No Contest)
■ Class: Lightweight
■ Line: Makhachev -380
■ Storyline: Dober is tough and has started to gain confidence, which has been evident by his strong performances during a three-fight winning streak. This line may be a bit too high, so there is some value to be found betting the underdog. Makhachev does have a favorable matchup, though. He is one of the toughest fighters in the UFC to hit, which should keep him from Dober’s power. He also is a training partner and friend of Khabib Nurmagomedov, who calls Makhacev one of the best wrestlers in the UFC. While Dober’s takedown defense has improved, it will really be put to the test here. Makhachev has won six straight since the only loss of his career and appears primed to take a major step forward.
■ Hill’s pick: Makhachev by decision
■ Fang’s pick: Makhachev by second-round knockout
Thiago Santos (21-8) vs. Aleksandar Rakic (13-2)
■ Class: Light heavyweight
■ Line: Rakic -160
■ Storyline: A heartbreaking split-decision loss to Jon Jones in a light heavyweight title fight in July 2019 took a great deal out of Santos mentally and physically. Santos suffered severe injuries in both legs that required surgery in that defeat and missed more than 15 months. Santos didn’t look like the same fighter when he returned against Glover Teixeira in November and eventually succumbed to a rear-naked choke. Rakic endured a similarly disappointing split-decision defeat in 2019 for his first loss in the UFC, but he was able to bounce back with a victory in his lone appearance of 2020, dominating Anthony Smith for five rounds.
■ Hill’s pick: Rakic by second-round knockout
■ Fang’s pick: Rakic by decision
Adam Hill Las Vegas Review-Journal