Israel Adesanya, Karl Roberson, Jared Cannonier, Jacare Souza. Four middleweights got wins last night on the main card of UFC 230, each victory impressive in its own way. Adesanya opened up the madness. He crawled into the cage, mimed a dog pissing on the cage entrance, marked ‘return to sender’ on all Derek Brunson’s takedown efforts, then nearly put the All-American wrestler in a box with calm, lethal shots.
Then Karl Roberson, a prospect powerful and athletic enough that you wouldn’t say shit to him about his nickname “Baby K”, dominated a game and very tough opponent in Jack Marshman for just his sophomore effort in the UFC. He’s one to keep an eye on.
Former heavyweight, the newly shredded Jared Cannonier, upped the ante. He sniffed where Adesanya had ‘pissed’ in the cage and pissed over it, perhaps the most subtle callout in UFC history. Human blanket David Branch gave him problems in the first round, but Cannonier hadn’t moved his family from the freezing winters of Alaska to the scorching desert of Arizona for nothing. With Benson Henderson shouting instructions at him, he stayed calm, got back up, punished Branch for his efforts. In the second round Cannonier, who has been blessed with the most perfect name a slugger could have, found his killshot, knocking Branch down and making him tap to strikes. Stepping up on short notice against a tough opponent was risky, but Cannonier reaped all the reward last night.
Then Jacare Souza and Chris Weidman went to war in the co-main event. Weidman rocked Souza early, working from the outside with a sharp jab and straight right. Souza stayed in the fight, using a new and beautiful hook to the body to try to wind Weidman. In the second round, he made it a brawl, getting on the inside and unleashing power punches. It was a back and forth fight, worthy of fight of the night honors, before Jacare finally sent Weidman crashing to the canvas with an overhand right to the temple in the third round. He knew the fight was over, but the referee, Dan Miragliotta, refused to intervene. Weidman, his faculties gone but his fighting spirit remaining, rolled over and tried to grab Jacare’s ankles. Jacare had to deliver three more hammerfists before Big Dan realized it was over. Jacare, a brawler and a gentleman, excoriated Miragliotta before striding away like an uncrowned champion. Sure, his nose might have been broken, but as he told Rogan afterwards, Jacare grew up on the wrong side of the tracks. Broken bones weren’t about to stop him.
All this, of course, before Daniel Cormier kept things academic in his main event, tapping Derrick Lewis to keep both the light heavyweight and heavyweight belts on his shoulders, the first in UFC history to defend two belts.
Who, then, was the most impressive middleweight? Karl Roberson may be younger and greener, but he looked like a future world-beater. Jared Cannonier vaulted himself into the rankings with a knockout win over 7th-ranked David Branch. If that comeback was impressive, though, Old Man Jacare’s comeback was the most thrilling, as he proved he still has a lot left in the tank.
In the end, though, it was always going to be Israel Adesanya. His fight was all about skill growth vs. competition inflation, and unlike wages in the US economy, The Last Stylebender demonstrated he had bankrolled improvement in spades. His UFC debut was in 2018, a fight in which he got taken down by Rob Wilkinson; yet less than a year later, faced with the 6th-ranked middleweight in the world, he made light work of defending every takedown attempt, before timing one with a knee- extremely difficult to do- and knocking down Brunson with frightening accuracy. His promoter, Dana White, was as impressed as anyone. Via MMAFighting.com:
“Israel has been a guy who has been on the rise here for a minute, but I really felt like tonight was his first big test,” White said. “His opponent hits like a truck and wrestles really well, and Madison Square Garden, opening the show, man, did he deliver. Many people — including me — think this kid is the future, and he went out and put a stamp on it tonight.”
Of course, in addition to the actual fighting, Adesanya is also charismatic and intelligent on the mic, with all the ingredients for stardom. That’s not something that Dana has missed.
“The minute I saw this kid, I was like, holy shit this is really good, I like this,” White said. “Then you hear him talk, I like that too. He’s the whole package. He is very ambitious, I would like him to pump the brakes a little bit. This guy wants to f*cking fight everybody right now and he wants to fight every month, which I love.
“Listen, you want to become a big star? Keep fighting. If you’re a young guy who’s healthy enough to fight all the time, I absolutely advise it. Do it. What you don’t want to do is put on a great performance and disappear because people forget real quickly. But yeah, I like him very, very much and I don’t want to move him as fast as he wants to be moved, so he and I will get together and find a happy medium.”
The potential matchups for Adesanya are limitless. Anderson Silva is an obvious choice, but Luke Rockhold, Jared Cannonier or Jacare are also potential opponents. If the next fight is anything like last night, we will continue to be entertained.
Who was the most impressive middleweight at UFC 230?
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