Usman tops Masvidal, UFC 261 returns sports world to normal

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — A packed house. A raucous crowd. Celebrity sightings. Stunning upsets. Spectacular finishes. Broken bones. Blood, sweat and tears.

UFC 261 returned a sense of normalcy to the sports world Saturday night with one of its craziest events in years. Billed as the first full-fledged sporting event since the coronavirus pandemic altered the world more than a year ago, it delivered more than even its staunchest promoter imagined.

“I don’t think it gets any better than tonight,” UFC President Dana White said. “You couldn’t have a better night. … It was amazing. The crowd was amazing. The fights were amazing. … There’s just a different energy you get when people are here. It was insane.”

Kamaru Usman ended the event by winning his 18th straight bout and retaining his welterweight belt. Usman knocked out Jorge Masvidal with a right punch to the jaw early in the second round, silencing a pro-Masvidal crowd.

Usman’s knockout victory was his third in his last four fights, further showcasing his impressive versatility and an ability to adjust tactics during bouts. The former NCAA Division II wrestler had only one knockout victory in his first 10 UFC fights before he stopped Colby Covington, Gilbert Burns and Masvidal with punches in the past 18 months.

“Jacksonville, Florida, you said you wanted violence. You’re welcome,” Usman said.

Usman’s 18 consecutive MMA victories include 14 straight wins since joining the UFC in 2015. Only Anderson Silva’s streak of 16 straight UFC wins is longer in the promotion’s history.

“He’s one of the best ever. He’s an absolute stud,” White said. “You’re an idiot if you think this guy is boring.”

Usman (19-1) thanked Masvidal (35-15) for scaring him and pushing him, saying it’s been a long time since he felt nervous before a bout.

This one was a rematch from their short-notice fight in July. The 33-year-old Usman beat Masvidal at Fight Island, winning a unanimous decision at UFC 251. Masvidal stepped in on six days’ notice, flying halfway around the world to fill in for No. 1 title contender Gilbert Burns after Burns tested positive for COVID-19.

Masvidal held his own and went five rounds against the champ, whose strategy including stomping on Masvidal’s feet every time they were locked up.

Some thought Masvidal would have a better chance with a full training session. Not really.

Still, Masvidal had the crowd behind him. They cheered wildly for the 36-year-old Miami native, breaking into “Ole, Ole, Ole” and “Let’s go Jorge” chants, and booed Usman whenever possible.

“He’s got my number, man,” Masvidal said.

It was the last of three title bouts, but hardly the most surprising.

Rose “Thug” Namajunas (11-4) stunned Zhang Weili (21-2) to take the strawweight belt. Namajunas sent Zhang to the canvas with a left foot to the face, and the bout was stopped at the 1:18 mark of the opening round.

Namajunas broke down in tears in the octagon as she became the first woman in UFC history to recapture a championship belt. Three previous champions failed to reclaim belts they had lost, including Ronda Rousey.

Zhang erupted in anger, clearly upset with the referee’s decision to stop the fight. Replays showed how vicious the kick was, but Zhang insisted she never lost consciousness.

Flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko (21-3) totally dominated Jessica Andrade (21-9) to retain her belt, slamming Andrade to the canvas three times in two rounds. She eventually won a TKO after a series of bludgeoning blows to Andrade’s head and ear. Shevchenko danced in the octagon after the grappling victory and exclaimed, “I can do everything.”

The sold-out event drew a star-studded crowd. There was no social distancing inside the 15,000-plus-seat arena and few masks in any direction. It was a clear sign that at least some fans are ready to return to normal after more than a year of dealing with COVID-19 changes to their routines.

“I’ve pictured this moment a million times over, so it was everything I expected it to be,” said Jeff Molina, who beat Qileng Aori in an undercard bout. “Having fans back is awesome. … I stepped in there, I turned and looked at the crowd, raised my hand and definitely caught some good energy, good vibes from the crowd.”

Seven-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady was sitting cage-side along with Tampa Bay teammates Mike Evans, Blaine Gabbert and Josh Wells.

Florida legend and Jacksonville native Tim Tebow was on hand with his wife. And Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew and linebacker Myles Jack were in the first few rows.

Former Bucs receiver Antonio Brown dipped into a large bucket of popcorn as he sat next to YouTube sensation and celebrity boxer Jake Paul, who got into a nose-to-nose argument with former UFC fighter and current commentator Daniel Cormier before the main card. The packed house taunted Paul several times during breaks and at least twice during fights.

The main card’s first two fights ended with significant leg injuries, the second more gruesome than the first.

Chris “The All-American” Weidman snapped his right leg kicking Uriah Hall in the opening seconds of the bout. Weidman seemingly made it worse when he tried to stand on his broken bone. He crumpled to the canvas in pain and probably shock.

Medical personnel rushed to put his leg in an air cast as Hall struggled to maintain his composure on the other side of the octagon. Weidman, who was fighting UFC legend Anderson Silva when Silva broke his shin with a kick, was eventually carried out of the cage on a stretcher. He is scheduled to have surgery Sunday.

“I’ve got nothing but respect for Weidman,” Hall said. “He’s truly one of the best. … It’s the sucky part of the sport. It’s a hurt business.”

Minutes earlier, Anthony Smith connected with Jim Crute’s left leg and left him struggling to stand. Crute hobbled to his corner between rounds and tried to come back out for the second, but doctors stopped the fight after preliminary diagnosing it as a torn knee ligament.

“I couldn’t feel my leg,” Crute said. “I couldn’t stand on it.”

White brought his mixed martial arts behemoth back to Florida 11 months after the Sunshine State allowed him to host an event following a two-month shutdown.

Jacksonville hosted UFC 249 in May, and White vowed a return trip when the state fully reopened.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis approved a reopening plan last year that allowed large sporting events to resume in late September, although reduced capacity and limited social distancing were recommended. But until UFC’s return trip, no one had allowed full capacity indoors.

UFC hadn’t hosted fans in the United States in more than a year. There was a limited crowd for the last event at Fight Island in January.

“It’s time to get back to normal,” White said while announcing a $3.3 million gate, just a small portion of the total take after pay-per-view sales are tallied.

“If you want to wear a mask, wear a mask. If you don’t want to wear a mask, don’t wear a mask,” White said. “Everybody’s just doing their thing, and you know what, people seem like they’re a lot happier down here in Florida than they are in some of these other (freaking) states. You know what I mean?

“Everybody is doing their thing down here and living their life. And that’s the way it’s supposed to be. It felt good to be here.”

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UFC 260: Francis Ngannou stops Miocic, claims UFC heavyweight title

  • Francis Ngannou of Cameroon punches Stipe Miocic in their UFC heavyweight championship fight during the UFC 260 event at UFC APEX on March 27, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

  • Francis Ngannou of Cameroon reacts after his victory over Stipe Miocic in their UFC heavyweight championship fight during the UFC 260 event at UFC APEX on March 27, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

  • Stipe Miocic punches Francis Ngannou of Cameroon in their UFC heavyweight championship fight during the UFC 260 event at UFC APEX on March 27, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

  • Francis Ngannou of Cameroon kicks Stipe Miocic in their UFC heavyweight championship fight during the UFC 260 event at UFC APEX on March 27, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

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Francis Ngannou has been the next big thing in the UFC heavyweight division for several years. Just about everyone believed greatness was within the powerful Cameroonian challenger’s reach if he could ever put his prodigious talents together.

All that potential was realized in six sensational minutes Saturday night when Ngannou took the belt away from the most accomplished fighter in the division’s history.

Ngannou stopped Stipe Miocic with ferocious punches early in the second round to claim the heavyweight title at UFC 260.

Ngannou (11-2) avenged his blowout loss to Miocic in 2018 by demonstrating everything he has learned in the ensuing three years. The first UFC heavyweight champion from Africa flattened Miocic (21-3) twice early in the second, finally buckling the champ’s knees and ending the bout 52 seconds into the round.

“Man, it’s amazing,” Ngannou said. “The feeling of it is just great. Imagine something you’ve been waiting for your entire life, and struggling to have it. Sometimes I felt like I was drowning and I had to struggle back, but now we’re here.”

Ngannou won a fairly quiet first round with superior striking and ground work, but there was nothing quiet about the finish.

Ngannou knocked down Miocic 22 seconds into the second round with a crisp left hand to Miocic’s face, but the champion ate several punches to get up. Miocic backpedaled away and even landed a right hand that stung Ngannou, but the challenger loaded up a picture-perfect left hook that bent Miocic’s legs at a gruesome angle and put him on the canvas again, where Ngannou landed one finishing hammer fist.

“When the journey is longer, the reward is always more appreciated,” Ngannou said. “I’m sure I would have been happy three years ago, but I think now, I have a different perspective about it, being happy about my improvement.”

The violence was exactly what Ngannou’s fans and coaches expected when the long-anticipated changing of the guard atop the heavyweight division finally happened in this rematch of two highly likable fighters.

Ngannou tried to call his mother in Cameroon immediately after the fight, but said he couldn’t get through to her because everyone was “going crazy” celebrating his win.

“I can’t talk to anybody in Cameroon right now,” he said. “It’s a good craziness, for a good reason.”

The 34-year-old Ngannou is a former aspiring boxer who discovered mixed martial arts after he left Cameroon for France in his mid-20s. He rose rapidly through his new sport with his fearsome power and growing all-around skill, but Miocic interrupted his ascent by winning every round of their first bout in Boston.

The loss staggered the confidence of a once-dynamic fighter. He barely threw a punch in his next bout, an embarrassing loss to Derrick Lewis.

But Ngannou impressively regained his confidence later in 2018 and kicked off a run of four consecutive knockout victories against veteran heavyweights, putting him back in line for Miocic.

“He was a completely different fighter tonight,” UFC President Dana White said of Ngannou. “We saw things from him we never saw before. He took his time, and even ate that big right hand from Stipe. He looked perfect tonight.”

In the Vegas cage, Ngannou was far too much for Miocic, the firefighter from Cleveland who has been on top of the division for four of the last five years. Miocic’s heavyweight reign has been the best in the history of a notoriously tumultuous UFC division, and he most recently won the final two fights of his trilogy with Daniel Cormier to cement his heavyweight supremacy.

In the co-main event of this pay-per-view show at the UFC Apex gym on the promotion’s corporate campus, former welterweight champion Tyron Woodley lost his fourth consecutive fight when Vicente Luque submitted him with a D’Arce choke late in the first round.

Woodley (19-7-1), who reigned over the 170-pound division for nearly three years until Kamaru Usman took his belt in March 2019, looked sharp early and landed some strong shots before he was staggered and finished by Luque (20-7-1), who has won 13 of his last 15 fights.

Earlier, bantamweight Sugar Sean O’Malley overcame an enormous early mental mistake for a vicious third-round finish of Thomas Almeida.

O’Malley, the thrilling fighter with rainbow-dyed hair, floored Almeida in the first round with a head kick and a big punch — but instead of finishing his opponent on the ground, O’Malley anticipated a stoppage and walked away before realizing the fight hadn’t been stopped.

When he floored Almeida again in the third, O’Malley briefly tried to walk away again before pouncing and throwing a final punch that bounced Almeida’s head off the canvas.

The UFC is headed to Jacksonville for its next pay-per-view show next month because Florida officials will allow White to sell every seat in an arena, but the promotion still welcomed a few dozen fans to the Apex.

The crowd included Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, Megan Fox, Kourtney Kardashian, Travis Barker and former UFC owners Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta.

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Juan Francisco Estrada hangs on to edge Roman Gonzalez in a super-flyweight classic

It took nine years and four months for Juan Francisco Estrada and Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez to find each other in a boxing ring.

It might take at least that long to digest the scope of what happened when they got there Saturday night in Dallas.

Estrada, of Mexico, walked out with his own WBC super-flyweight (115 pounds) belt and Gonzalez’s WBA strap as well, taking a split decision and reversing the outcome of their 2012 match in the L.A. Sports Arena.

But the two champions certainly didn’t separate themselves, and boxing fans will demand a tiebreaker at some point. That third fight will have to be an all-timer to match what happened here.

In 36 minutes of action, the Nicaraguan  fired 1,317 punches and Estrada 1,262, and almost all were thrown menacingly. Gonzalez’ accuracy was a tad better, 30 percent to 26, but Estrada probably won the fight because of an aggressive start and his ability to weather Gonzalez’ hard push in the final rounds.

Amazingly, the 12th round was the busiest. Gonzalez let go of 158 of his punches and Estrada 150.

Jesse Reyes gave Gonzalez a 115-113 edge, the same margin that David Sutherland gave Estrada. The outlier card belonged to Carlos Sucre, who judged that Estrada won 117-111. That meant Sucre thought Estrada won nine rounds and Gonzalez three, which put him in the distinct minority.

There was nothing close to a knockdown, although Estrada’s body shots seemed to immobilize Gonzalez for a time in the sixth round. Neither were there any major cuts or any sense of a pattern or momentum. Estrada would take the offensive for a minute or so and then Gonzalez would return with his unique collection of short, straight right hands and uppercuts. Holding and running were not in the cards. After all, it doesn’t take much fortitude to dance all night.

“He is a great fighter,” Estrada said of Gonzalez. “I thought I did enough to win, but he deserves a trilogy.”

However, Estrada has a mandatory date with Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, the former champion whom Estrada beat in 2019. Until Saturday, Rungisvai was the only man to defeat Gonzalez, and did so twice.

“I’ll take care of that but I want another fight with Chocolatito,” Estrada said.

Asked about snapping the tie, Gonzalez said he thought he had won both fights. “I had a great performance tonight,” he said. “But the decision is what God wanted it to be.’

Estrada goes to 42-3 and Gonzalez settles to 50-3, with 41 knockouts.

Estrada had said all along that he was too weak to finish off the 2012 battle with Gonzalez, since that was at 108 pounds. “I felt much better at the end of this one,” Estrada said. “This is my weight.”

Each man got $1 million, which is a big-buck evening for a super-flyweight. In the end, they seemed underpaid.

Asked about strategy, Estrada smiled and said, “If he threw two or three punches, i had to throw two or three back, as well.”

Add it all up, and the sum of their work might be Fight Of The Year. It’s what happens when two of the best in the business decide they won’t wait until the middle of the night to spring forward.

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Former heavyweight champion Leon Spinks dies at 67

  • In this Feb. 15, 1978, file photo, Leon Spinks celebrates as his entourage holds him aloft after his 15-round split-decision victory over world heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali in Las Vegas. Former heavyweight champion Leon Spinks Jr. died Friday night after battling prostate and other cancers. He was 67. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi, File)

  • In this July 31, 1976, file photo, the United States’ Leon Spinks lets a right fly at the face of Cuba’s Sixto Soria during light heavyweight boxing action at the Olympics in Montreal. Former heavyweight champion Leon Spinks Jr. died Friday night, Feb. 5, 2021, after battling prostate and other cancers. He was 67. (AP Photo/File)

  • In this Feb. 15, 1978, file photo, the fist of challenger Leon Spinks flattens the nose of heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali during their title fight at Las Vegas. Former heavyweight champion Leon Spinks Jr. died Friday night, Feb. 5, 2021, after battling prostate and other cancers. He was 67. (AP Photo/File)

  • Leon Spinks connects with a right hook to Muhammad Ali during the later rounds of their Feb.16, 1978 championship fight in Las Vegas. The 24-year-old Spinks, who won the bout in a 15-round split decision, died Friday night after battling prostate and other cancers. He was 67. (AP Photo)

  • In this Feb. 15, 1978, file photo, Leon Spinks celebrates as his entourage holds him aloft after his 15-round split decision victory over world heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali in Las Vegas. Former heavyweight champion Leon Spinks Jr. died Friday night, Feb. 5, 2021, after battling prostate and other cancers. He was 67. (AP Photo/FIle)

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By TIM DAHLBERG

AP Boxing Writer

LAS VEGAS — Leon Spinks, who won Olympic gold and then shocked the boxing world by beating Muhammad Ali to win the heavyweight title in only his eighth pro fight, has died. He was 67.

Spinks, who lived his later years in Las Vegas, died Friday night, according to a release from a public relations firm. He had been battling prostate and other cancers.

His wife, Brenda Glur Spinks, and a few close friends and other family members were by his side when he passed away.

A lovable heavyweight with a drinking problem, Spinks beat Ali by decision in a 15-round fight in 1978 to win the title. He was unranked at the time and picked as an opponent because Ali was looking for an easy fight.

He got anything but that, with an unorthodox Spinks swarming over Ali throughout the fight on his way to a stunning win by split decision. The two met seven months later at the Superdome in New Orleans, with Ali taking the decision this time before a record indoor boxing crowd of 72,000 and a national television audience estimated at 90 million people.

“It was one of the most unbelievable things when Ali agreed to fight him because you look at the fights he had up to then and he was not only not a top contender but shouldn’t have been a contender at all,” promoter Bob Arum said Saturday. “He was just an opponent but somehow he found a way to win that fight.”

Spinks would lose the rematch to Ali in New Orleans and fought for the title only once after that, when he was stopped in the third round in 1981 by Larry Holmes. He continued fighting on and off into the mid-1990s, finishing with a record of 26-17-3.

Spinks, with a big grin that often showed off his missing front teeth, was popular among boxing fans for both his win over Ali and his easygoing personality. But he burned through his earnings quickly, and at one point after retiring was working as a custodian at a YMCA in Nebraska, cleaning locker rooms.

He later was part of a group of ex-fighters who had their brains studied by the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas. Spinks was found to have brain damage caused by a combination of taking punches to the head and heavy drinking, though he functioned well enough to do autograph sessions and other events late in his life.

“He was a good soul,” said Gene Kilroy, who was Ali’s business manager when he fought Spinks and became friends with the fighter.

Spinks won the light heavyweight division at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, beating Sixto Soria of Cuba in an upset to become one of five U.S. fighters to win gold. His brother, Michael, who would later become heavyweight champion himself, won the middleweight gold, and Sugar Ray Leonard took the welterweight title.

Spinks was hardly spectacular after turning pro, winning six of his first seven fights. Just four months before he met Ali, he could manage just a draw with journeyman Scott LeDoux and he wasn’t on anyone’s radar in the heavyweight title picture.

But Ali was coming off a brutal fight with Earnie Shavers and wasn’t looking forward to what would have been a mandatory bout against Ken Norton, whom he had already fought three times and who seemed to have Ali’s number. Instead, he sought an easy mark for a fight that was to be nationally televised on ABC, even knowing he would be stripped of one of his titles for taking another fight.

Enter Spinks, who was such a big underdog most sportsbooks didn’t even take bets on the fight.

“In that fight, everything clicked,” Arum said. “He came in with a game plan and he beat Ali. It wasn’t that Ali wasn’t at his best, but Leon shocked everybody with how good Leon was.”

Suddenly, Spinks was the heavyweight champion of the world at the age of 25.

“I’m not The Greatest,” Spinks said afterward. “Just the latest.”

Arum was in the dressing room with Ali after the fight and said Ali directed him to sign Spinks to a quick rematch. The two fought seven months later in a prime-time fight on CBS that set television viewing records at the time, with nearly half the country tuning in.

Ali took the rematch more seriously than he did the first fight, winning a decision though Spinks was competitive. Spinks might have been better, Arum said, but he enjoyed the life of being heavyweight champion too much and partied much of the time between fights.

“Leon posed in a bathtub with a glass of champagne smoking a cigar. He suddenly had an entourage as big as one that Ali had,” Arum said. “We were all staying at the same hotel in New Orleans for the rematch and one morning I was coming down to breakfast and Leon got in the elevator and collapsed on the floor. Obviously, he had been out drinking and I said, ‘Leon, are you crazy, you’re fighting in just a few days.’ He said ‘What do you mean? I’m just coming in from roadwork.’”

Among the notable people in Spinks’ entourage was Lawrence Tureaud, who would later be known as the actor Mr. T and served as a bodyguard for the champion.

Spinks was born July 11, 1953, in St. Louis, raised in poverty along with his brother Michael. After discovering boxing both brothers became top amateurs, culminating in the 1976 Olympics where Leon won the light heavyweight gold and Michael won the middleweight gold.

Michael Spinks would go on to win the heavyweight title himself in 1985, defending it three times before being knocked out by Mike Tyson in 91 seconds in their 1988 fight in Atlantic City. By then, the best part of Leon’s career was over, though he would fight until losing a December 1995 fight against Fred Houpe in St. Louis.

After moving to Las Vegas, Spinks was married to Brenda Glur Spinks in 2011. The two were often seen at boxing-related activities, including Spinks’ 2017 induction into the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame.

“He was happy-go-lucky, the salt of the earth,” Arum said, chuckling at the memories. “Leon was nutty but you couldn’t get angry at the guy. He never meant any harm to anyone. You couldn’t help but love him even though you shook your head at how he acted.”

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UFC 257: Dustin Poirier knocks out Conor McGregor in 2nd round

  • In this handout image provided by the UFC, (R-L) Dustin Poirier punches Conor McGregor of Ireland in a lightweight fight during the UFC 257 event inside Etihad Arena on UFC Fight Island on January 23, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

  • In this handout image provided by the UFC, (R-L) Dustin Poirier punches Conor McGregor of Ireland in a lightweight fight during the UFC 257 event inside Etihad Arena on UFC Fight Island on January 23, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

  • In this handout image provided by the UFC, (L-R) Conor McGregor of Ireland punches Dustin Poirier in a lightweight fight during the UFC 257 event inside Etihad Arena on UFC Fight Island on January 23, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

  • In this handout image provided by the UFC, Dustin Poirier reacts after his knockout victory over Conor McGregor of Ireland in a lightweight fight during the UFC 257 event inside Etihad Arena on UFC Fight Island on January 23, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

  • In this handout image provided by the UFC, (R-L) Joanne Calderwood of Scotland punches Jessica Eye in a flyweight fight during the UFC 257 event inside Etihad Arena on UFC Fight Island on January 23, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

  • In this handout image provided by the UFC, (R-L) Michael Chandler punches Dan Hooker of New Zealand in a lightweight fight during the UFC 257 event inside Etihad Arena on UFC Fight Island on January 23, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

  • In this handout image provided by the UFC, (R-L) Amanda Ribas of Brazil punches Marina Rodriguez of Brazil in a strawweight fight during the UFC 257 event inside Etihad Arena on UFC Fight Island on January 23, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

  • In this handout image provided by the UFC, (R-L) Andrew Sanchez punches Makhmud Muradov of Uzbekistan in a middleweight fight during the UFC 257 event inside Etihad Arena on UFC Fight Island on January 23, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

  • In this handout image provided by the UFC, (R-L) Arman Tsarukyan of Armenia punches Matt Frevola in a lightweight fight during the UFC 257 event inside Etihad Arena on UFC Fight Island on January 23, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

  • In this handout image provided by the UFC, (R-L) Khalil Rountree kicks Marcin Prachnio of Poland in a light heavyweight fight during the UFC 257 event inside Etihad Arena on UFC Fight Island on January 23, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

  • In this handout image provided by the UFC, (R-L) Sara McMann punches Julianna Pena in a bantamweight fight during the UFC 257 event inside Etihad Arena on UFC Fight Island on January 23, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

  • In this handout image provided by the UFC, (R-L) Amir Albazi of Iraq punches Zhalgas Zhumagulov of Kazakhstan in a flyweight fight during the UFC 257 event inside Etihad Arena on UFC Fight Island on January 23, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

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ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Dustin Poirier stopped Conor McGregor with a flurry of punches midway through the second round Sunday (late Saturday night PST), avenging his loss to the Irish superstar with a knockout victory at UFC 257.

Poirier (26-7) caught McGregor with a series of shots to the head before buckling his knees with two left hands. Poirier then sent McGregor to the canvas with a short right hand and finished it swiftly, setting off stunned excitement among the few thousand screaming fans allowed inside the Etihad Arena on Yas Island.

In his first fight in a year, McGregor (22-5) had a strong first round before he was stopped by punches for the first time in his mixed martial arts career.

McGregor, whose previous four losses all came by submission, stayed on the canvas for several moments afterward, gathering himself after his second loss in three fights since 2016.

“You know, it’s hard to overcome inactivity over long periods of time,” said McGregor, who hadn’t fought since beating Donald Cerrone last January. “I just wasn’t as comfortable as I needed to be, but Dustin is some fighter. If you put in the time, you’re going to get cozy in here. I have to dust it off and come back, and that’s what I will do. … I’ll take my licks, but I’m gutted.”

McGregor and Poirier met for the first time in September 2014 as featherweights, and McGregor won by knockout in just 106 seconds during his incredible early-career success. McGregor became the featherweight champion 15 months later, while Poirier rebuilt his career with just one loss in his next 11 fights.

With a second chance to derail McGregor while boosting his own hopes of regaining the lightweight title, Poirier didn’t miss.

Sporting a shaved head and a beard, McGregor pushed the action early against Poirier, who landed an early takedown before getting backed against the cage for stretches of the first round. In the second, Poirier bothered McGregor with leg kicks before throwing the punches that ended it.

In the co-main event at UFC 257, three-time Bellator lightweight champion Michael Chandler made a stunning UFC debut with a violent knockout of New Zealand’s Dan Hooker midway through the first round.

Chandler could be the next matchup for Poirier in a fight for the lightweight title apparently vacated by long-reigning 155-pound champ Khabib Nurmagomedov, who announced his retirement after his final victory last fall.

UFC President Dana White so far has been unable to persuade Nurmagomedov to go back on his vow to his mother to quit the sport after his father’s death, not even for a wildly lucrative rematch with McGregor, who repeatedly vowed to fight on after this loss to Poirier.

McGregor has not fought regularly in recent years, but his popularity was undiminished: UFC 257 is expected to be one of the most popular pay-per-view events in the promotion’s history, according to White, and distribution problems in the U.S. early in the PPV portion of the card led fans to bombard social media and ESPN with complaints.

Chandler’s long-anticipated UFC arrival was worth the wait for his 27th professional fight in a career that began in 2009.

After a deliberate start, Chandler (22-5) jabbed to the body as he lunged forward and caught Hooker with a left hand to the face that crumpled his opponent. Chandler finished a dazed Hooker with punches on the ground before climbing atop the cage and doing a full standing backflip into the octagon from atop the fence.

And Chandler was still fired up in his post-fight interview, calling the bout “the greatest moment of my professional life.”

“Conor McGregor! Surprise, surprise, there’s a new king in the lightweight division,” Chandler added. “Dustin Poirier, your time is coming. And Khabib, if you ever do see fit to grace us with your presence back here in the UFC octagon in your quest for 30 (victories), you know you’ve got to beat somebody, so beat me — if you can!”

Marina Rodriguez opened the pay-per-view portion of UFC 257 by upsetting fellow Brazilian strawweight contender Amanda Ribas. Rodriguez got a second-round stoppage with a flurry of punches and a knee in the opening minute.

UFC 257 concluded a run of three shows in eight days with a few thousand fans allowed inside the promotion’s coronavirus bubble in the Middle East. The promotion hadn’t held shows with fans since before the pandemic began last March.

The UFC returns to Las Vegas in two weeks for another run of shows at the fan-free Apex gym on its corporate campus.

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Canelo Alvarez, nearing his peak, brings down another mountain

The bigger Canelo Alvarez’s opponents are, the harder they fall, although Callum Smith might have found it easier..

Smith walked into the ring in San Antonio Saturday night and peered down at Canelo, as if he were walking a little brother to school. Smith was at least six inches taller, and his wingspan was seven and a half inches longer.

All it meant was that there was more of Smith to hit, and Canelo spent most of 12 rounds compressing every rib and trimming every limb. Smith finished the fight, a decision that smoothed his ego but will make the rest of his body rebel on Sunday morning.

I’M BACK! 👑
✅ WBC Super Middleweight Champion
✅ WBA Super Middleweight Champion
✅ Ring Magazine Super Middleweight Champion#CaneloSmith #TheP4PKingIsBack@CANELOTEAM pic.twitter.com/dQjrwXWcQZ

— Canelo Alvarez (@Canelo) December 20, 2020

The decision was simple, as is the identity of the best boxer in the world. Canelo won the fight 11-1 on two cards, 9-3 on the other. He thus won the WBA and WBC super-middleweight championships, at 168 pounds, and has now won title fights in four divisions. He has a vast array of opponents and no real challengers.

“I don’t run from anybody,” Canelo said. “I just showed I fought against the best. Now we go for more.”

Smith was the most credentialed 168-pounder in the world. The Liverpudlian (cq) came into this fight 27-0 and was known as a hyperactive jabber and a willing trade of power shots. It was the fourth time in Canelo’s past eight fights that he has met an unbeaten opponent.

After measuring the giant and adjusting his slingshot, Canelo went Braveheart beginning in Round 3. You could have given Smith Round 6 because he finally found ways of answering, but the night got uglier as it went on.

Canelo dominated Callum Smith 🔥#CaneloSmith

(via @DAZNBoxing)pic.twitter.com/wxQFwCj6pH

— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) December 20, 2020

Smith couldn’t orchestrate the night by using his jab, because it was having little effect, and he was a sitting giraffe for Canelo’s hurtful body shots and uppercuts, with either hand. Smith did get to the finish line, but his nose was bloodied and his face swollen, and he was holding his arm awkwardly, as rumors flew that he had detached a bicep somewhere along the way.

Canelo goes to 54-1-1 and said he wanted to gather the other two belts at 1168. That would set up matches with Caleb Plant and Billy Joe Saunders, both of whom are unbeaten.

If you’re talking physical equality, the best 168-pound showdown could be with David Benavidez, but Benavidez has surrendered a super-middle belt twice, for PED use and also for missing weight.

There are also possibilities at light-heavyweight, where Canelo beat Sergey Kovalev in the fall of 2019. He would find Artur Beterbiev there, and maybe Gilberto Ramirez. Neither of them has lost.

The real danger could be at middleweight (160), where Jermall Charlo could possibly stun-gun him with his right hand. However, Canelo no longer has to starve himself to get credible fights. “I don’t want to fight with a scale,” he said.

What no one should want to see, at least no one with an ounce with mercy in the soul, is the third summit meeting between Canelo and 38-year-old Gennady Golovkin.

It was too hard to get them in the ring in the first place, and then they wound up with a draw in a fight Golovkin probably won, before Canelo took a majority decision in the rematch.

Along the way Golovkin mocked Canelo’s positive drug test and Canelo simmered over the assumption that he needed Golovkin more than vice versa. When Golovkin joined Canelo in signing a contract with DAZN, the streaming service, a third act seemed inevitable.

Since then Golovkin has atrophied. He was breathtakingly fortunate to get past Sergey Derevyanchenko in October of 2019.  He didn’t fight again until Friday night, when he floored Kamil Szeremeta four times in seven rounds and got the TKO in between rounds. Szeremeta was immobile and relatively skill-challenged, but he rose from the canvas four times, indicating Golovkin has lost his intimidating fastball.

Both Canelo and Golovkin are helplessly indignant whenever they’re asked about the rivalry, but Golovkin would be putting his reputation and molecular composition in jeopardy. Canelo is incalculably better, and certainly scarier, than he was in the first GGG fight.

Smith, remarkably, was able to speak with perspective about the storm that had consumed him.

“He was the better man tonight,” Smith said. “He’s just smart. He holds his ground, and then he sets little traps. Before you know it, he has closed the ground on you.

“His jab was very good for a shorter guy, and his defense was very good. He’s hard to hit clean. I’ve reached the top of the mountain and then I got knocked off it tonight. I’m devastated, but he’s a great fighter.”

Nine years ago Alvarez won his first real belt, at 154 pounds over Matthew Hatton at the Honda Center. Along the way he has beaten Shane Mosley, Miguel Cotto, Amir Khan, Erislandy Lara and Daniel Jacobs, in addition to Golovkin, Kovalev and Smith. It’s true that most of those champions were on the back nine of their careers, but Canelo still hadn’t gotten his merit badge when he took his only loss, a majority decision to the shrewd Floyd Mayweather in 2013, before Canelo fully knew himself.

The critics who thought Canelo was too strategic are speaking in whispers now, rendered audible by historians who look for his rightful place. Fortunately for the serious boxing fan, Canelo does, too.

 

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After all the down time, Errol Spence is still a thoroughbred

The great ones walk into the ring through piles of questions. By the time they walk out, they’ve dispelled them all.

Only one of those questions remained for Errol Spence late Saturday night.

Which horse will he pick out for his first ride on Sunday, at his ranch in DeSoto, Tex.? The one he named Ferrari, after the car that he demolished on Oct. 10 of last year?

“I don’t know, it’s been a long camp,” Spence said after his unanimous decision over Danny Garcia at AT&T Stadium. “It’s been 10 to 12 weeks and I’ve been spending it 24/7 in the gym. So that’s all I’m going to think about.”

Well, there’s this other question.

When will Spence settle all welterweight accounts and fight Terence Crawford, the WBO champion from the other side of the promotional divide?

Spence, who kept his IBF and WBC titles, represents Premier Boxing Champions and Al Haymon. Crawford is the pride of Top Rank and Bob Arum. Spence’s win sets up that titanic tussle, provided the virus recedes and people can once again sit elbow to elbow. Crawford, in fact, showed up in Arlington and got booed by most of the 16,000 fans when his face adorned the video board.

“Terence has to live up to his word,” Spence said. “He says he’s not worried about me. I don’t know why he was here, then. I don’t go to his fights.”

Again, it’s an unnatural question to ask a guy who has just toiled for 12 rounds and who isn’t in charge of the star-maker machinery anyway. But there wasn’t much else to analyze in Spence’s victory, in which he took eight of the 12 rounds on two of the judges’ cards and nine of 12 on the other.

The biggest issue was how much of the real Spence had survived that terrifying crash in downtown Dallas. He had not been in the ring since he had edged Shawn Porter in September of 2019. That all floated away in the first round, when Spence found a home for his right jab and established the size and reach advantages that he brought with him.

He wound up landing 84 jabs.

“I’ve always thought it was the easiest punch to learn and the hardest punch to block,” said Derrick James, Spence’s trainer. “It was beautiful tonight, because it was so consistent.”

It was the third career loss for Garcia. The other two were 147-pound title opportunities against Porter and Keith Thurman. All three, to an extent, were caused because Garcia, a savvy counter-puncher, couldn’t or didn’t pressure those opponents. HIs dad and trainer Angel wasn’t the only person perplexed by the final 15 seconds of the fight, when Danny finally began throwing hard rights at Spence. The horse had long left the barn.

“If he had done that the whole fight he might have won,” Angel said, “He had to let his hands go. Spence was stealing rounds, doing a lot in the last minute of the rounds. Danny was slipping and dipping and not countering. These judges, they don’t give you points for slipping and dipping. They give you points when the punches land.”

Garcia said Spence was tougher than either Thurman or Porter “because he’s stronger than the other two, and he has a better jab. He has great timing with it. He knows when to use it. I couldn’t get around it. He was the better man tonight.”

The Spence-Garcia pay-per-view numbers probably won’t approach the 1.5 million that watched Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jr. go for the AARP belt at Staples Center last Saturday. But Spence’s relative sharpness, which earned him a “B” on the self-grading system, is excellent news for boxing fans.

Now that he has restored himself, a bout with Crawford is there, and so are Thurman and Manny Pacquiao and maybe even the Josh Taylor-Jose Ramirez winner, moving up from super-lightweight.

Spence has been a hermit since the accident, returning to his Dallas gym in March and staying there. It was like the old days, he said, when you kept in shape just in case a fight came along.

“I could train for strategy instead of training to lose 30-40 pounds,” Spence said, and, indeed, he was the far fresher man going into the late rounds. Had he not gone into the prevent offense, he would have made the scores look as decisive as the fight was.

When it came time for the ringwalk, he smiled broadly. “I was just super-excited to have a chance to be a household name in Dallas again,” he said.

It’s a long way from a statistic.

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Davis introduces Santa Cruz to tank warfare with a devastating, 1-punch knockout

Exit velocity came to boxing Saturday night in a glorious and grotesque way.

No one actually measured the speed of Gervonta Davis’ left uppercut as Leo Santa Cruz lowered his head and took its full force right on the jaw.

Santa Cruz’s fall to the canvas, in his own corner, was nearly as immediate.

Rafael Ramos, the referee, rushed over and saw no need to count. Davis, known as “Tank,” moved to 24-0 with 23 knockouts, none starker than this one, with 20 seconds left in Round 6, that gave him Santa Cruz’’s WBA super-featherweight title and preserved his own WBA lightweight belt.

“I thought, ‘Damn, is he OK?’’’ Davis said later, which is what the well-spaced crowd of 11,000 in San Antonio’s Alamodome must have thought, too.

Santa Cruz was on his back for an uncomfortably long time. His head bounced off the bottom turnbuckle, and while he lay there, his dad Jose reached over and put his hand on Leo’s arm.

Eventually Santa Cruz was raised to sit on his stool, where he flashed his familiar smile, and walked out of the Dome with no assistance. It was the first time he ever has been knocked out. The 32-year-old is now 37-2-1 after his wish to fight Davis was fulfilled. This is not a loss he will be eager to avenge.

Santa Cruz was enjoying a solid 6th round. He was rocking Davis with left-right combinations and seemed to be absorbing the vicious left hooks and uppercuts that the left-hander from Baltimore features.

Backed into the corner, Santa Cruz threw a right hand that missed, and then another. Davis had the uppercut fully loaded, and it landed like a murderous drone.

“He wasn’t trying to get up,” Davis said. “He was out. We fighters go in there with killer instinct. But in the end we have families to go back to.

“Leo was right there for that shot. In the first few rounds I was a little anxious. Floyd keeps telling me that it’s a 12-round fight, to calm down. I’m learning.”

Floyd is Floyd Mayweather, who promotes Davis and has adapted him as the next version of himself.

It was a respectful promotion from the beginning, although Davis teased Santa Cruz by wearing a sombrero during his ringwalk.

Davis singled out Santa Cruz’s dad, calling him “a real champion.” Jose has always been Leo’s trainer, through years of fighting bone cancer and going through chemotherapy. This year Jose came down with COVID-19 and was on a ventilator at City of Hope. His heart stopped twice during the ordeal, and he has been in a wheelchair, but he walked into the ring Saturday night.

All three judges scored the fight 48-47 for Davis at the time of the knockout.

“It was an amazing performance,” Mayweather said. “I used to be that same kid, sitting right there. I’ve put him in the same position I was in. He will fight when he wants to fight, and who he wants to fight, and he’ll keep proving he’s the best.”

Given 12 rounds this might have been a Fight of the Year contender. There was no feeling-out process in the first round, and Santa Cruz, with a 2-inch reach and height advantage, was not holding back.

But Davis connected on 55 percent of his power shots, and he nicely turned some of Santa Cruz’s most malicious shots into grazing blows.

Davis was happy that he’d spent 15 weeks in Las Vegas training at Mayweather’s facility and said he would be back there again “in a week and a half or so.”

“I began by throwing the jab and I saw he was trying to counter me,” Davis said. “I saw that and adjusted. I threw and then got out of the way. Then I started throwing his left a little wider and that worked, too.

“I would hit his gloves at times but it would still knock him back. I could tell I was breaking him down. His body was telling him he couldn’t do it but his mind was telling him to keep going. That’s what a great warrior does.”

“We had been working on the last shot,” said trainer Calvin Ford. “And he closed the show with it.”

Davis, who had to get below 130 pounds to make this fight, said he will continue boxing at both 130 and 135 in order to hold both belts. A multitude of quality fights are there for him, but lightweight Ryan Garcia has been the loudest petitioner.

At the very least Davis should be included in the mythical Top 10 pound-for-pound list. A super-fight could loom with Teofimo Lopez, the unified lightweight champ, although it would take some delicate negotiation. Davis fights under the Premier Boxing Champions banner, and Lopez fights for Top Rank.

“You keep lining them up, we’ll keep knocking them down,” Davis said. “I’m not ducking or dodging.”

He looked for a more ominous metaphor.

“I don’t have to call anybody out,” he said. “There ain’t no safety on this Glock.”

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Teofimo Lopez’s upset of Vasiliy Lomachenko turns boxing head over heels

He did his usual backflip in the midst of the ring. Then he lay there and did several snow angels, right in the middle of that winter wonderland known as Las Vegas.

As he did so, blood droplets peppered the canvas, coming from a 12th-round cut in his right eyelid.

You saw everything about Teofimo Lopez right then, as if he hadn’t shown you enough.

Lopez was not going to talk his way past Vasiliy Lomachenko, the 32-year-old holder of the three lightweight belts that Lopez didn’t hold. He did not become the unified champ through slapstick and one-shot power. He did not charge Lomachenko in those early rounds when the Ukranian was getting his engine warm, and he used his three-inch reach advantage to protect himself and frustrate the most poised man in boxing.

Later, Lomachenko found himself so far behind that he entered the danger zone, and at times he rocked Lopez with jabs and uppercuts. But the kid has a chin to match his mouth, and when he got a chance to fight the first 12th round of his career, he understood what that meant. Lopez staggered Lomachenko and was ready for a finishing crescendo when Lomachenko accidentally head-butted him in the eye and brought loose the blood. It flowed well, thanks to a forceful heart.

“He hadn’t fought in 14 months,” Lopez said. “I knew he’d probably get off to a slow start. With him you gotta keep pressuring him, press the gas, stick the jab and don’t give him the opportunity to set up. Every time he wanted to throw, I had something ready for him.

“But at the end, I knew he was coming. I can bang, too. I’ll take one to give one.”

“I spent all week with him,” said super-middleweight Edgar Berlanga, who scored his 15th one-round knockout (over Lanell Meadows) in his first 15 fights. “We ate breakfast, lunch and dinner. We were chopping it up all week, talking about the future. There’s a new generation coming in boxing. My brother (Lopez) took a leap of faith. He’s 23 years old and he’s an undisputed champion.”

Lomachenko was the decisive favorite, because of experience and intangibles and the sneaking suspicion that Lopez wasn’t quite ready for the adult table.

Ignored was the fact that Lopez was younger, bigger and, as it turned out, quicker, with a longer reach. Lomachenko’s only response was a resume. It couldn’t even raise a paper cut on Lopez.

Lopez won the first seven rounds on every judge’s card. In the third, Lomachenko only landed two punches. Lomachenko finally shelved his apparent strategy of letting Lopez beat himself when the eighth round arrived, and his pressure finally put Lopez in a discomfort zone. But by then Lopez had banked too many rounds.

Judge Julie Lederman gave Lopez a 10-point victory, and Tim Cheatham favored Lopez 116-112. Steve Weisfeld had it 117-111.

If you like analytics (and who doesn’t?), Lopez piled up 148 power shots, a high for any of Lomahencko’s opponents.

“We did something nobody thought we could do,” said Teofimo Lopez Sr., father and manager. “We outboxed him. It was a matter of hitting and not getting hit. We just made the best boxer in the world look like nothing. He (Lomachenko) had 370 amateur fights and we beat him at his own game.

“We got a thing called the pyramid. We can hit you and you can’t hit us, and once you get inside us, you’re gonna pay. Then he went for broke, going crazy, hitting my son with his head, trying to make the fight dirty. My son could have taken him out but he didn’t want to, and I liked that. He just ended up giving him a whuppin.’.”

In case Lopez Sr. hadn’t made himself clear, he yelled “Blowout!” when Teofimo came to the stool after the seventh round.

Senior also said Junior would most likely graduate to the 140-pound division, which is loading up by the second. Josh Taylor and Jose Ramirez will unify that one, and Arnold Barboza Jr., of El Monte, moved into the line of succession with a solid decision over Alex Saucedo.

It’s also possible that Devin Haney, Ryan Garcia and Gervonta Davis will become super-lightweights, too.

Lopez joked that he wanted the equally loquacious Haney, whom he called the “two-time e-mail champion of the world,” but then admitted, “I just like messing with people.”

The messing will continue. That’s part of being undisputed.

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UFC 253: Israel Adesanya defends belt, Jan Błachowicz wins title

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Unbeaten Israel Adesanya defended his middleweight title in style with a dominant second-round stoppage of Paulo Costa at UFC 253 on Sunday

Poland’s Jan Błachowicz also stopped Dominick Reyes late in the second round on Fight Island, the mixed martial arts promotion’s bubble performance venue in the Middle East, to claim the light heavyweight title vacated by Jon Jones.

Adesanya (20-0) carved up his previously unbeaten Brazilian opponent with flair and ease, battering Costa with leg kicks before ending it late in the second round. Adesanya crumpled Costa with a combination at the center of the octagon, and the champion finished on the ground with 61 seconds left in the round.

“I told you guys that it was going to be violent, and it was going to end fast,” Adesanya said. “That’s what I did. It was a little bit sloppy, but I’m a dog, so I do what I do.”

The win was the ninth straight in the UFC for Adesanya, the Nigeria-born, New Zealand-based phenomenon who has soared to prominence in mixed martial arts over the past three years.

In UFC 253′s co-main event, the 37-year-old Błachowicz (27-8) capped his late-career surge by winning his first UFC title.

After controlling most of the action in a slow first round, Błachowicz apparently broke Reyes’ nose during the second round, and he abruptly ended it when he landed a high left hook to the side of Reyes’ head. Reyes wobbled, stumbled and fell, and Błachowicz promptly finished him on the ground with 24 seconds left in the round.

“I still don’t believe it, but it’s here,” Błachowicz said. “It’s not a dream, right? It happened. I have the legendary Polish power, I proved it one more time. … Even a pandemic can’t stop me right now.”

Unheralded flyweight Brandon Royval also had a highlight-reel win on Fight Island, stopping Kai Kara-France with a guillotine choke in the second round.

Adesanya won his title last year by beating Robert Whittaker, but he was in need of a redemptive performance after defending his belt last March with a stupendously boring decision over Yoel Romero in Las Vegas.

The champion known as “The Last Stylebender” reminded the UFC just what he can do while dispatching Costa with ease

The heavily muscled Costa opened the fight with a cocky swagger, daring Adesanya to kick his lead leg by putting his hands behind his back. Adesanya preened back at Costa, but largely kept his distance and tagged Costa with kicks, while Costa’s own kicks were less successful.

Costa’s striking game never got going, and Adesanya wore him down before finishing the fight.

“I built a beachfront condo inside his head from the first time we met,” Adesanya said. “The way he was fighting, you just want me to stand there so you can punch me. I’m not stupid, dummy.”

While Adesanya was a favorite, Błachowicz’s victory was a surprise. He is the first fighter other than Jones or Daniel Cormier to hold the UFC light heavyweight title since 2011, when Jones began his rocky reign.

Jones vacated his belt three times during the ensuing nine years for doping offenses and criminal misbehaviors, but always reclaimed it. But he voluntarily relinquished the title earlier this year after lengthy negotiations over the future of his career with the UFC, apparently receiving the financial incentive to move to heavyweight.

But Jones doesn’t have a fight booked at heavyweight, and Błachowicz isn’t buying the move.

“Only one man is in my mind,” Błachowicz said. “Jon Jones, where are you? Don’t be a quitter. This is how we do it in Poland. I’m waiting for you.”

UFC President Dana White said he wouldn’t stop Jones if the former champion wanted to fight Błachowicz, a six-year UFC veteran. He earned this title shot with three straight wins, including stoppages of former champion Luke Rockhold and Corey Anderson.

Reyes is a former college football player from Southern California who only recently devoted himself to the sport full-time, but his 12-0 start to his career landed him a title shot at Jones in February. Jones won their matchup by decision, but most observers thought Reyes had nearly pulled off the monumental upset, keeping him first in line for a second title shot when Jones vacated.

Adesanya also said he wants to fight Jones soon, and he would be willing to move up to do it.

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