Kelvin Gastelum and Israel Adesanya put on a fight for the ages in the co-main event of UFC 236 on Saturday in an exciting back-and-forth championship bout that proved both men belong with the absolute elite at 185 pounds.
Thousands of fans were on the edge of their seats at the State Farm Arena in Atlanta as they watched two middleweight titans go to war, putting their talent and heart on display for all to see, with the brutality of the contest visible on the face of both competitors. When it was all said and done, it was The Last Stylebender who had his hand raised to be crowned the interim middleweight champion. The contest was leaning slightly in Adesanya’s favour but a dominant 10-8 final round really set the decision in stone.
Speaking post fight, Adesanya said: “I was willing to die. We’ve lost teammates to this game, they’re not with us anymore. … But I knew I was willing to give it all and to leave it all in there. And I said let’s go, but like I said he’s a Mexican warrior, but hey, I’ve got that mexicano in me too.”.
Gastelum landed a powerful right hand early that had Adesanya retreating, and many were surprised to see Kelvin Gastelum getting the better of the striking exchanges with the decorated stand-up artist.
Kelvin Gastelum continued to utilise his boxing to put the pressure on Adesanya but was dropped by a counter right hand that had Gastelum in danger for a short while.
That knockdown got Adesanya going as he turned up the pressure, landing consistent and clean shots on Gastelum. With just under a minute to go in the round, Adesanya landed a clean spinning back elbow that again had Gastelum stunned.
After clearly losing the second round, Gastelum came out strong for the third. He got into boxing range and winged hard strikes with varied success, but Adesanya maintained his striking accuracy even in chaotic exchanges. Adesanya was even able to defend against Gastelum’s grappling to keep the fight standing, something that many thought might be an issue for The Last Stylebender. In typical Gastelum fashion, he refused to give up. His resilience nearly paid off at the end of the fourth round when he hurt Adesanya with a left head kick that caught everyone by surprise.
In the final round of the fight, Gastelum attempted to swing things in his favour by pressuring Adesanya with takedown attempts. At one point, after a scramble, Adesanya almost locked in a triangle choke but Gastelum slipped free and the fight stood back up. It became clear towards the end of the fight that Adesanya had more left in the tank as he continued to find success with his counters and eventually just letting his hands go with a combination that send Gastelum to the canvas with a minute on the clock. Adesanya followed Gastelum to the mat with a big elbow before dropping some hard ground and pound that bloodied up Gastelum. However, Adesanya was unable to get the finish and the final bell sounded.
In the end, Adesanya had his hand raised as he improved his professional record to 17 wins and 0 losses as he won his sixth straight bout with the promotion. Gastelum’s record fell to 15 wins with 4 losses and 1 no contest.
Dana White stated after the fight that the next move will be a big stadium event in Australia that will see Adesanya look to get his hands on Robert Whittaker’s undisputed title.