Israel Adesanya finished 2019 with a record of 18-0. He also had the UFC middleweight title wrapped around his waist. When 2019 began, Adesanya was the No. 6 ranked fighter in the official UFC middleweight rankings. At that time, Adesanya was looked at as a work in progress.
In his first fight of 2019, Adesanya faced former middleweight kingpin, Anderson Silva. Adesanya won that fight by unanimous decision. After that win, the fighter who had been pegged as “the next Anderson Silva” earned a shot at the interim middleweight title. The bout served as the co-main event of UFC 236. The five-round contest shared “Fight of the Night” honors with the main event, which featured Dustin Poirier vs. Max Holloway for the interim lightweight crown.
Not only was the middleweight matchup the best fight on that April fight card. It earned the honor of the best battle of the first half of 2019. The scrap between Adesanya and Gastelum held onto its spot and finished the year as the best UFC fight of 2019.
The five-round battle had everything a fan could ask for in an MMA contest. There were shifts in momentum, pressure, power strikes vs. volume strikes, knockdowns and an overabundance of heart and grit. It was also close. When the fifth round came along, all three judges had the fight scored at 38-38. With that, the bout hinged on the final five minutes.
It looked like Gastelum had the momentum going into the final stanza as he had Adesanya hurt in the last minute of the fourth round. When Adesanya went back to his corner, the UFC commentators remarked on how badly he had been damaged.
Gastelum was aggressive to start the round, but Adesanya took over quickly when he picked up his volume and attempted two submissions. That might have been enough to tilt the fight in Adesanya’s favor, but he dug deep and went on to add three knockdowns in the last 70 seconds of the contest.
Shortly after the fight, UFC commentator Jon Anik called the bout “one of the greatest title fights you will see.”
Adesanya’s effort in the final stanza earned him 10-8 scores for the final round from all three judges and the interim middleweight title.
In his next outing, Adesanya knocked out middleweight champion Robert Whittaker to earn the undisputed 185-pound crown. Adesanya defended that title in March of this year with a decision win over Yoel Romero.
Before that fight takes place, watch Adesanya’s win over Gastelum.
UFC 253 takes place tonight in Abu Dhabi. The main card streams on ESPN+ pay-per-view following prelims on ESPN+ and ESPN2 and early prelims on ESPN+ and UFC Fight Pass.