ESPN's panel of Ariel Helwani, Brett Okamoto, Marc Raimondi, Jeff Wagenheim and Phil Murphy breaks down the biggest stories coming out of UFC 259, including Jan Blachowicz's dominant win over Israel Adesanya, who was attempting to become just the fifth fighter in UFC history to hold titles in two divisions simultaneously; the return of women's GOAT Amanda Nunes in another impressive victory; the incredible mistake by Petr Yan that gave Aljamain Sterling the bantamweight title; and the dominant submission victory of Khabib Nurmagomedov's protégé and training partner, Islam Makhachev.
Helwani: Loss to Blachowicz won't damage Adesanya
All things considered, Saturday night wasn't all that bad for Israel Adesanya.
Don't get me wrong: He lost fair and square. I scored that fight 48-47 in favor of Jan Blachowicz. For the record, I gave Blachowicz the second, fourth and fifth rounds. No controversy whatsoever.
But I don't feel like Adesanya's stock took a massive hit. A little one? Sure.
He didn't get knocked out, though, which is always the fear when you're moving up 20 pounds to a new division, and that was a winnable fight.
Plus, he is still the middleweight champion.
Has Adesanya's aura of invincibility disappeared? I don't think so. After all, those who have been watching him prior to his run in the UFC have seen him get knocked out in kickboxing. We know what that looks like.
He took a chance and moved up to 205 to grab a second title when he saw an opening.
Turns out, he was wrong. Blachowicz is no opening. He is the rightful owner of the light heavyweight title. Blachowicz beat the guy who (I believe) beat Jon Jones last year in Dominick Reyes, and now he beat one of the best fighters on the planet.
This reminds me of the time then-lightweight champion BJ Penn moved up to fight then-welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre at UFC 94 in 2009. Penn walked into that fight on a roll and then stumbled against the bigger GSP.
Did it derail Penn's career? No. In fact, his next two performances -- wins over Kenny Florian and Diego Sanchez -- were arguably the very best of Penn's illustrious career, especially the latter one.
I wouldn't be surprised if that happens with Adesanya, as he moves back down now to defend his middleweight title.
The question is, who will that next fight come against? We'll likely know after the upcoming slew of middleweight fights play out over the next six weeks. It could be Kevin Holland; it could be a rematch against Robert Whittaker or Marvin Vettori.
We'll just have to wait and see.
One thing I know for sure is, the chances of us ever seeing Adesanya vs. Jon Jones just got a heck of a lot slimmer after this fight.
After Adesanya beat Paulo Costa in September, I said the time was now to make that grudge match. Adesanya had nothing going on at 185, and Jones was waiting for the heavyweight title picture to clear up.
Alas, the UFC and Adesanya chose to go in a different direction. Live and learn.
As he said multiple times in his postfight interview, Adesanya dared to be great and it cost him his first pro MMA loss. That's the way it goes in MMA.
But if you think this somehow exposed Adesanya or marked the beginning of the end of his run as champion, look no further than what another "prodigy" did after daring to be great 12 years ago.
Murphy: DQ derails one of UFC 259's premier performances
Sterling leaves belt in Octagon after victory due to illegal knee from Yan
After Petr Yan lands an illegal knee to the head of Aljamain Sterling, the fight is called off and Yan is disqualified, making Sterling the new bantamweight champion.
On one of the deeper cards in recent memory, many penciled in Petr Yan's bantamweight title defense against Aljamain Sterling as a fight-of-the-night favorite. Through three rounds, the primary reason it wasn't destined for the distinction was Yan's skill and game plan. That was until Yan's illegal knee to the head of Sterling forced his disqualification and derailed all postfight discourse altogether.
During the first three-plus rounds, Yan and Sterling proved why they're the elite in one of the sport's most stacked weight classes. Yan appeared visibly more comfortable and controlled -- what you'd expect from a champion. The fight also revealed the experience advantage for Yan, as Sterling entered championship rounds for the first time since 2011. For all the effort Sterling expended early, trying to create angles and shoot for takedowns, Yan successfully defended them with the countenance of someone waiting at the DMV. There was similar calmness in the now-former champion's offense, mixed with bad intentions that earned him the nickname "No Mercy."
Not the way I ever want to win a fight. It was close, competitive and filled with action. I felt the knee was intentional, especially after the ref announced I was a downed opponent, so I didn't expect to be hit.— Aljamain Sterling (@funkmasterMMA) March 7, 2021
Yan is a bad dude! WE WILL DO IT AGAIN!#UFC259
The only silver lining of the seemingly stronger fighter losing his belt by disqualification: At ages 28 and 31, respectively, Yan and Sterling are still very much in their primes. These two already seemed destined to share the Octagon again at some point. Now, it'll be the next time out. Also, with Sterling's early finish of Cory Sandhagen in June, there's not exactly a clear top contender left in the division.
Yan remains the class of bantamweight. Unfortunately for him -- and Sterling, to a degree -- the next time they fight for the belt against each other, again, a mental miscue at UFC 259 will dominate the buildup.
Okamoto: What's the future of the 145-pound division?
Chael Sonnen: 'Amanda Nunes has no weaknesses'
Chael Sonnen and Paul Felder explain why they agree that Amanda Nunes is the greatest women's fighter of all time in the UFC.
The 145-pound division hasn't had a viable future ... since the day the UFC launched it back in 2018.
It was the answer to a problem the promotion had with Cris Cyborg Justino, who couldn't make 135 pounds. Justino was a star, though, and deserving of a platform in the UFC. I'm happy the UFC made this division, and it's had some good moments. But again, the long-term future of this weight class never looked good. The depth is simply not there.
Here's the good news. The UFC doesn't need to make a decision on this division any time soon. Nunes can stay the champion, and it really affects nothing. She is still the bantamweight champ too, and that was always going to be her most active weight class. I expect the UFC to simply ... say nothing about this division. It will, technically, stay open, but I don't foresee many fights taking place within it. But if the UFC does identify talent to potentially challenge Nunes at this weight, the option will be there.
This division is basically a door left cracked open at this point. The UFC can ignore it, until it has a need or interest in it.
Raimondi: The Makhachev hype is real
Khabib Nurmagomedov has been saying for several years that his longtime training partner and close friend Islam Makhachev is a future UFC champion at lightweight. Former UFC double champion Daniel Cormier, Makhachev's American Kickboxing Academy teammate, refers to Makhachev as "champion" now. AKA coach Javier Mendez has called Makhachev a machine.
Well, none of that is lip service: Makhachev is the truth. Those in the know have been aware for some time. But Makhachev needed a breakout performance on a big card, and he got it at UFC 259.
Makhachev absolutely dominated Drew Dober with wrestling and grappling for the better part of three rounds, before finishing with an arm-triangle choke from an absurd angle. Makhachev drowned Dober, taking a surging lightweight contender and rendering him largely helpless. It was a performance that was reminiscent of, well, Nurmagomedov himself, who was in Makhachev's corner Saturday night.
Nurmagomedov told me earlier this month that the plan for Makhachev is to fight three times this year and be in the lightweight title conversation by the end of 2021. Honestly? It might not even take that long. As far as I'm concerned, Makhachev is already right there.
Wagenheim: Rakic misses opportunity to get closer to a title fight
Not all opportunities -- or lost opportunities -- are created equal. Aleksandar Rakić had a big stage on which to prove his worth, in the opening bout of a three-title-fight main card on which the light heavyweight championship was to be up for grabs in the main event.
Rakić was facing his third straight opponent who had challenged for that belt, Thiago Santos, and Santos was coming off two straight losses. This was a prime chance for Rakić, who is No. 9 in the ESPN rankings at 205 pounds, to assert himself and maybe even do some leapfrogging.
Rakić did win the fight, so let's not get too carried away with the "lost opportunity" angle. Defeating a fighter who not long ago gave Jon Jones all he could handle is not to be dismissed. But Rakić did nothing to create a groundswell among fans, pundits or matchmakers that he is worthy of cutting ahead of anyone in front of him and edging closer to a title challenge. He didn't lose ground in the light heavyweight hierarchy, but this was a small step forward in a sport that has become all about stars making giant leaps.
Rakić fought cautiously, but so did his dance partner. Santos rarely moved forward, leaving Rakić to try to pick him apart from distance. And Rakić did that, to a degree. He showed discipline and poise. He stuck to his steady game plan, which is a lot easier to do inside a building without fans booing, no doubt. And he was the stalker for the entirety of the three rounds, clearly earning the victory. But Rakić had the opportunity to set up a second victory -- having the main event winner speak his name -- and he did not accomplish that. So it's back to the grind for Rakić. Back to the slow build.