The matchup between Anderson Silva and Israel Adesanya was billed as a battle of old vs. new, the greatest striker in UFC history taking on the man anointed as The Next One.
Somehow, the battle lived up to the billing, as the 43-year-old Silva coupled fight wisdom with flashes of his former self and made things highly competitive with the 29-year-old kickboxer.
But big things have been predicted of Adesanya for a reason, and he showed why in earning a tough unanimous decision victory in the main event of UFC 234 on Saturday night (Sunday afternoon local time). The judges’ scores at Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne, Australia were 29-28, 30-27, and 30-27 in favor of the Auckland resident by way of Nigeria.
“This is crazy, this is like for a kid just to play. If I’m playing basketball, to play Michael Jordan,” Adesanya said. “This is it for me, I don’t do EA Sports, this is for real.”
Adesanya was the faster of the two. He frequently changed angles and mixed up kicks and punches.
Silva, however, looked at ease in the cage, using a mix of psychological warfare and occasional rushes forward to keep things interesting.
While the fight had the vibe that either could land the KO at any time, Adesanya’s gas tank proved the difference as he finished with a strong third round to seal the win.
With the victory, Adesanya improved to 16-0, 5-0 in the year since he debuted in the UFC.
Silva (34-9, 1 no-contest), of Palos Verdes, Calif, by way of Brazil, whose middleweight title reign from 2006-13 remains the longest reign in UFC history, has dropped three of his past four.
The biggest blow of the card actually came earlier in the day, when the evening’s scheduled main event was canceled.
UFC middleweight champion Robert Whittaker of Sydney, who was scheduled to defend his championship against Yuma, Ariz.’s Kelvin Gastelum, was rushed into emergency surgery due to a hernia.
This caused Adesanya-Silva, the scheduled co-feature, to get bumped up to the main spot.