News, Culture & Society

UFC 259: How have other stars fared since Israel Adesanya’s UFC debut?

With three title fights and four champions on show, UFC 259 has a strong case for being the most exciting card put together post-Covid. 

But make no mistake, all eyes will be fixed on one man at the Apex Center in Las Vegas this weekend: Israel Adesanya. 

That is not to discredit the magnitude of Amanda Nunes’ title defence against Megan Anderson, nor the grudge match between Petr Yan and Aljamain Sterling for the bantamweight crown.

Israel Adesanya is on the verge of UFC greatness as he headlines UFC 259 this weekend 

Adesanya has enjoyed a meteoric rise since making his debut with the UFC three years ago

Adesanya has enjoyed a meteoric rise since making his debut with the UFC three years ago 

Because Adesanya has the opportunity to join a limited group comprising just three men and one women in simultaneously holding two UFC titles at different weights.

The Last Stylebender has defied concerns that he was ‘too skinny’ to compete with the best middleweights and stands on the cusp of a feat only Daniel Cormier, Conor McGregor, Henry Cejudo and Nunes have achieved.

What’s more, the 31-year-old’s meteoric rise is made all the more impressive given that he only arrived in the UFC just short of three years ago, when he made his debut against Rob Wilkinson at UFC 221 in Perth, Western Australia. Eight fights and eight wins later, Adesanya is one of the biggest names in the sport. 

That event saw Yoel Romero headline against Luke Rockhold, Aussie hero Mark Hunt take on Curtis Blaydes while another champion in the making was setting about his UFC journey. Sportsmail takes a look at where the standout names from UFC 221 ended up.  

Adesanya was on the undercard that night, so what has happened to the other stars of UFC 221

Adesanya was on the undercard that night, so what has happened to the other stars of UFC 221 

Yoel Romero 

The headline event Down Under did not, rather curiously, feature an Australian or New Zealand fighter.

In fact, the Perth show was due to be contested between New Zealand-born Australian Robert Whittaker and American rival Luke Rockhold. However, an undisclosed injury resulted in Whittaker having to pull out of the main event.

Never one to shy away from giving the fans a show, up stepped Yoel Romero to chance his arm at an interim title that would propel him into the reckoning for a shot at the middleweight crown. 

Yoel Romero headlined in Perth, Australia, stepping in for the injured Robert Whittaker

Yoel Romero headlined in Perth, Australia, stepping in for the injured Robert Whittaker

The popular Cuban defeated former middleweight champion Luke Rockhold by knockout

The popular Cuban defeated former middleweight champion Luke Rockhold by knockout

And the popular Cuban seized that chance in emphatic fashion, finishing Rockhold with a third round knockout to the adulation of the Australian crowd. 

Romero went on to face Whittaker for a second time, having previously lost by split decision. This time the victor would emerge with the belt, but it was Whittaker who once more got the better of the 43-year-old, winning the back-and-forth contest by split decision.

The Cuban had one more shot at UFC gold, this time against Adesanya in a highly-anticipated bout between two of the best strikers to compete in the sport. But the contest fell flat, with the pair cautious of overcommitting. Adesanya won that fight by decision.

Romero was released by the UFC late last year, with supremo Dana White cutting a number of stars owing to the financial ramifications of the pandemic. Despite never clinching a championship belt, Romero is regarded as one of the greatest athletes to compete with the UFC. He has since signed for rival promotion Bellator. 

Romero, 43, met Adesanya last year but was defeated and has since left the promotion

Romero, 43, met Adesanya last year but was defeated and has since left the promotion

Luke Rockhold

For Rockhold, UFC 221 offered an opportunity to claw his way back into the title reckoning. 

The American was expected to enjoy an era of domination at 185 pounds after winning the title in late 2015. However, defeat to rank outsider Michael Bisping in June 2016, viewed as one of the greatest upsets in UFC history, presented a huge setback for an athlete earmarked as a star in the making.

Bisping never offered Rockhold a rematch for his belt, so the 36-year-old would have to get passed the imposing Romero for a chance to win back the title. 

Luke Rockhold failed to seize his opportunity to claw his way back into title reckoning in Perth

Luke Rockhold failed to seize his opportunity to claw his way back into title reckoning in Perth

Defeat to the Cuban, however, was the beginning of a slippery slope. A series of injuries saw Rockhold ruled out of contests with Chris Weidman and a move up to light heavyweight to face Alexander Gustafsson.

The Santa Cruz native moved up a weight class to take on Jan Blachowicz in July 2019, citing difficulties with making the cut for 185 pounds as a contributing factor to his decision. 

The step up did not reap the rewards he had hoped for, however, with the Pole earning a seismic knockout victory on his road to the 205 pound title.  

Rockhold has not fought since but remains hungry to continue competing in the UFC, despite White suggesting he retire after his loss to Blachowicz. 

The American moved up to light heavyweight but was knocked out by Jan Blachowicz in 2019

The American moved up to light heavyweight but was knocked out by Jan Blachowicz in 2019

Dana White has suggested Rockhold retire but the 36-year-old plans to continue fighting

Dana White has suggested Rockhold retire but the 36-year-old plans to continue fighting

Mark Hunt

A cult figure among UFC fans, Mark Hunt’s ice-cool walk offs after securing knockouts made his fights compelling viewing. 

The 46-year-old enjoyed his fair share of battles inside and outside the octagon, enduring a couple of disputes with White during his time with the organisation. 

Although he was some distance from the fighter that competed for an interim title in 2014, the Australian was still a big scalp leading into his UFC 221 battle with young up and comer Curtis Blaydes. 

Fan-favourite Mark Hunt fought in front of his home crowd but lost to youngster Curtis Blaydes

Fan-favourite Mark Hunt fought in front of his home crowd but lost to youngster Curtis Blaydes

Hunt still carried devastating knockout power, in defiance of his 5ft 10 ins frame, and had Blaydes in deep trouble after flooring him with a huge overhand right in the first round. 

However, the American recovered to win by point decision. Hunt set foot in the octagon just two more times following his loss to Blaydes, losing on both occasions to Alexey Oleynik and Justin Willis. 

The Australian has since swapped the octagon for the boxing ring, losing a six-round heavyweight contest to Paul Gallen in Sydney last December.  

Hunt, 46, left the UFC in December 2018 and recently lost to Paul Gallen in a boxing bout

Hunt, 46, left the UFC in December 2018 and recently lost to Paul Gallen in a boxing bout

Curtis Blaydes

It is fair to say Curtis Blaydes has been active since his win over Hunt at UFC 221. 

The Illinois native has gone on to step inside the octagon no fewer than seven times since his unanimous win in Perth, becoming one of the top contenders at heavyweight. 

The Razor followed up his win over Hunt with a TKO victory over future Hall of Famer Alistair Overeem, before taking on knockout specialist Francis Ngannou in Beijing, China. 

Curtis Blaydes has been on a very active run since defeating Hunt in Perth three years ago

Curtis Blaydes has been on a very active run since defeating Hunt in Perth three years ago

The American has fought seven times and moved into the top five of the heavyweight rankings

The American has fought seven times and moved into the top five of the heavyweight rankings

The 30-year-old had hoped to avenge his sole career defeat to the Cameroonian in the Far East, however, Ngannou’s victory was even more emphatic on the second time of asking, finishing Blaydes inside the opening 45 seconds. 

Victories over Justin Willis, Shamil Abdurakhimov, Junior dos Santos and Alexander Volkov saw Blaydes cement his position inside the top five of the heavyweight rankings.

However, Blaydes suffered a major setback this year, losing to fan-favourite and bookies’ underdog Derrick Lewis via a vicious uppercut knockout in Las Vegas. 

Blaydes, 30, was defeated by Derrick Lewis last time out, being felled by a brutal uppercut

Blaydes, 30, was defeated by Derrick Lewis last time out, being felled by a brutal uppercut

Alexander Volkanovski

While the likes of Romero, Rockhold and Hunt were attracting spectators to the 15,500-capacity Perth arena, one young Australian was quietly setting about his journey through the featherweight ranks.

Alexander Volkanovski entered his UFC 221 clash with Jeremy Kennedy on a 13-fight unbeaten run, three of which were with the UFC, having enjoyed a fruitful career in rugby league in Australia. 

Kennedy, an undefeated Canadian, was toppled over inside two rounds as the 32-year-old continued his march towards a shot at the featherweight crown. 

Adesanya was not the only future UFC champion to perform on the undercard at UFC 221

Adesanya was not the only future UFC champion to perform on the undercard at UFC 221

Alex Volkanovski defeated unbeaten Jeremy Kennedy as he marched towards the title

Alex Volkanovski defeated unbeaten Jeremy Kennedy as he marched towards the title

A unanimous decision victory over Darren Elkins was followed by an impressive win over former title hopeful Chad Mendes, enough to persuade chiefs to put the Australian in with Jose Aldo next. 

Volkanovski put in an unflappable display to seal another unanimous points victory and in so doing make a huge statement as the next in line for a shot at Max Holloway’s throne. 

Holloway, regarded as the greatest athlete to compete at 145 pounds, was expected to overcome his latest challenge. After all, the Hawaiian native had the height advantage and was expected to set an unmatchable pace.

Victories over Chad Mendes and Jose Aldo booked his title shot and he defeated Max Holloway

Victories over Chad Mendes and Jose Aldo booked his title shot and he defeated Max Holloway

The pair met for a second time last year, with the Australian winning by controversial decision

The pair met for a second time last year, with the Australian winning by controversial decision

However, Volkanovski remained composed despite the magnitude of the event, outstriking Blessed in every round to earn a decision victory and clinch the UFC title.

The pair met again in July 2020 in a much closer contest, Volkanovski was awarded the split decision victory, much to the furore of fans and pundits, while White opined that Holloway was deserving of the victory.

Volkanovski defends his belt for a second time against former interim champion Brian Ortega later this month.   

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk