Originally billed as the co-main event, the Adesanya-Silva showdown was elevated to main event status, and it didn’t disappoint.
The three-round fight went the distance and Adesanya claimed the win via a unanimous decision 29-28, 30-27, 30-27.
After opening up the fight with the first two meaningful blows – a pair of kicks to Silva’s leg and thigh respectively – Adesanya asserted his dominance with some punches and a knee to the head. And although the Brazilian fought back with a couple of punches to Adesanya’s chin, the Kiwi won the first round.
Silva fought back well in the second round, including a huge punch which connected with Adesanya’s face early, but the New Zealander worked his way back into the bout, most notably with three quick punches to Silva’s head which led the 43-year-old to goad Adesanya into trying it again.
The crowd began chanting Silva’s name as the third round began, but it wasn’t enough to get him over the line. Adesanya dominated the strike count and his leg strikes were far more frequent, leading the judges to come to the same conclusion.
As a sign of respect, Adesanya lifted Silva’s arm up to the crowd to make sure arguably the greatest UFC fighter in history got the recognition he deserved.
Immediately after the fight ended, Silva was overheard saying to Adesanya: “I pass the baton to you. You’re the best. Thank you for everything.”
And with a 16-0 MMA record, including five wins in the UFC in 12 months, Adesanya could end up being the best by the end of 2019.
On Friday, White confirmed that Adesanya and Silva were fighting for the No.1 middleweight contender spot, but given the events of the past 24 hours, it’s unclear as to whether that is still the case. Some might argue that Adesanya hasn’t been truly tested yet, and needs to fight a genuine top-five contender like Luke Rockhold, Chris Weidman or Ronaldo Souza before he gets his title shot, but there is no doubt that his future is very bright in the UFC.
Adesanya’s victory capped off a memorable day for New Zealand with his City Kickboxing teammates from Auckland Kai Kara-France and Shane Young also scoring victories against Brazil’s Raulian Paiva and America’s Austin Arnett in the flyweight and featherweight divisions respectively.
It was a mixed day for Australia following Whittaker’s withdrawal. Light heavyweight Jimmy Crute scored a controversial TKO win against American Sam Alvey, despite Alvey furiously protesting the referee’s decision to end the fight early as he insisted his thumbs were up while Crute was ground-and-pounding him. Crute now has now improved his undefeated record to 10-0.
Crute’s countryman Callan Porter suffered a devastating knockout defeat after just 53 seconds earlier in the day against America’s Jalin Turner in their lightweight fight while Nadia Kassem was no match for Montana De La Rosa in the women’s flyweight division.
Ronny Lerner is a Sports reporter for The Age.