ATLANTA — The hype is real.
Just 14 months after making his UFC debut, Israel Adesanya is a middleweight champion — and he had to take out an absolute monster in Kelvin Gastelum to get it done.
Adesanya (17-0) defeated Gastelum (16-4) via unanimous decision to claim the UFC’s interim 185-pound championship Saturday night. All three judges scored the five-round bout for Adesanya, including 10-8 marks in the decisive fifth round.
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The title bout co-headlined UFC 236 inside State Farm Arena.
The fight was an instant classic, and brought the entire Atlanta crowd to its feet. The score was tied two rounds apiece entering the final round, and Adesanya rose to the occasion. He dropped Gastelum multiple times in the fifth, and it was only Gastelum’s impeccable durability and heart that prevented a stoppage.
“I was ready for war, I told y’all,” Adesanya said. “I don’t think about scorecards. All I need is one round.”
The result sets up a title unification bout between Adesanya, who was born in Nigeria but lives and trains in New Zealand, and Australian champion Robert Whittaker. Whittaker was forced to pull out of a title defense earlier this year due to a hernia, but is expected to return either late summer or early fall.
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It’s a disappointing result for Gastelum — but the 27-year-old did everything in his power to win. He held his own on the feet against Adesanya, who is a former professional kickboxer. Gastelum found a home again and again for his powerful left hand and hurt Adesanya badly in the fourth with a head kick.
Every time one of the two seized momentum, however, the other had an answer. Adesanya dropped Gastelum with a counter right hand in the second round, and appeared to find his rhythm with the lead right after that. He also tore through Gastelum’s midsection and legs with kicks throughout the entire contest.
The undefeated, outspoken Adesanya has set the division on fire since debuting with the UFC in February 2018. His performance in the fifth round likely will go down as one of the defining moments of his career.
According to UFC Stats, Adesanya outlanded Gastelum in total strikes, 135-68. He also stuffed eight of Gastelum’s nine takedown attempts.
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