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MMA Fight Weekend: What to watch, odds, picks for UFC 253

Kevin Iole
·Combat columnist
·6-min read

Jon Jones’ vacated belt up for grabs

There will be an asterisk next to the name of the new UFC light heavyweight champion on Sunday morning, no matter how good he looks or how spectacular his victory may be to earn the belt.

That’s because no matter whether Dominick Reyes or Jan Blachowicz wins it, neither of them beat Jon Jones for it.

Reyes and Blachowicz meet on pay-per-view for the belt that Jones vacated on Saturday (10 p.m. ET, ESPN+ PPV) in the co-main event of UFC 253 from Abu Dhabi.

Though it’s not clear Jones will ever fight again, he said if he does, it will be at heavyweight, so he voluntarily surrendered his belt. In the minds of some, that will make either Reyes or Blachowicz something less than the real champion.

In their minds, though, it will not.

“What I don’t think people understand is that for me, it’s always been about the belt and not about the individual,” Reyes told Yahoo Sports. “Jon Jones was a great champion, but he’s not the champion any more. So basically, [expletive] that. It’s about the title. That gold belt, it says freaking straight up, you’re the best in the world. That’s what this is about.”

Reyes is -280 at the MGM Grand Sports Book in Las Vegas to defeat Blachowicz and become the new champion. Blachowicz is +230.

Blachowicz, who in a two-year stretch between April 11, 2015 and April 8, 2017, lost four of five fights, agreed with Reyes. He laughed when he was asked about the criticism that will come for having not defeated Jones for the belt.

“I’m going to be happy that I’m the champion, but this is not my fault,” he said of not facing Jones. “Jon Jones was kept from us. … Ask him, not us. Dominick and I came to do the best fight and to win this title.”

Since that 1-4 streak in which he lost decisions to Jimi Manuwa, Corey Anderson, Alexander Gustafsson and Patrick Cummins, Blachowicz has quietly become one of the hottest fighters in the sport.

He’s won seven of eight since then and avenged two of those losses, winning a decision over Manuwa and knockout over Anderson. His current three-fight win streak includes KOs of Luke Rockhold and Anderson sandwiched around a split decision win over Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza.

He’s eager to fight for the belt, but couldn’t escape the questions about Jones.

“I always have wanted to fight Jon Jones,” he said. “He didn’t want to fight against me. This is the problem.”

Adesanya-Costa in history-making title fight

The main event Saturday between middleweight champion Israel Adesanya and undefeated challenger Paulo Costa is only the second time in UFC history that a champion and a challenger both with perfect records met.

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - SEPTEMBER 24: (L-R) Opponents Israel Adesanya of Nigeria and Paulo Costa of Brazil face off during the UFC 253 Press Conference on September 24, 2020 at Yas Beach on UFC Fight Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)
Israel Adesanya of Nigeria and Paulo Costa of Brazil face off during the UFC 253 news conference on Sept. 24, 2020 at Yas Beach on UFC Fight Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)

The only other time it occurred was when 9-0 Ronda Rousey retained her women’s bantamweight title at UFC 170 on Feb. 22, 2014, by stopping 7-0 Sara McMann.

UFC president Dana White said he “loved” the fight.

“When you have two of the baddest dudes in the world, undefeated, in their primes, facing off for the world title, nothing gets better than this,” White said. “I said when you look at this fight stylistically, I pick this fight to be Fight of the Year.”

Adesanya is a -180 favorite at MGM. Costa is at +150.

Diego Sanchez sets his future, eyes Conor McGregor

Diego Sanchez fights Jake Matthews on the preliminary card of UFC 253 on Saturday. The always colorful Sanchez said the Matthews fight will be one of four remaining in his career before he walks away.

If things go the way he wants, he’s going to go out with a bang.

“My goal in these last four fights in the UFC is to finish strong, to finish healthy,” he said. “I shoot for the moon, man. I shoot for the moon in everything I do. I’m looking for legend fights. I’m not looking past Jake Matthews, but I’m looking for some legend fights.

“Nick Diaz is coming back. There’s some other names, Nate Diaz, there’s a lot of big fights that would be appealing for the fans. I said I shoot for the moon, Conor McGregor is the No. 4 fight. I envision myself dominating these next three fights and finishing my career with a fight with Conor McGregor. That’s my dream, that’s my vision. As I build my legacy and he does what he does, I’ll be waiting if he wants to do it at the end of the road.”

Ketlen Vieira returns to action

Bantamweight Ketlen Vieira will meet Sijara Eubanks at UFC 253 in her first bout since getting stopped by Irene Aldana on Dec. 14 at UFC 245 in Vegas. It was her first loss following 10 wins to start her career.

It’s been an up-and-down time for her since, as she’s had four fights fall out until the Eubanks fight was made.

She said she didn’t follow the game plan coach Andre Pederneiras had set out for her against Aldana and that it cost her.

“Although I beat very tough opponents, I still needed to improve and mature,” she said. “Last year was tough for me. I didn’t fight for a while due to a surgery I had. But that was not a factor in my first loss. I allowed emotions to take over. In all my UFC wins, I always listened to my corner. Andre Pederneiras has very sage advice. His strategy [against Aldana] was for me to strike a little and then take the fight down to the mat. But I let emotions get the best of me. As I kept landing strikes, I could see that Irene was hurt. I became overconfident.

“In the end, it was a good thing. I needed to mature. All champions go through losses. I like to say that I’m like an arrow. The more you pull me back, the farther I’ll go. My one loss is mostly a positive thing. Today I’m a different fighter. I’m more complete. I’m ready for anything.”

Bellator card in Milan

Bellator will return to action on Saturday as well with a show in Milan, Italy, that will be livestreamed on its YouTube page.

In the main event, Fabian Edwards faces Costello van Steenis.

The co-main event pits Pietro Penini against Mike Shipman.

Kevin’s picks

  • Israel Adesanya at -180 to win over Paulo Costa.

  • Zubaira Tukhugov at -120 to win over Hakeem Dawodu.

  • Sijara Eubanks +160 to win over Ketlen Vieira.

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