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Israel Adesanya among 9 fighters with most to gain — or lose — at UFC 259

Kevin Iole
·Combat columnist
·7 min read
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LAS VEGAS — The fortunes, and the futures, of UFC fighters can change dramatically in a short period of time. A win over the right opponent at the right time can, quite literally, be a life-changing experience for one of them.

But a loss at the wrong time can have deep and severe repercussions.

The contracts of UFC fighters are not guaranteed, much like NFL players, and so even when a fighter has five bouts left on his contract like ex-heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos did, they’re subject to being cut.

Dos Santos and Alistair Overeem, who for more than a decade had been mainstays on the UFC roster, were cut on Wednesday.

So Saturday's UFC 259, a loaded card with three title fights at the top, has the opportunity to significantly impact the athletes on the show.

Here are the fighters with the most to gain from a great showing Saturday, as well as those with the most to lose. In Israel Adesanya's case, he appears on both lists.

UFC 259 fighters with most to gain

Israel Adesanya — Adesanya is the UFC’s middleweight champion, but he’s moving up to light heavyweight on Saturday to fight champion Jan Blachowicz in the main event at Apex. If Adesanya wins, it will make him just the fifth athlete in UFC history, following Conor McGregor (featherweight and lightweight), Daniel Cormier (light heavyweight and heavyweight), Amanda Nunes (bantamweight and featherweight) and Henry Cejudo (flyweight and bantamweight) to hold titles in two divisions simultaneously.

You hit this list and you’re all but set for life. You are a superstar and suddenly have lots of great money-making opportunities.

Adesanya is also looking to eventually fight Jon Jones, his archrival and the former light heavyweight champion. Jones is now competing at heavyweight and will fight the Stipe Miocic-Francis Ngannou winner later this year for that belt. It’s not out of the question that Adesanya could fight Jones for the heavyweight title if he wins it.

That would probably make him the richest fighter in UFC history, if he pulls it off. And yes, I know what Conor McGregor makes.

So there is a lot at stake for “The Last Stylebender” in this one.

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - SEPTEMBER 27:  Israel Adesanya of Nigeria stands in his corner prior to facing Paulo Costa of Brazil in their middleweight championship bout during UFC 253 inside Flash Forum on UFC Fight Island on September 27, 2020 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)
Israel Adesanya could become the fifth dual champion in UFC history, or he could be sent back down to middleweight with the first loss in his MMA career. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)

Aleksandar Rakic — Rakic lost his pro debut, won 12 in a row, dropped a split decision to Volkan Oezdemir and followed that up with a win over Anthony Smith. He’s fighting Thiago Santos in the opener of the main card.

Given that Adesanya is favored to be the champion, a win for Rakic would be significant. Rakic is ranked fourth, below only No. 1 Glover Teixeira, No. 2 Santos and No. 3 Dominick Reyes. A win over Santos would nudge him closer to a title shot and put him into position for a mega-fight from his perspective with Adesanya if things fall right.

He has a lot to gain here and not much to lose by facing the No. 2 contender.

Drew Dober — Dober fights Islam Makhachev in the last non-title bout of the evening. And though Dober has won three in a row and six of his last seven, he’s still a fairly sizable +280 underdog.

Makhachev is close friends with UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and is looking to break out to build his own reputation. Makhachev is 18-1 and has won six in a row since his only loss, a KO to Adriano Martins at UFC 192 in 2015.

Dober fights at a fierce pace and has scored knockouts in his last three bouts. The division is stacked and a win over Makhachev, ranked 14th, would get him ranked and into some really significant fights.

Megan Anderson — What could be more life-changing than a win over the fighter widely, almost unanimously, regarded as the greatest women’s mixed martial artist of all-time. Anderson challenges Nunes for the featherweight title in the co-main event.

If Anderson pulls it off, she’d likely get a rematch with Nunes that would be very lucrative and would be looked at as far more than just a middle-of-the-road fighter who serves as cannon fodder for Nunes.

She’s a former Invicta champion and has some quality wins to her name, though nothing in the same universe as Nunes. Should she beat the GOAT, her life will be forever changed.

Casey Kenney — Kenney faces former champion Dominick Cruz in the main event of the preliminary card. Bantamweight is a hot division now with a deep bench of talent. Cruz is ranked No. 11 and his reputation is far greater than that.

If Kenney beats Cruz, he becomes another significant player in a deep division with a number of potentially compelling matchups. And then, he wouldn’t be known as the Neanderthal who made completely inappropriate and moronic comments about Anderson on a podcast.

A lot is at stake for Kenney, who needs to gain some attention in a division teeming with talent. Beating a future Hall of Famer is one way to do that.

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UFC 259 fighters with most to lose

Israel Adesanya — Adesanya is a guy who reaches for the stars, and that’s helped make him one of the most popular fighters in the sport. But if he loses to Blachowicz, who is not regarded as an elite champion, his legacy takes a major hit.

Yes, he’d still be middleweight champion.

But it would all but end the dream of a fight versus Jones and would likely vastly change the perception of him at the moment.

Jan Blachowicz — Blachowicz burst into prominence in 2019 with a brutal knockout of ex-middleweight champion Luke Rockhold. He followed that with wins over Jacare Souza, Corey Anderson and Reyes.

If he gets beat by Adesanya, he’ll go back into the pack of contenders which is good, but not great, and Adesanya will have all the shine.

Joseph Benavidez — Benavidez is ranked No. 2 at flyweight, but he’s lost twice to flyweight champion Deiveson Figueiredo. He’s 0-4 in flyweight title fights and has lost two in a row.

He fights Askar Askarov on the preliminary card and another loss would be his third in a row and put his UFC tenure in great jeopardy.

Tim Elliott — Elliott put up a respectable performance in a flyweight title fight with Demetrious Johnson in 2016, and he’s still ranked 11th despite losing three of his last four.

He fights Jordan Espinosa, who also has lost three of four and doesn’t have the quality wins that Elliott has.

If Elliott loses to Espinosa, he’ll be all but certain to be cut. He’s lost to the current champion, a former champion and with a loss to Espinosa would be 1-4 in his last five.

That’s not the best way to keep one’s job.

Dominick Cruz — Cruz is one of the greatest fighters of all-time. If he hadn’t been racked by injuries, he’d have a much greater reputation than he does.

But he’s lost two in a row and hasn’t won in nearly five years. A win over Kenney wouldn’t be all that significant for him in terms of who he’s fought, but it would keep him a contender.

It’s hard to see how he’d get many more big fights if he lost this and was on a three-fight losing streak.

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