Israel Adesanya grew up idolizing Anderson Silva, and the UFC middleweight did a lot of Silva-like things in his bout with Kelvin Gastelum for the interim title Saturday in the co-main event of UFC 236 at State Farm Arena in Atlanta.
Adesanya completed a meteoric 14-month rise to the top the division when he outlasted Gastelum in a monumental battle, winning a unanimous decision by scores of 48-46 on all three judges’ cards. Yahoo Sports also had it 48-46.
But Adesanya created his own legacy with a brilliant performance in which he had to dig down deeper than he had at any point in his career. The win was his sixth in just 14 months in the UFC, but by far the biggest and most significant.
It was a titanic struggle in which the men laid their souls bare and went after the victory with every ounce of strength and desire that was inside of them. Both were on the ground and both were bleeding and swelling profusely by the time it ended.
The fight was even on all three scorecards heading to the fifth, and Adesanya won it with an incredible striking display. He nearly finished the bout with a triangle choke in one of the many “I can’t believe that!” moments that occurred throughout the fight.
Adesanya won the round 10-8 on all three judges’ cards that cinched the belt and probably put it into the lead for the mythical Fight of the Year honor.
Gastelum, who gave up seven inches in height and more than eight inches in reach, did everything he said he’d do. He pressured Adesanya and gave as good as he got throughout the bout.
At times, it was like rock ’em, sock ’em robots, as Gastelum’s reach disadvantage forced him to wade into the pocket. He had plenty of success, but Adesanya’s short rights eventually took their toll. He dumped Gastelum multiple times in the fifth and nearly stopped him in the final 30 seconds.
“I was willing to give it all and leave it all in there,” Adesanya said. “He’s a Mexican warrior, but hey, I’ve got that Mexicano in me, too.”
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