UFC 248 Adesanya vs. Romero Full Countdown Full Episode Video Preview..
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While this event may not be as stacked with relevance as the truly elite Ultimate Fighting Championship cards, it features two particularly interesting title bouts. UFC 248 on Saturday in Las Vegas builds in a way that has become uncommon in the ESPN era, which provides a welcome surprise. The deep prelims are mostly skippable, but ESPN gets four fights featuring top prospects before the main card ushers in fringe contenders to set the table for the headliners. Add in the global angle—the two champions involved, Israel Adesanya and Weili Zhang, are regarded by some as the two best fighters the Eastern Hemisphere has to offer—and this should be entertaining from start to finish.
Now to the UFC 248 “Adesanya vs. Romero” preview:
UFC Middleweight Championship
C | Israel Adesanya (18-0) vs. #3 MW | Yoel Romero (13-4)
ODDS: Adesanya (-280), Romero (+240)
Adesanya has only been in the UFC for a shade over two years. That is worth noting since the New Zealand-based Nigerian has seemingly been entrenched as one of the brightest lights in the sport for some time. However, “The Last Stylebender” ran up the middleweight ladder in record time, which is even more impressive since his success was not necessarily guaranteed. Adesanya was an excellent kickboxer, which certainly crossed over when he focused more on mixed martial arts, but there were questions about his ancillary skills. A lot of his pre-UFC fights saw him rely on his athleticism to get out of bad situations on the ground, and early fights in the Octagon against Rob Wilkinson and Marvin Vettori saw Adesanya get controlled before earning victories. However, by the end of his first year inside the UFC, Adesanya had already shored up his flaws and become a legitimate contender. He mostly played with his food in a main event assignment against Brad Tavares and stayed calm against Derek Brunson before eventually earning an impressive finish. His 2019 campaign saw Adesanya continue to ascend with each fight. First came an impromptu headliner against Anderson Silva, which served as a clear passing of the torch. Adesanya then won a five-round war in a “Fight of the Year” contender against Kelvin Gastelum, battling through some tough offense to affirm his place among the middleweight elite. The crowning achievement of Adesanya’s career thus far came in October, as he put a one-sided beating on Robert Whittaker in front of the largest crowd in the UFC’s history and established himself as the face of Anzac MMA. The performance was a masterpiece. After a frustrating first round that saw the champion connect with little, Whittaker was forced to open up, at which point Adesanya went to work with beautiful parries and counters that eventually left “The Reaper” out on the mat. Adesanya might be the most exciting fighter in the sport at the moment, along with being the next man up for superstardom; and with obvious top contender Paulo Henrique Costa injured, he has already earned the right to call his own shot for his next challenger. As a result, Adesanya set out to take on one of the most dangerous opponents in the sport in Romero.
Romero was a difficult fighter to peg for a few years. A former Olympic silver medalist for Cuba, he cut an impressive physical figure but did not look to wrestle all that much, instead relying on knockouts that seemingly came at random. However, as Romero fought stronger competition, it became apparent that he was something of a fighting genius; his string of late knockouts was not the product of luck but spoke more to how the “Soldier of God” could keep a slow pace and gather more information on his opponents until he felt comfortable enough to strike and often end the fight. It is a bizarre style that has proven absolutely terrible for contemporaries like Lyoto Machida, Chris Weidman and Luke Rockhold. They were all winning until they were suddenly staring at the lights, as Romero eventually blasted them with bursts of violence that felt a hair short of a murder. Romero is the highest-ranked contender who is currently healthy, but this latest title shot comes at a strange point in his career, as he has lost three of his last four bouts. With that said, he nearly annihilated Whittaker in two fights that easily could have gone either way on the scorecards, and he also could have won his last bout against Costa—an all-out war that lasted all 15 minutes. As part of a larger trend of the UFC awarding title shots off losses, this is a bit worrying, but frankly, Romero is probably still the best fighter available and makes for an extremely interesting title fight, so it is hard to complain all that much.
How does Adesanya approach this? The champion is not quite as extreme as Romero when it comes to taking off rounds, but Adesanya’s style has functioned in much the same way, starting off slow and feeling out his opponent’s offense before finding his reads and pouring on the punishment in the subsequent rounds. Will that strategy work here? Romero’s ponderous approach just will not give Adesanya much with which to work, and with Adesanya throwing out more offense basically by default, it is possible that the Cuban wrestler gets the better reads and causes more damage, particularly since Adesanya can play things a bit loose defensively and focus on shifting out of the way, which may be tough against Romero’s uniquely violent bursts of offense. Of course, Romero also has not fought someone as uniquely suited to avoid that damage as much as Adesanya, thanks to the champion’s long reach, elite kicking game and own ability to read opponents as well as anyone in the sport. Romero’s bout against Costa does show a path to victory for Adesanya that, while risky, might be his best way to go in the aggregate. Costa simply showed no fear and constantly brought the offense to Romero, and while the Brazilian got walloped a bunch of times in wild exchanges, it also clearly made Romero uncomfortable, forcing him to react hastily rather than throw the precise homing missiles that have scored him his most impressive finishes. It also left Romero quite exhausted after a three-round fight. Given 10 extra minutes with which to work, that is probably the best approach for Adesanya to ensure he can win the championship rounds if he is confident in his own durability. It is always difficult to pick Romero, in general, unless he faces someone with obvious defensive or durability issues, so Adesanya almost has to be the choice by default. However, if the champion comes into this fight looking to make it a showcase performance, it seems likely that he can turn on the pressure and make Romero wilt eventually. The tension will be palpable until this one is over, but the pick is Adesanya via third-round stoppage.
UFC Women’s Strawweight Championship
ODDS: Zhang (-185), Jedrzejczyk (+160)
Chinese mixed martial arts has improved tremendously over the last few years, but on Aug. 31, it truly arrived on the global scene. That was the night of the UFC’s debut in Shenzhen, China, and while the promotion got some criticism for rushing Zhang into a main event for the women’s strawweight title against Jessica Andrade, the she quieted the doubters in short order by running through Andrade in just 42 seconds. It was a definitive victory, but given that it was just 13 months into Zhang’s UFC career, it still left the strawweight champion as a bit of a mystery. Zhang is obviously a powerhouse for 115 pounds. While her pre-UFC career was not against the strongest competition, she ran over her opponents with a rare quickness and violence for a woman her size—something that continued against adversaries like Andrade and Jessica Aguilar, who went out of their way to test her. However, the only real representative sample for Zhang’s game at a high level is her win a year ago over Tecia Torres, which showed some clearer strengths and weaknesses. Torres has her own issues, namely a small frame for strawweight, but Zhang showed off her impressive physicality whenever the two decided to lock up. While Zhang was still winning the fight on the feet, that part of her game was a bit iffier, as she was content to throw wild strikes and a lot of spinning kicks that hit hard when they connected but were not particularly accurate. There is plenty to like about Zhang. She is certainly a better technical fighter than Andrade, who made her own way to the title through sheer physicality. Zhang’s title win alone has made her hugely important to the UFC already, but there is still a way to go before she proves she can be a dominant champion instead of an elite perennial contender. A lot of questions will hopefully be answered in her first title defense against Jedrzejczyk.
Until late 2017, the strawweight division essentially belonged to Jedrzejczyk. Carla Esparza was the first champion for the UFC, but Jedrzejczyk demolished her shortly thereafter and continued on to a dominant reign. The beginning stretches of Jedrzejczyk’s title reign, namely the win over Esparza and a brutal beatdown of Jessica Penne, brought a violence rarely seen in women’s MMA and immediately established the charismatic Pole as a hardcore favorite. From there, Jedrzejczyk’s status as a buzzsaw dried up a little, but her title wins typically consisted of dominant round after dominant round, as opponents were barely able to touch her as they got picked apart. Then Rose Namajunas happened. Heading into their bout at UFC 217, the conventional wisdom was that Jedrzejczyk would earn yet another win and essentially clean out the division, but it instead resulted in a shocking loss. Not only was this the bout where Namajunas’ talents finally clicked, but Jedrzejczyk also had significant issues defending a long opponent that she could not keep out of range. That was true in the knockout that cost Jedrzejczyk the belt and the ensuing rematch. That has highlighted a clear pattern in Jedrzejczyk’s fights, as she has found success usually by being longer or stronger than her opponents. Against a tank like Andrade, she managed to pick apart her challenger from range, and most of her other fights have seen her leverage either her strength or her size in the clinch. A one-off move to flyweight against Valentina Shevchenko, who commanded their fight without much issue, has cooled Jedrzejczyk’s momentum a bit, but Namajunas remains the only woman to beat her at 115 pounds. The former champ still has a lot left in the tank, but there is still a chance that this fight is the bellwether that the division has started to pass Jedrzejczyk by.
It is rare for a champion to be as unproven in the moment as Zhang, so this fight is supremely fascinating. In retrospect, Andrade figured to be the perfect opponent to make Zhang look good. The Brazilian has relied on aggression and durability over any sort of defense, so it is no surprise that Zhang tagged her hard; the surprise is more that Andrade went down so quickly. If Zhang can hit Jedrzejczyk that cleanly, it figures to be a similar story. Can she? Zhang can cause some damage if this goes to the clinch that Jedrzejczyk has often relied upon herself, but if the former champion decides to dust off her own game plan against Andrade and keep this at range, it remains unclear if Zhang will be able to close that distance. If anything, Zhang seems content to acquiesce to such a fight if her opponent does not charge in. Again, the Torres fight featured a whole lot of inefficient and flashy kicks. Jedrzejczyk may have to walk a bit of a tightrope here—again, Zhang can connect with a ton of power and there is a chance of things going downhill quickly if she does—but this feels like the American Top Team standout’s fight to lose. That is even without factoring in some of the ex-factors around this fight, such as Zhang never fighting past three rounds and enduring a tough camp full of constant travel due to issues with the coronavirus. Zhang is enough of a talent that it would not be a complete shock to see her adapt quickly and put this away within two rounds, but it is difficult to pick against the more proven commodity. The pick is Jedrzejczyk via decision.