While Israel Adesanya vs. Kelvin Gastelum at UFC 236 wasn’t exactly the fight fans expected, it was exactly the fight they wanted — action packed, back-and-forth, don’t blink fighting.
Kelvin Gastelum was set to challenge Robert Whittaker for the middleweight title at UFC 234 before a hernia pulled Whittaker from the bout on the day of the fight. The former Ultimate Fighter winner earned his title shot by going 4-1 at 185-pounds (however, one win over Vitor Belfort was overturned due to marijuana usage). The Kings MMA product has won his last two fights, defeating Jacare Souza and Michael Bisping.
Israel Adesanya is a kickboxing great and a former GLORY title challenger. The New Zealander is 16-0 in his MMA career, five of those fights coming in the UFC. Adesanya has notable wins over Derek Brunson and Anderson Silva in his last two bouts. 13 of his 16 career wins have ended via stoppage.
The pair met Saturday at UFC 236 in Atlanta, GA, with the UFC interim middleweight title on the line. A quick rise for Adesanya, but well-earned. For Gastelum, he was finally getting a chance to finish his mission for gold. Well, sort of, given it would be interim gold.
It was set to be a flashy striker versus dominant wrestler showdown. It wound up being striker versus striker early, surprising many.
The height and reach difference had Adesanya towering over Gastelum as the bout got underway. Gastelum was outside early, looking for a way in on his much taller opponent. Adesanya landed a kick to the body that landed with a thud. A left by Gastelum grazed Adesanya. Gastelum, moments later, tagged Adesanya with another left hook, sending Adesanya reeling! He recovered, but had perhaps eaten the cleanest blow of his UFC career.
Kevlin Gastelum continued firing some nasty punches, taking the fight to his kickboxing ace opponent in something of a surprising approach. The first round, in fact, was nothing if not a surprise, with Gastelum winning the standup battle. Not to mention scoring a near knockdown.
Round two had Adesanya firing off a couple of kicks to the body right out of the gate. A third, more effective, landed, causing Gastelum to briefly double over. Adesanya landed a jab to the body; Gastelum worked his own jab. Adesanya would fire off another kick, only to eat a jab. Gastelum’s left hook remained a threat as well, sneaking in behind his jab. Adesanya was fighting a much more defensive fight than he’d shown previously, but just over halfway through the round, Adesanya dropped Gastelum with a left! He tried to pounce on his fallen opponent, but Gastelum escaped back up.
— UFC (@ufc) April 14, 2019
Despite the knockdown, Gastelum continued to press the action, but he ate another big blow moments later, an elbow that rocked him! That led to the first real takedown attempt by Gastelum, but Adesanya shook it off.
Round three had Gastelum on his horse early, circling and looking for a way in on Adesanya. Adesanya seemed to be back in his comfort zone. He landed a body kick, while Gastelum feinted, circled, and found himself getting some different looks and different kicks. Adesanya took advantage of Gastelum taking a big swing by answering with a crisp right, followed by a knee to the body. With just over a minute remaining, Gastelum scored a takedown — but Adesanya quickly scooted back to the fence and scrambled up!
In the first championship round, Kelvin Gastelum came out firing, looking to close the distance and find a takedown. It wasn’t there, at least not early. Adesanya shook him off, and kept him at arm’s length, adding a knee to the body. The fourth frame, initially, played out similar to the third. It was the end of the round that really shocked, however. Gastelum went high with a kick that caught Adesanya. He was hurt, and Gastelum moved in, rocking his opponent again, this time with a left hand. Adesanya circled out of harm’s way, but Gastelum was able to catch him again, and had him pinned against the fence to finish the round.
The fifth and final round opened with the fight being ripe for the taking. Gastelum had the momentum coming out of the fourth. He went low with a kick early. Adesanya answered back, and fired off a combination. Then a front kick. Gastelum fired a left. Adesanya landed a right, then attempted a guillotine. Gastelum rolled through, escaped, only to be caught in a triangle! Gastelum escaped that and they scrambled up. Adesanya continued to attack, but Gastelum remained dangerous. While Adesanya connected low and high with kicks, and landed his right, Gastelum charged in, driving him into the fence. Constant action in the fifth round. With neither man wanting to lay off. Adesanya then scored a knockdown with just over a minute left! Gastelum, barely, survived, driving Adesanya into the cage out of desperation.
Gastelum was bloodied. He was being lit up. With a minute to go, Adesanya dropped him again! Adesanya looked for a choke, didn’t have it, and began landing punch after punch! Gastelum refused to go out, the ref refused to stop it, but Israel Adesanya refused to let up! They went to the bell, having put on a classic.
— UFC (@ufc) April 14, 2019
When the smoke cleared, it was Israel Adesanya, The Last Stylebender, holding interim middleweight gold. Champ Robert Whittaker awaits.
Israel Adesanya def. Kelvin Gastelum by unanimous decision (48-46, 48-46, 48-46)