Israel Adesanya was expected to make quick work of the legendary former champion Anderson Silva at UFC 234, but when all was said and done, we were treated to something very different.
Seeing Stylebender as the clear favourite going into this one wasn’t the most outlandish call of all-time. As one of the middleweight division’s finest strikers, Israel had spent 2018 carving out a name for himself on the back of some incredibly polished wins.
Not only did he display a style that was tailored perfectly for the sport, but also a rapid progression in his ability to deal with the multi-faceted threats that come with fighting inside the octagon.
But in a matchup with Anderson Silva, it was pretty clear what we were about to see.
Two strikers with a penchant for the unorthodox and a knack for the finish. In many ways, it seemed like the perfect matchup and yet, there was an uneasy feeling amongst the fans that we were about to see something that bordered on ugly.
Adesanya has been looking increasingly dangerous with each passing fight as he gained confidence in his ability to deal with being a relative newcomer in the grappling department. In his last outing at UFC 230, he well and truly answered the ‘wrestling question’ by shutting down every takedown attempt turned in by the powerful Derek Brunson before KO’ing him late in the first-round.
It was a fight that showcased a fighter well and truly entering his prime, ready to make his mark upon the middleweight division. When the streaking contender was signed to take on the legendary Anderson Silva for the Brazilian’s first fight in two years, however, the reaction was one of confusion and in some ways, fear for what could transpire once the octagon doors closed.
Nobody likes to see their favourite fighter getting starched in their later years.
The same thing that made Liddell/Ortiz III an incredibly difficult watch was creeping into the minds of those who cast their predictions ahead of Adesanya/Silva.
The Spider wasn’t given too much in the way of a hope against his younger and more athletically primed opponent. For most, damage limitation was the best hope.
Two months out from his 44th birthday, two years removed from his last fight, against all odds, we managed to see an incredibly entertaining showcase that lived up the billing we never believed it would.
To be honest, Anderson looked good in there with Stylebender.
Not that he was as sharp as he was in his heyday but the man can clearly still take a shot and despite recording just one win since running through Stephan Bonnar in 2011, his reflexes and timing seemed to still be there.
Whether he was slightly gunshy due to the presence of a legend and an idol like Silva in front of him or not, Adesanya was certainly looking to make a statement with that fight.
Main-eventing close to home on a UFC PPV – regardless of the freakish circumstances that led to that being the case – Israel clearly understood the attention he would be able to bring upon himself with a big win over a huge name like Silva.
But for the fifteen minutes that the fight lasted, we were treated to a showcase in striking that was perhaps more entertaining and enthralling than we could have imagined.
Yes, there were points in the fight where the action lulled, but watching live, you could cut the tension with a knife and in moments, Silva looked to be having the time of his life.
THAT. WAS. AWESOME. 🙌
A crazy final 60 seconds sums up a wild fight between Israel Adesanya and Anderson Silva!
— Watch UFC 234 live on BT Sport (@btsportufc) February 10, 2019
Clowning Adesanya from the first bell to the last, Anderson fought his fight and gave it as good as he got it and I think it’s fair to say that he has aged with a level of grace rarely seen in the fight game.
Everything from his emotions at the weigh-in to the artistry we were treated to on the night itself made for a perfect return.
And to be honest, it was nothing short of beautiful to see.
Incredible scenes at the #UFC234 weigh-ins 🙏
An emotional Anderson Silva fights back the tears…
He even got Israel Adesanya going 😂
Two warriors at different stages in their careers, what a moment! pic.twitter.com/kFK5XzgUAJ
— Watch UFC 234 live on BT Sport (@btsportufc) February 9, 2019
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena