At UFC 234, the promotion’s return to Australia suffered a major blow mere hours before the doors to Rod Laver Arena opened.
UFC middleweight champion Robert Whittaker was forced to withdraw from his title defence against Kelvin Gastelum after suffering an abdominal hernia. ESPN’s Brett Okamoto broke the news around 8 pm GMT, with the first fight due to start at 11:30 pm. Fans in Melbourne were offered a refund but judging by the packed house, not many obliged.
Originally the co-main event, rising superstar Israel Adesanya and all-time middleweight great Anderson Silva stepped into the spotlight.
SILVA V ADESANYA
In the new main event of UFC 234, Israel Adesanya defeated his idol Anderson Silva in an entertaining back and forth fight. Silva was a huge 4-1 underdog coming into this bout, but the result was far more competitive than the bookies predicted.
The fight started in the same way as most Anderson Silva fights; slowly, with both men sizing up the other. Halfway through the round, Adesanya landed a right hand on an advancing Silva. Israel picked up the pace from there backing Silva up with an elbow and a knee.
Both men returned to the centre and exchanged leg kicks. Silva started to show flashes of the showmanship that has been his trademark, but also his downfall in recent years.
As the round drew a close both fighters threw wild strikes that narrowly missed. The buzzer sounded and Adesanya took a step back and did his best Bruce Lee impression, motioning for Silva to come and get him
The second round started at a faster pace with Silva narrowly missing on a counter right hand early. As the round wore on the histrionics from Silva increased. At one point he dropped his hands completely and let Adesanya connect flush three times.
Shortly after Silva had his best moments of the fight, chasing Adesanya down with jabs and straight lefts. Then tied him up with short uppercuts and right hands over the clinch. The round closed with more of the same Silva charging down Adesanya and looking to brawl at close range.
With the fight delicately poised, Adesanya started the final round fast taking the centre of the cage. He landed a strong leg kick that buckled Silva, who in typical fashion oversold the effect of the kick to bait Adesanya. Silva turned up the showmanship further, standing against the cage and yelling for Adesanya to come and join him, in shades of his fight with Stephan Bonnar.
Adesanya continued to work with leg kicks from the southpaw stance trying to set up a head kick and racking up points in the process. As the fight drew to a close, Silva dropped his hands again and Adesanya connected with another three punches.
With seconds ticking down both men exchanged wild spinning kicks. As the horn sounded they embraced, continuing the displays of respect shown between them all week.
In a much closer result than many predicted Adesanya was announced the winner by unanimous decision with scores of 29-28, 30-27 and 30-27.
VANNATA VS MARIANO
In the co-main event ‘Groovy’ Lando Vannata put on a dominant display defeating debutant Marcos Mariano with a first-round submission. Originally scheduled for the preliminary card, this fight was vaulted into the co-main slot as a result of the reshuffle and Vanatta took full advantage of the opportunity.
Drawing comparisons to a young Anderson Silva, even wearing the same trademark shorts, it was Mariano who came out strong. Using feints and a variety of kicks the Brazilian applied pressure early.
Just over a minute into the round, Vannatta faked a body shot and used it to secure a body lock. From there Vannata executed an impressive high amplitude throw and it was the beginning of the end for Mariano
Vannata worked patiently from his opponent’s half guard with short punches and elbows. Mariano threatened with submissions off his back but Vannata never looked in danger and continued to work ground and pound.
With 15 seconds left in the round, a tiring Mariano threw up a lazy omoplata attempt, which Vannata used to pass to north-south position. Mariano showed no signs of defence as Vannata snatched up a kimura to get the tap with 5 seconds left in the round.
RICKY SIMON V RANI YAHYA
Also on the main card bantamweight, Ricky Simon scored the biggest win of his UFC career. Defeating Brazilian veteran Rani Yahya via lopsided unanimous decision.
Simon dropped Yahya multiple times in the first round but showed discipline beyond his years in not engaging the grappling ace on the ground. This trend continued throughout the fight with Yahya trying everything in his power to get the fight to the floor including pulling guard at the start of round three.
Simon with a mixture of impressive takedown defence and patience was able to keep the fight standing and pick apart Yahya on the feet. He even took Yahya down on occasions just to show that he could, and let him up.
As the fight concluded there was no doubt as to who the victor was, and Simon was announced the winner with scores of 30-27, 30-27 and 30-25.
- Israel Adesanya def. Anderson Silva, Unanimous decision (29-28, 30-27, 30-27)
- Lando Vannata def. Marcos Mariano, Submission (kimura) R1 4:55
- Ricky Simon def. Rani Yahya, Unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-25)
- Montana De La Rosa def. Nadia Kassem, Verbal Submission (armbar) R2 2:37
- Jimmy Crute def. Sam Alvey, TKO (punches) R1 2:49
- Devonte Smith def. Dong Hyun Ma, TKO (punches) R1 3:49
- Shane Young def. Austin Arnett, Unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
- Kai Kara-France def. Raulian Paiva, Split decision (28-29, 29-28, 29-28)
- Kyung Ho Kang def. Teruto Ishihara, Technical Submission (rear-naked choke) R1 3:59
- Jalin Turner def. Callan Potter, KO (punches) R1 0:53
- Jonathan Martinez def. Wuliji Buren, Unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)
BONUS AWARDS ($50,000 EACH)
- Fight of the Night: Israel Adesanya vs. Anderson Silva
- Performance of the Night: Montana De La Rosa and Devonte Smith