ATLANTA — In one of the best fights in recent memory, Israel Adesanya (16-0 MMA, 6-0 UFC) claimed the UFC’s interim middleweight title in a classic five-round thriller with Kelvin Gastelum (16-4 MMA, 10-4 UFC).
The interim middleweight title bout was the co-main event of Saturday’s UFC 236 show at State Farm Arena in Atlanta. It aired on pay-per-view following prelims on ESPN and early prelims on UFC Fight Pass and ESPN+.
Gastelum moved quickly to the center at the start of the fight, while Adesanya was content to study from range. A few probing kicks and punches just touched the mark for Adesanya before Gastelum rushed forward with a a pair of leaping power punches that missed. Gastelum looked comfortable in the pocket with Adesanya, and his left hand did land clean, leaving his opponent off-balance for a few tense steps away from the fence.
Adesanya continued to be the more accurate striker with his flicking shots, but Gastelum was finding the mark on occasion with his powerful blows. Adesanya’s movement saw him avoid Gastelum’s biggest shots, but he certainly wasn’t untouchable.
Adesanya was a little more aggressive to open the second, kicking at the body and then punching up top. Gastelum continued to press, looping the left hand over the top when in tight. Adesanya tried to attach high, but Gastelum’s defense was solid, and he countered with a beautiful straight punch down the middle. The big left follow shortly after, as well.
Adesanya did his best to slip and move on the outside, but Gastelum was undeniably finding the mark. As he gained confidence, Gastelum pressed, and Adesanya made him pay with a counter right that sent him crashing to the floor. Adesanya followed, but Gastelum was able to crawl back to his feet and reset.
Adesanya drops Gastelum in round 2! #UFC236pic.twitter.com/dfkOdR5bDm
Adesanya’s punches were beginning to land with more authority as the round unfolded. He countered well and again saw a right hand snap his opponent’s head back. A slick reverse elbow stunned Gastelum, who shot for the takedown unsuccessfully after being wobbled. Gastelum grabbed to body again in the final seconds but couldn’t get the fight to the floor.
Gastelum appeared energized to start the third, bouncing lightly on the outside and loading up on the big left. The crowd started chanting Adesanya’s name, and he looked confident on the outside. A brief Thai clinch saw Adesanya land a knee up the middle, but Gastelum pulled away and remained upright. Gastelum leaped forward with a few right hands, but Adesanya’s counters were well-timed and proved the more effective blows.
Adesanya’s right hand really started to find a home as the round unfolded, and Gastelum’s face showed the wear of the blows. In the final 90 seconds, Gastelum was able to drive forward and score a clean takedown, but Adesanya was instantly scrambling and back up on his feet, looking to strike. The two traded a few low kicks before the bell, and the round ended on the feet.
Gastelum gets the takedown but Adesanya gets right back to his feet!#UFC236pic.twitter.com/OyszPC2Zo0
Gastelum came forward quickly in the fourth, and his punches came with bad intentions. Adesanya was forced to mover laterally to avoid the chase, but he eventually found his way back to the center of the cage. Adesanya’s right hand again found a home, but Gastelum was able to shake it off and resume his pressure attack, eventually getting inside and briefly holding a clinch, though he wasn’t able to capitalize.
Kelvin Gastelum (red gloves) fights Israel Adesanya (blue gloves) during UFC 236 at State Farm Arena. (Photo: John David Mercer, USA TODAY Sports)
Adesanya tried to turn up the heat late in the frame, though his punches were met with powerful replies. Each time Adesanya tried to completely unload, Gastelum would swing back with menacing replies. A Gastelum high kick landed clean and stunned Adesanya in the final minute, and he couldn’t hide the repercussions. Gastelum charged to capitalize, but Adesanya was able to avoid the follow-ups and scamper to safety. Adesanya pressed inside at the bell, and the round ended against the fence.
With the fight seemingly in the balance in the final round, the crowd rose to their feet. Gastelum was incredibly aggressive again to open, but Adesanya shifted left and stayed out of trouble. Adesanya chopped the leg and then delivered a few straight punches that landed clean, but Gastelum would not go away. Gastelum continued to stalk from the center before shooting inside and looking for the takedown. Adesanya countered with a guillotien, but Gastelum slipped out of it after several very tense moments. As they hit the floor, Gastelum slipped on the top, but Adesanya threatened with a trianagle choke and then an armbar in an amazing scramble. Gastelum pulled free, and the two returned to the feet.
WHAT A SEQUENCE!!!#UFC236pic.twitter.com/LeT74Kz6zn
On the restart, Adesanya went to work, peppering his opponent with stiff punches to the face. Gastelum absorbed them all and swung back, but it was clear the strikes were having an effect. Adesanya’s quick punches continued to score, and Gastelum failed on a takedown attempt. With time winding down, Gastelum moved forward. However, it was Adesanya’s punches that were true, and he again dropped his opponent with a little more than a minute remaining.
Gastelum refused to go away that easily, crawling to his feet and looking to attack. However, Adesanya was there to deliver more damage, bloodying Gastelum and sending him crashing to the canvas. Gastelum stood once again, but Adesanya was unrelenting and dropped him once again, finishing the final round with a barrage of punches on the floor. In the end, Adesanya was awarded the decision win and the interim title with scores of 48-46 across the board.
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