Israel Adesanya lands a right hand on Kelvin Gastelum during their title fight.
Israel Adesanya has beaten Kelvin Gastelum by unanimous decision to lift the UFC middleweight interim belt in a fight of the year contender.
The 29-year-old was on the brink of stopping Gastelum in the final seconds of the fight in the co-main event of UFC 236 at State Farm Arena in Atlanta.
The victory means Adesanya remains unbeaten in the UFC with a 6-0 record and sets up a dream trans-Tasman unification bout with reigning middleweight champion Robert Whittaker. Whittaker took to Twitter immediately after Adesanya’s win to congratulate him on the victory and signed off with: “See you soon”.
Whittaker was born in New Zealand but moved to Australia as a young child.
Adesanya becomes the first New Zealand based fighter to win a UFC belt.
At the end of the five rounds, all three judges scored the fight – that was closer than many expected – 48-46 in favour of Adesanya. Both fighters finished the bout with blood smeared faces.
The crowd were on their feet to give both fighters a standing ovation for the stunning fight.
Adesanya was just one significant strike off doubling that of Gastelum with the final numbers reading 135 to 68.
Born in Nigeria, ‘The Last Stylebender’ moved to New Zealand when he was 13 and his entire fighting career has been based out of his adopted country.
“I was willing to give it all and leave it all in there.
“I’m the champion, let’s go,” Adesanya said immediately after the fight.
Gastelum, who dominated the opening round, had many moments of success with his hands but Adesanya’s height and reach advantage and head movement meant many of his strikes came up short, especially late in the fight.
Adesanya, who was able to escape several take down attempts from Gastelum, dominated the final round to put the icing on the cake.
Gastelum’s work rate and accuracy slowed as the fight progressed but he was always dangerous until Adesanya took over in the final minute of the last round.
The contest was easily the toughest of Adesanya’s career but he showed he can come through adversity and silenced any doubters he claimed he did not have a solid chin.
His wrestling skills were also tested but his defence in nullifying Gastelum’s attempts to get to the ground were supreme.
Adesanya’s title is the first for Auckland gym City Kickboxing who also have fellow UFC fighters Dan Hooker, Kai Kara-France and Shane Young in its stable.
Because he has been sidelined with the injury, the fight between Adesanya and Gastelum was made for the interim title with Adesanya likely to face Whittaker next.
It was hard to imagine the main event – also an interim title bout – between UFC featherweight champion Max Holloway and Dustin Poirier for the lightweight title could go anywhere near the Adesanya-Gastelum fight but that’s exactly what it did.
In another spectacular five-round fight, Poirier claimed the victory with a unanimous decision.
The UFC 236 card was billed as a stunner but nobody could have predicted it to provide what it did.
* Mat Kermeen travelled to Atlanta with assistance from UFC.