There may have been those that doubted Israel Adesanya ahead of The Ultimate Fighter 27 Finale on Friday in Las Vegas, but after he put on a dominant performance against one of the top fighters in the UFC middleweight division, there should be little doubt that Adesanya has arrived.
Tavares punched his way through Adesanya’s reach advantage to clinch and put him on the fence from the opening bell, but Adesanya quickly escaped the clinch. Tavares kept pressing forward, while Adesanya shifted stances, looking for an opening, which he would eventually find again and again.
Tavares landed the first power punches of the fight, as Adesanya began using his kicks, both low and to the body, midway through the first round.
Adesanya started to get his jab going late in the opening frame, slowing Tavares’ aggressive approach, and setting up more of his kicks. He went for a funky roll toward the end of the round and landed underneath Tavares, but time ran out before any damage was done.
Adesanya did a good job of keeping his distance from Tavares early in round two, landing a variety of punches and kicks, but mostly of the one-off variety. Tavares kept his defense tight, but his output slowed tremendously compared to his more aggressive approach in round one.
Following a stern warning from the referee for his fingers being extended in Tavares’ face, Adesanya got Tavares to the canvas, visibly hurting the Hawaiian, but was unable to fully capitalize on the position.
Tavares opened aggressively again in round three, but Adesanya continued his low kicks that were so effective in round two, and Tavares started to pull back more from the accumulating damage to his lead leg.
Nearly two minutes into the round, Adesanya landed a hard knee to the face. Tavares kept pressing forward, but Adesanya used the Thai clinch to trip him to the canvas.
Tavares got up and kept plowing forward with his jab, but Adesanya continued picking him apart with kicks and his own jab.
Adesanya caught a Tavares kick late in the third frame and used it to set up a spinning elbow that was mostly blocked, but Adesanya kept attacking with powerful blows, particularly doing damage with his brutal kicks to the body.
Tavares was wearing the damage of the fight on his face, breathing heavily, at the start of round four.
This time Adesanya was the more aggressive fighter, popping Tavares with his jab and baiting him. Tavares shot and eventually worked a single-leg takedown to put Adesanya on the canvas. He nearly got caught in a triangle choke before a scramble saw them back on their feet, Adesanya using a Kimura lock to put Tavares on the canvas and land some heavy punches.
Tavares got up fairly quickly, but Adesanya kept attacking, opening a cut on Tavares’ right eyelid, which caused referee Herb Dean to pause the fight and have the cut checked.
The fight was allowed to continue, Tavares immediately attacking, but it was quickly apparent that blood from the cut was affecting his vision. Noticing the weakness, Adesanya used more of his awkward movement and feints to set up his jab and combinations, which became even more easy to land with Tavares’ impaired vision.
Adesanya landed several hard knees in the final 30 seconds, visibly taking much of the wind out of Tavares’ sails as the fourth round came to a close.
Tavares gamely answered the final bell, meeting Adesanya in the middle of the cage, but couldn’t find a way through Adesanya’s defenses. Tavares shot again early in the round, but Adesanya sprawled and put Tavares on all fours and pummeled him with some heavy punches. Tavares attacked with a kneebar, but Adesanya quickly escaped to his feet.
The Hawaiian kept coming forward, knowing he had to find a way to pull out the win, but Adesanya kept peppering him with jabs and low kicks.
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Tavares again shot, but Adesanya again sprawled and then landed a hard knee as Tavares regained his feet. Another takedown attempt and another sprawl ended with Adesanya landing a head kick as Tavares got up.
Tavares refused to back down, continuing to press forward in the final minute, but still eating most of the shots that Adesanya put in his face. Tavares attempted more takedowns in the final 30 seconds, but Adesanya remained in command until the final horn.
When the scorecards were read, there were no surprises, all three judges saw the bout in Adesanya’s favor, issuing scores of 49-46, 50-45, and 50-45.
“All the punters, all the experts, said, ‘Is it too soon?’ But he’s a tough dude,” Adesanya said after the fight, answering the experts with a resounding, no, it’s not too soon.
As he pointed out, Adesanya headlined his first UFC event in only his third bout for the promotion, but he promised there was much more dominance to come.
“I’m just getting warmed up. Give me some time.”