Saturday night, we'll bear witness to two pivotal championship fights taking center stage as the UFC makes its return to Abu Dhabi. At UFC 253 this weekend on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, the promotion will begin its second stint on Fight Island, kicking off five weeks of action at Yas Island in the UAE.
Middleweight champion Israel Adesanya and challenger Paulo Costa get top billing in a battle of undefeated fighters. It's the first time since Rashad Evans and Lyoto Machida met in 2009 that a pair of fighters enter a title bout with unbeaten marks in UFC. Plus, Dominick Reyes and Jan Blachowicz are set to scrap for the vacant light heavyweight title after Jon Jones made the decision to move up to heavyweight.
Also on the card is a legend of the sport making perhaps one of his final walks to the Octagon in Diego Sanchez. Sanchez, who competed on the first season of "The Ultimate Fighter" TV show, will faces Jake Matthews at welterweight. Matthews has won five of his last six while Sanchez is 3-1 since 2018. Though, his last win over Michel Pereira came via disqualification for an illegal knee. That fight will take place on the preliminary card.
Let's take a look at all five fights scheduled for the main card from the first event in the UFC's return to Fight Island.
Can't get enough UFC? Subscribe to our podcast State of Combat with Brian Campbell where we break down everything you need to know in the Octagon, including a complete preview of UFC 253 with Hall of Famer 'Suga' Rashad Evans below.
Zubaira Tukhugov -120 vs. Hakeem Dawodu +100, featherweights: Tukhugov (19-4-1) was one of the men who received a lengthy suspension for his involvement in the UFC 229 post-fight brawl between the Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov camps. That issue -- combined with an earlier drug test failure -- contributed to Tukhugov being kept out of action from May 2016 to September 2019. He returned with a split draw against Lerone Murphy before a first round TKO stoppage of Kevin Aguilar in February, just his eighth stoppage in 19 career victories. Dawodu fought the first eight fights of his pro career in the WSOF organization before joining the UFC with a 7-0-1 record. Dawodu lost for the first time in his career in his Octagon debut, a technical submission loss to Danny Henry. He has since rattled off four straight victories, two by split decision.
Ketlen Vieira -190 vs. Sijara Eubanks +160, women's bantamweights: Vieira (10-1) is coming off her first career loss after being knocked out by Irene Aldana this past December. Prior to the defeat, Vieira had won 10 consecutive fights with six finishes. Two of her four UFC victories have come via split decision. Eubanks (6-4) entered the UFC with a 2-2 record. She debuted with back-to-back wins over established veterans Lauren Murphy and Roxanne Modafferi before she lost in back-to-back fights. Eubanks is again riding a two-fight winning streak entering UFC 253. She has also gone to decision for seven consecutive fights and in eight of her 10 career bouts.
Kai Kara-France -240 vs. Brandon Royval +200, flyweights: Kara-France (21-8) has been on the fringes of the flyweight title picture since returning to the division when he joined the UFC in December 2018. He has gone 4-1 in the UFC with all five fights going to the scorecards. He dropped his first decision in the Octagon to Brandon Moreno two fights ago. He rebounded in his most recent bout against Tyson Nam. After a lengthy and successful career in the LFA promotion, Royval (11-4) made his UFC debut in May with a submission victory over Tim Elliott. Royval has finished all but one of his 11 victories, with seven submissions and three knockouts on his ledger. Royval has also never been stopped in his professional career.
Dominick Reyes -280 vs. Jan Blachowicz +230, vacant light heavyweight championship: Reyes (12-1) is coming off his controversial loss to Jon Jones at UFC 247 in February. Prior to that loss, Reyes had been perfect in his pro career. In nine of his 12 pro victories, Reyes has finished his opponent. A string of big wins over Jared Cannonier, Ovince Saint Preux, Volkan Oezdemir and Chris Weidman led him into his title fight with Jones, which the majority of media members tracked by MMADecisions.com saw as having been won by Reyes.
Blachowicz (26-8) has had an up and down career in the UFC, having suffered two different two-fight losing skids in the Octagon. A 7-1 record in his eight most recent fights propelled him to top contender status. In that span, he suffered a TKO loss to Thiago Santos, but rebounded with a knockout of Luke Rockhold, a decision win over Jacare Souza and a knockout of Corey Anderson.
Israel Adesanya (c) -180 vs. Paulo Costa +155, middleweight championship: Already an accomplished kickboxer, Adesanya (19-0) transitioned to MMA full-time in 2017 and has remained perfect as a professional in the sport. Adesanya made his UFC debut in February 2018. By October 2019, he had already won seven fights in the Octagon and captured the middleweight title with a knockout of Robert Whittaker. Adesanya struggled in his first title defense, a slow-paced, low-output fight with Yoel Romero. The fight was out of character for Adesanya, who has won four Performance of the Night and two Fight of the Night bonuses in his eight UFC fights.
Costa (13-0) is also undefeated as a mixed martial artist and has been a wrecking machine in the cage. Only one opponent (Romero) has managed to take Costa to the scorecards. Eleven opponents have been knocked out by Costa and one has been submitted. Costa has a 5-0 record in the UFC with four knockouts. A massive man for the middleweight division, Costa walks around at more than the light heavyweight limit and brings every bit of that strength into the Octagon.
Who will win Adesanya vs. Costa, and how will each fight end? Visit SportsLine now to get detailed picks on every fight at UFC 253, all from the incomparable expert who's up almost $20,000 on MMA in the past 20 months and nailed 20 of the last 24 main events.