With three title fights atop the marquee and a deep fight card featuring upwards of 15 bouts, Saturday's UFC 259 has the feel of a supercard.
Light heavyweight champion Jan Blachowicz headlines the pay-per-view card from the UFC Apex in Las Vegas against reigning middleweight king Israel Adesanya. Women's featherweight champion Amanda Nunes and bantamweight titleholder Petr Yan will also make title defenses.
Let's take a closer look at which storylines to follow entering this weekend.
1. Adesanya appears poised for global superstardom
Considering the enormous impact he has had since arriving on the scene, it's difficult to comprehend that Adesanya has only been in the UFC for three years. Over that time, the reigning middleweight champion is 9-0 inside the Octagon with four knockouts, a trio of title defenses and victories over the likes of Anderson Silva, Kelvin Gastelum, Robert Whittaker, Yoel Romero and Paulo Costa. The 31-year-old Nigerian, who fights out of New Zealand, will next challenge for the UFC's 205-pound title and do so as the betting favorite. A victory over Blachowicz would provide historic immortality for Adesanya as a simultaneous two-division champion. It would also open the door for what might end up being the kind of takeover that UFC has never seen before.
Adesanya may never reach the commercial heights of a Conor McGregor, but he may end up with a shot at surpassing everyone else critically should he continue pushing boundaries and make a run at heavyweight and, by proxy, the sport's current G.O.A.T. in Jon Jones. UFC has never had a three-division champion in the promotion's 28-year history. It also hasn't had an athlete as clever and sublime as Adesanya, a charismatic striking wizard with the kind of crossover appeal from a global standpoint that feels ready to burst. Whether or not the slender Adesanya can one day prove dangerous at heavyweight -- where he once competed on a global stage in kickboxing -- remains to be seen, but we may never find out if he doesn't get past Blachowicz first.
Can't get enough boxing and MMA? Get the latest in the world of combat sports from two of the best in the business. Subscribe to Morning Kombat with Luke Thomas and Brian Campbell for the best analysis and in-depth news, including the biggest storylines to follow for UFC 259 below.
2. How much longer can Nunes' dominance last?
Already anointed as the greatest female fighter in the sport's history, the 32-year-old Nunes looks to continue her two-division dominance in a 145-pound title defense against Megan Anderson. The odds are firmly in Nunes' favor to extend her incredible win streak within the UFC to 12 fights as she sits comfortably as an almost laughably high betting favorite (-1100). Nunes has competed just once in the past 15 months due to everything from COVID fears to minor injuries and time spent at home welcoming her first child with partner, and UFC strawweight, Nina Ansaroff. Yet the pair of divisions that Nunes holds reign over still haven't been able to produce a challenger promising enough to even produce a trendy upset pick in recent years. Anderson, who enters having won three of her last four, brings legitimate size at 6-feet tall and is anything but a blown up bantamweight. But does she provide enough of a next-level threat to surprise the well-rounded Nunes in any area? On paper, at least, that answer remains a firm no. And until that becomes a yes (or until flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko moves back up in weight in search of a third try at unseating Nunes) expect "The Lioness" to be able to continue for as long as her hunger to do so lasts.
3. Yan-Sterling is as good as it gets in the UFC
Given the incredible depth within the division, it has often been hard for UFC matchmakers to resist reaching back to the past in order to produce the most marketable offering at 135 pounds. That might explain why Jose Aldo and Dominick Cruz received recent title shots and former champion TJ Dillashaw is rumored to possibly getting the next one despite a talented group of younger fighters ready to make their mark. Lucky for Sterling, he'll get his chance next as his dominant first-round submission win over fellow top contender Cory Sandhagen largely left the UFC with no choice. And even luckier for fans, it's among the best fights that could be made in the sport as Yan, who hasn't fought since stopping Aldo last July to win the vacant crown, enters a 50/50 fight against an opponent at the peak of his prime in his first title defense. Will Sterling's wrestling be enough to hold the champion down and submit him? And how will the challenger deal with Yan's savage and precise striking should the fight extend to the championship rounds? Get your popcorn ready.
4. Expect nothing but fireworks in Santos-Rakic
Talk about an explosive light heavyweight tilt that is currently riding under the radar of the three title bouts above it. Santos, who once pushed Jon Jones to the absolute limit in their 2019 title bout before a lengthy layoff due to knee surgery, might be running out of time at age 37 to fulfill his bright potential. Santos is also fresh off a submission loss to Glover Teixeira last November that should see him hungry to make a big statement. That should pair well with Rakic's inability to take a backward step as this fight, already integral enough to the larger title picture at 205 pounds, will be fun for as long as it lasts.
5. Title implications abound at flyweight
While this weekend's extended undercard offers no shortage of sneaky good matchups from an action standpoint, the 125-pound pairing of Joseph Benavidez and Askar Askarov likely produces the next title challenger. Reigning champion Deveison Figueiredo, who stopped Benavidez twice in 2020 to become the new face of the flyweight division, must first run back his exciting December draw with Brandon Moreno, of course. But what will be interesting to see is whether the unbeaten Askarov -- who also fought to an exciting draw with Moreno in 2019 -- proves to be the true dark horse of the division. The Russian will have no easy task against someone as experienced and versatile as Benavidez who should be stubborn enough at age 36 to prove his decade-long run as a top contender isn't over. Oddsmakers have been split as this fight, which has all the makings to be a thriller, is a virtual pick 'em.