The Ultimate Fighting Championship crowned two interim champions at UFC 236 on Saturday in Atlanta, where Dustin Poirier and Israel Adesanya battled through adversity to snare unanimous decision victories and some new hardware.
“The Last Style Bender” and Kelvin Gastelum put on a “Fight of the Year”-worthy spectacle in the co-headliner, complete with spinning elbows, submission attempts and wild swings in momentum. Meanwhile, “The Diamond” put on a career-defining performance opposite Max Holloway in the main event, landing hard shots early and often on the 145-pound champ on his way to procuring 49-46 scorecards across the board. Beneath the championship headliners, Khalil Rountree dominated Eryk Anders; Dwight Grant earned a split decision over Alan Jouban that was as close as it was tedious; and Nikita Krylov submitted Ovince St. Preux in a fight five years removed from their first encounter back at UFC 171.
As always, “The Vanquished” will assess the performances of those who came up short and make a recommendation for where they should turn next inside the Octagon.
Max Holloway vs. Frankie Edgar: It was surreal watching Holloway lose, with Poirier succeeding where the 13 men before him failed. Though “Blessed” managed to rally after a punishing first round that saw him on wobbly legs multiple times, Poirier’s pressure and power proved too much for the featherweight champ, and “The Diamond” ultimately won four of the five rounds. Though he seemed non-committal in the post-fight interview about immediately moving back down to 145 pounds to defend his title, Holloway has unfinished business with a former lightweight champion in Edgar, and that’s where we should see him next. Holloway and “The Answer” were booked to fight at UFC 222 before the former withdrew with injury. Edgar ultimately fought -- and lost to -- late replacement and future title challenger Brian Ortega, but he returned to the win column the following month with a unanimous decision over Cub Swanson.
Kelvin Gastelum vs. Paulo Henrique Costa: Gastelum came out swinging in his encounter with Adesanya, knocking down the kickboxer in the first round while also managing to steal the fourth courtesy of his pressure and accurate punching. Though Adesanya ultimately prevailed, winning by a margin of 48-46 across all three judges’ scorecards, Gastelum demonstrated grit, composure and stamina in the affair, and his stock is unlikely to have lost any value in the eyes of fans or the promotion. A former welterweight who was dwarfed by the 6-foot-4 Adesanya, Gastelum may wish to move back down to 170 pounds for his next fight if the organization lets him, but if he sticks around at middleweight a scrap with Brazil’s Costa ticks all the boxes. “The Eraser” was last seen at UFC 226 in July, when he extended his knockout streak to five fights with a second-round stoppage of Uriah Hall.
Eryk Anders vs. Sam Alvey: Anders looked like a deer in headlights opposite the rebounding Rountree, as “The War Horse” decimated the former University of Alabama linebacker with punishing inside leg kicks and sniper punches over the course of three rounds. Anders -- who walked into the Octagon as the favorite -- was dropped an incredible four times in the second round, and though “Ya Boi” showed heart in making it to the final bell, fans will not soon forget how helpless he looked in the preceding 15 minutes. With losses in four of his last five outings, Anders finds himself in desperate need of a win, and a fight opposite Alvey makes sense next. “Smile’n Sam” was last seen in Melbourne, Australia, where he lost to prospect Jim Crute via first-round TKO.
Alan Jouban vs. Curtis Millender: It had been more than a year since we had seen Jouban in the Octagon, with the Louisiana native sitting on the sidelines for most of 2018 due to injury. Unfortunately, his return bout opposite Dwight Grant did little to satisfy fans, as the two welterweights appeared reluctant to engage over the 15-minute affair and amassed a pitiful 16 combined strikes in the second round. The 37-year old Jouban was indignant when Grant was announced as the winner, but he did little to put his stamp on the fight outside of a last-ditch takedown in the dying minutes of the third round. He should be matched next with a fellow UFC 236 loser in Millender, who dropped an uninspired decision to Belal Muhammad on the prelims.
Ovince St. Preux vs. Jim Crute: Once hailed as the Next Big Thing at light heavyweight, Tennessee’s St. Preux has lost five times since he took Jon Jones the distance in their interim title fight at UFC 197. Over that time, “OSP” has had moments of brilliance -- he earned a stunning head kick knockout of Corey Anderson at UFC 217 and two consecutive Von Flue choke submissions -- sandwiched between lackluster outings. He was lackluster St. Preux in his rematch with Krylov, appearing to gas by the midway point of the first round before succumbing to a rear-naked choke in the second. St Preux should next face Australia’s Crute to determine who deserves the No. 15 spot in the UFC’s 205-pound rankings.