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Jon Anik: Israel Adesanya has ‘a lot of value’ as UFC 259 betting favorite

While Israel Adesanya is a significant favorite ahead of his opportunity to become a two-division champion in the UFC this Saturday night, perhaps he still may not be getting the respect he deserves.

Adesanya, the current middleweight champion of the world, will challenge Jan Blachowicz for the light heavyweight title in the main event of UFC 259. The event takes place at the UFC APEX in Las Vegas and the 205-pound championship matchup will cap off a trio of title bouts.

Of course, the man who will be calling the action—alongside Joe Rogan and Daniel Cormier as he revealed to MMA Fighting—is Jon Anik, who appeared on the most recent edition of What the Heck on Tuesday to preview the event.

Early on, it seemed like most MMA pundits were all-in on Adesanya going in there and showcasing his game against Blachowicz, who makes his first defense after stopping Dominick Reyes at UFC 253 to capture the title. As the event draws closer and closer, less and less of that narrative has been shared.

While Blachowicz may be flying under the radar, Anik believes that may not necessarily be the most understated storyline heading into Saturday.

“I think there’s some of that out there,” Anik told MMA Fighting in regards to more respect being shown to Blachowicz. “There are some who are suggesting that Adesanya might be feeling him out a little bit and might be in a bit of risk mitigation mode early because he’s moving up to light heavyweight for the first time.

“Certainly, Blachowicz should be confident and I like every bit of his progression. I like every bit of his game. He’s certainly not afraid to be the underdog most of his career. The high profile fights—almost all of them—he’s been the underdog for those.

“But I actually feel that the underplayed storyline is Adesanya’s quest at all-time greatness. He’s 20-0, so I can sit here, depending on what I was employed to do, and tell you that at -250 there’s a lot of value on him right now and even though it’s commanding two-way action, Adesanya may not be getting the respect that he deserves by being the betting favorite. That for me is the big storyline; 20-0 in modern day mixed martial arts and trying to preserve that by going up to 205 pounds. It’s just incredible.”

The rise of Blachowicz has been fascinating to watch. After a first-round TKO win over Ilir Latifi in his promotional debut in October 2014, the Polish fighter lost four of his next five bouts. With a victory over Igor Pokrajac sprinkled in the middle, Blachowicz was on the wrong side of decisions against Jimi Manuwa, Corey Anderson, Alexander Gustafsson and Patrick Cummins.

Since then, Blachowicz has gone 8-1 with five stoppages. In his most recent streak, the 38-year-old earned a decision win over Ronaldo Souza, and finishes of Reyes, Anderson and Luke Rockhold on the road to becoming champion.

Although he Blachowicz is nearly a two to one underdog, Anik is fascinated to see how his composure in high-level situations will translate into the biggest fight of his career.

“[I’m excited] to see what Jan can do because he’s a cold-blooded killer,” Anik said. “Ice water in the veins is sort of your sports cliche, Jan Blachowicz is that guy. People talk about Ciryl Gane [and his composure for his UFC Vegas 20 main event], give Blachowicz a heart monitor. Dude is ready to go and I guarantee you he’ll be beyond ready on fight night.

“When Joe Rogan talks about this being one of the fights that he’s most looking forward to in a 25-year career, that’s not promotional hyperbole at all.”

Should Adesanya do what only four others—Conor McGregor, Daniel Cormier, Amanda Nunes and Henry Cejudo—have done in the past and become a two-division champion, he will have a plethora of options in front of him. “The Last Stylebender” became the undisputed middleweight champion less than two years after making his octagon debut, which included capturing the interim 185-pound title with a unanimous decision win over Kelvin Gastelum at UFC 236 in April 2019. The 31-year-old successfully defended his title twice in 2020 against Yoel Romero and, via second-round TKO, Paulo Costa.

So the questions remain: will Adesanya defend both titles should he emerge victorious on Saturday night? Will he move up to heavyweight to fight Jon Jones? Or will he make the decision to stick around solely at 205?

“I certainly wouldn’t put that past him even though he’s an undersized middleweight that we’ve seen weigh-in as low as 183 pounds in the UFC,” Anik explained. “But I think the world is already his oyster and I think, selfishly as a commentator, we’re looking for as many title fights as possible so I’d like him to do some stuff at middleweight because I still think there’s big fights for him there, whether it’s the Whittaker rematch, a Till fight, if Cannonier can build his way back up, even a Costa rematch, Gastelum could work his way to a rematch, Hermansson.

“I don’t think the cupboard is bare. I don’t think middleweight is played out per se, and I don’t know if Izzy has had anything to say on that front. He is special in every sense of that word and whatever that man wants to do, I would tell him, ‘Shine on, young man.’”

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