Israel Adesanya and Yousri Belgaroui don't like each other at all, so it was fate that they would end up meeting in the final of the GLORY 34 DENVER Middleweight Contender Tournament. Their beef stems from when they first fought – Adesanya won a split-decision but in post-fight comments said that “this was my worst performance ever and I am just sorry I made this guy look good, he didn't deseve to be in there with me.”
Belgaroui was of course insulted, and a feud began. Even in the pre-fight interviews which took place earlier in fight week Adesanya was dismissive of Belgaroui and said he really hoped they would meet in the final. As things turned out, they did, and Adesanya set the tone by refusing a Belgaroui glove-touch at the start of the fight.
From that point they went at it. Adesanya is a very tricky fighter but Belgaroui is also unorthodox, which made it difficult for Adesanya to set up and land his strikes as cleanly as he usually can. Not only that, but Adesanya found himself taking more blows than he is used to. There was constant give and take over all three rounds and both fighters pulled off some incredible moves.
One highlight was a “Matrix-movement” moment where Belgaroui threw a head kick. Adesanya ducked it, but Belgaroui was already transitioning into a spinning backfist from his missed kick. In a split-second Adesanya saw that coming and managed to duck out of that as well, displaying superhuman reflexes.
Things were close up until the final bell. It was the kind of fight to make you glad you aren't a judge. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it resulted in a split-decision. Two judges had it for Adesanya (29-28 and a ridiculous score of 30-27) while the other judge had it for Belgaroui, also at 29-28.
Adesanya acknowledged the closeness of the fight, telling the audience he gives himself “a C+ for this performance”. Denver is the Mile-High City and Adesanya admitted that “the elevation kicked my ass”, drawing laughter from the crowd.
He then turned his attention to the rest of the middleweight division. “You guys, I'm telling you, you're not ready for me,” he said. Adesanya now goes forward to a shot at the middleweight title in 2017.
Adesanya's trademark trickery was also on full display in his semi-final bout against Robert Thomas of Canada. Switching stances early and often, he was able to outfox Thomas repeatedly to land perfectly-placed shots on exposed targets.
Thomas is a tough and durable fighter with a grinding style and he stayed in Adesanya's face throughout the bout, but his linear approach gave lots for Adesanya to exploit. The first round was competitive but in the second Adesanya met an incoming Thomas with a right knee to the sternum, dropping him for an eight-count.
It was expected that Adesanya would go all-out for a finish on the restart but he stayed patient and continued picking his shots, which meant the fight moved to the third round. He scored another knockdown in this round too, dropping Thomas with a head kick. Thomas got up and got back into the fight but the judge's decision was obvious when the final bell rang; Adesanya moved forwards to the final.
Ariel Machado made his GLORY debut as a light-heavyweight against the fearsome Pavel Zhuravlev from Ukraine. Zhuravlev is a forward-pressure fighter and Machado, who came in on late notice, played a matador role, backing up constantly and picking him off as he came forward. The clever gameplan won him the fight.
In Denver, his GLORY middleweight debut was ironically the reverse of that fight. He was the forward-pressure fighter and the tricky Belgaroui was the one being evasive and landing his shots around Machado's output. It was a spirited fight and a close one, with both tired from their efforts by the end. The judges saw it for Belgaroui but the decision could easily have gone the other way.
Israel Adesanya def. Yousri Belgaroui, Split-Decision, R3 (30-27, 29-28, 29-28)
Israel Adesanya def. Robert Thomas, Unanimous Decision (30-25, 29-26, 30-25)
Yousri Belgaroui def. Ariel Machado, Unanimous Decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)