LAS VEGAS — Israel Adesanya announced his arrival as a UFC middleweight contender with a dominant unanimous-decision victory over veteran Brad Tavares on Saturday night.
In just his third UFC fight, Adesanya (14-0), a Nigerian-born New Zealander, showed off a wealth of technique and ability against a tough UFC veteran. Fighting confidently and creatively, he battered and bloodied Tavares (18-6), who had won four straight bouts since 2015.
Earlier, Canadian featherweight Brad Katona and New Jersey lightweight Michael Trizano earned UFC contracts by winning the final bouts in their respective brackets in the current season of "The Ultimate Fighter."
But the night was a showcase for Adesanya, who won 50-45, 50-45 and 49-46 on the judges' scorecards.
"I'm just getting warmed up," Adesanya said.
The Hawaii-born Tavares was headlining a fight card for the first time in 16 UFC bouts over the past eight years. Adesanya accomplished the feat in just his third fight, a sign of the UFC's excitement about his ability to impact the 185-pound division.
Adesanya showed off his athletic ferociousness early on, trying unorthodox strikes and rolling submission moves to keep Tavares off-balance. Adesanya also demonstrated flair, such as when he grinningly brushed his own hair right after throwing a spinning kick that barely missed Tavares' head.
Adesanya had a strong third round, and he opened a gaping cut over Tavares' right eye in the fourth round with a vicious short elbow. He finished with minimal damage, and only Tavares' uncommon toughness kept him on his feet.
Adesanya's victory was the highlight of the annual fight card showcasing the contestants on the UFC's long-running competition reality show during International Fight Week.
The week culminates Saturday night with the pay-per-view UFC 226, headlined by heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic's superfight against light heavyweight champ Daniel Cormier.
Katona, who postponed a career as an engineer to train in MMA in Ireland, dominated his bout with Irish-born Jay Cuccinello, winning 30-26 on all three cards.
Trizano won a split decision in a strangely paced bout against Joe Giannetti, who spent much of the third round avoiding contact.
Earlier, featherweight Alex Caceres won an entertaining slugfest with Mexico's Martin Bravo by split decision. Flyweight Roxanne Modafferi (22-15) also earned her first UFC victory after 15 years as a pro, dominating her second-round stoppage of veteran Barb Honchak.