Israel Adesanya Says He’s ‘Innovating This Game’
The UFC has certainly been lacking lately in terms of star power, but one of the promotion’s newest middleweights and freshest faces, Israel Adesanya (12-0), who burst onto the scene with an impressive debut at UFC 221, is ready to seize the opportunity and become the next household name in MMA.
His arrival was indeed a memorable one. After he laid waste to Rob Wilkinson via TKO in the second round, Adesanya, 28, told Jon Anik in his post-fight interview, “Attention all middleweights, I’m the new dog in town and I just pissed all over this cage.” He created a huge buzz with his performance, which showcased his diverse striking attack, and his declaration, which oozed confidence. Many fighters talk nowadays, but few truly strike a chord with their audience. Adesanya, with his calm speaking tone and striking presence, did so immediately.
The former kickboxer, who fought for the GLORY middleweight title back in January of 2017, returns to the Octagon on Saturday to face Marvin Vettori at UFC on FOX 29. He fully believes he’s destined to become the next big thing in the UFC.
“Yeah, 100 percent,” Adesanya told FIGHT SPORTS. “Jon Jones is inactive at the moment. Conor [McGregor] is doing other things. Ronda [Rousey] is kind of doing the WWE. There are still stars in the UFC, but when you are talking mega stars, stars that have crossed over to the mainstream, to pop culture, that’s the kind of fighter I’m going to be.”
UFC fans may just be learning about Adesanya, but the Nigerian-born fighter, who resides in Auckland, New Zealand, has certainly garnered plenty of attention fighting all over the globe as a kickboxer, as well as in his first 11 bouts in MMA. That being said, during this week he said he took part in “the most significant media” he ever has in his career, and proudly mentioned his first interview with TMZ. He’s not worried about the newfound attention or fighting on the main card on Saturday, just his opponent, he said.
“I just have to focus on one thing and that’s Vettori.”
Adeanya revealed he and Vettori crossed paths a few months back at UFC 219 in Las Vegas, Nev. “He was with his crew in MGM and we walked past each other,” he explained. “I nodded to acknowledge his fight and he gave me this weird look and weird energy.” It was “right then and there” that he decided he wanted to fight him. And once Vettori was presented along with a few other options (Adesanya would not reveal the other fighters), his choice was an easy one to make.
What is he setting out to accomplish in the Octagon come Saturday night?
“I’m looking to finish him,” said Adesanya, who has finished all 12 of his opponents in MMA competition. “I’m not looking for it, but … I’m looking to do me, but the finish is going to come naturally. It just comes with the game that I present. He wants to pressure me. I know he’s going to just want to rush me straight away. These days, you guys have seen me being the aggressor with my energy and my pressure. I don’t have to do much to make these guys back up. But he’s going to try to rush towards. You guys don’t understand when I first started I was a counter striker. They will find out come Saturday night.”
Of course, like Wilkinson, who attempted 15 takedowns against Adesanya to avoid striking with him, many MMA pundits believe Vettori will also attempt to get the fight to the canvas. “The Last Stylebender” isn’t so sure that will be the case.
“I think Vettori, he’s a bit of a knuckle head,” said Adesanya. “He might try to strike with me. But within the first minute or first two minutes he’s going to start heading to the hills. Even if they aren’t wrestlers they become wrestlers with me. They don’t realize that I can wrestle as well. You just have to find someone to actually test me. You saw me last fight, we will find out this fight if he can even get me to the ground.”
In his UFC debut vs. Wilkinson, Adesanya stuffed 12 of 15 takedown attempts, showcasing solid takedown defense and also incredible balance while thwarting his opponent’s attack.
“My hips don’t lie,” he said, referencing the hit Shakira song. “My hips don’t lie. My dancing background and my creativity, it just kind of flows easily. I’ve never really tried properly. You guys haven’t seen someone try to take me down with a big takedown yet. The guy, he was just trying to pressure me. You guys will see some crazy sh*t eventually when someone tries to slam me or something.”
Adesanya is a big fan of Japanese Anime, which is where got the idea for his nickname “The Last Stylebender,” and also of video games, which is where the term “God Mode” originated. God Mode occurs when a code is used during a game to make a player invincible. Adesanya has stated throughout his career that he possesses that capability when he fights.
So will we see it vs. Vettori at UFC on FOX 29 in Phoenix, Ariz.?
“God Mode just happens,” said Adesanya, who recently took part in a modeling campaign for Karen Walker sunglasses. “I can’t control it. It’s only when I’m in there that I can control it. But to activate it, it just happens like when you are in the flow state. It’s where you can kind of like guide yourself toward it with your breathing, with meditation, things like that. When you come to the fight the energy just happens and you just go Super Saiyan (a term from Dragon Ball Z for advanced transformation) and then no one can catch you, no one can touch you, and you just flow. In this fight … I don’t predict these things like Mystic Mac [Conor McGregor], but when it happens it will happen and you guys will be like, ‘Oh sh*t, he’s in God Mode.'”
When asked recently by SiriusXM’s Luke Thomas about the level of striking in the UFC’s middleweight division, Adesanya laughed. That’s because, after years of competing in kickboxing, he feels most of the UFC middleweights just aren’t on his level.
“Not at all,” he said. “The striking in the middleweight division is … How do I say? Luke [Rockhold] is probably one of the best. [Robert] Whitaker is pretty good as well, and they’ve all got different styles, but the striking in the middleweight division is definitely not on my level.”
This reminded him of something Vettori said about him recently, which clearly has him agitated. He explained.
“Vettori is kind of claiming … I think he’s got a book on how to talk sh*t for a fight and he’s saying quoted things or standard things you say when you want to have a fight or get in someone’s head,” he began. “I’m like, ‘where is he getting this from?’ Saying I’m not on his level of striking. That’s just a lie. If he wants to lie to himself, be my guest. But when we get in there and it’s just me, him and the ref, lies won’t help. The truth will set him free.”
Adesanya, who trains under Eugene Bareman at City Kickboxing in Auckland, along with UFC lightweight Dan Hooker and One FC welterweight Brad Riddell, says he’s “innovating this game.”
“I’ve been doing some sh*t only people in my gym have seen,” he said. “Maybe in this fight you might catch some of it. But I’m definitely innovating this game because I’m always improving.”
Heading into his second fight on his current four-fight deal with the UFC, Adesanya who said he once fought over 20 times in one year, is looking to fight as much as possible, saying, “I’m probably going to get five.”
How fast does he think he can move up the rankings and start facing the toughest the division has to offer?
“As fast as I want,” he stated. “I’ve never been catered to in my career. The UFC sees in me what I’ve seen for years. They see it now and you guys see it now. If they want to bring me along slowly … They have the formula to make mega stars, to make household names. Whatever the formula is that they want to go with I’m cool. I just keep the same energy and I’m going to do me, and that’s what’s going to bring the punchers towards me.”
Adesanya called out reporters after his UFC debut who said he “finally made it,” saying, “I was here the whole time. You guys are finally noticing me.” He describes the UFC as “The pinnacle of combat sports” and the “Main goal” he sought to achieve when he began fighting professionally. And now that he’s arrived, he’s ready to kick down the door and take over as the next big star.
“I just feel like, like you said, I’m here at the right time. The stars all aligned, the plans all aligned perfectly for me to be here at this time and I’m grateful for it. [Fighting on] real FOX. Millions of eyes watching me. I’m ready to shine.”