Johannesburg, October 3 – Israel Adesanya’s inexorable rise to the top of the Ultimate Fighting Championship could play out in glorious style in Melbourne this weekend when he fights Robert Whittaker for the middleweight championship at UFC 243.
SuperSport will cross to Australia for the live action at 4am Sunday morning(SS 11).
Whittaker’s absence, due to injury, the Nigerian superstar has been “interim” champion, although this is a tag Adesanya has been indifferent to.
“Ever since I joined UFC, I’ve felt like a champion,” said the self-assured fighter. “I’ll get shiny new bling to match my other bling. Come Sunday and I’ll be the best in the world.”
Nicknamed “Stylebender” on account of his unorthodoxy and athleticism, Adesanya has built up a perfect 17-0 record and a reputation as one of UFC’s most dynamic stars.
With upwards of 50 000 people anticipated at this weekend’s event, he has clearly ingratiated himself with fans. It helps, too, that Whittaker is the local star, born in New Zealand – where Adesanya now lives – and having grown up in Australia.
Asked what qualities Whittaker brings to the fight, Adesanya spoke of his awkwardness. “But I’m awkward too.”
He isn’t daunted by fighting at the huge arena and reckons he will soak it in afterward, suggesting it will be “humbling” to do so.
His last fight, against Kelvin Gastelum in April, was a brutal five-round war that represented Adesanya’s toughest test to date and burnished his reputation as one of the sport’s biggest names.
It taught him, too, that he can cope with adversity and dig deep to win.
“That’s true; it made people look at me and see that I’m not just any other fighter. So far, that was my toughest fight physically. It was a good gut-check. It’s different under the lights; a real soul-checking moment.”
UFC boss Dana White went so far as to claim that this weekend’s event will be the biggest event in UFC history, although that’s not something dwelling on Adesanya’s mind.
“I’ve never had a boring fight in my life. The way I fight is smart, I have the X-factor . . . I’m able to show off.”
Showing off doesn’t include preening about his record. Says Adesanya: “I don’t give a f*** about the O in my record. I lose every other day in the gym. Being undefeated is just a number, it’s no hindrance. [Protecting my record] is old-school mentality.”
With one of the most exuberant personalities in the sport, it’s little surprise to hear Adesanya’s ambition for this match-up.
“The main thing is I’m looking forward to going through those doors and having fun. When I’m having fun, I’m the best fighter in the world.”
As ever, he will do so as both an African fighter and a proud New Zealand representative.
“I’ve got Africa stamped on my chest. My skin is black. You’ll always know where I’m from.”