Israel Adesanya can point to two fights in his UFC career that shifted something inside of him.
The first is his interim title bout against Kelvin Gastelum in April 2019, a five-round war that saw Adesanya dig deep in the final frame to touch UFC gold for the first time. The second is his most recent effort, a second-round knockout of longtime rival Alex Pereira to get his belt back. Adesanya said after that win at UFC 287, he “leveled up mentally, spiritually, physically.”
That is why, ahead of his headlining title defense at UFC 293 in Sydney, Australia, he anticipates another epic performance against Sean Strickland. Although many, including Adesanya, expected this fight to come against South African No. 1 contender Dricus Du Plessis, it is the American Strickland instead. Regardless of the opponent, Adesanya was looking forward to a new face after back-to-back fights with Pereira.
“You can't punish me for my own greatness,” Adesanya said. “(I) just didn’t want to fight the same people again. I like fresh blood, and Sean, I think he's dangerous. He does some things really well against other people, so my job is to make sure it doesn't work against me. I'm used to doing that when it comes to fighting, and f*** everything else. This is about fighting.”
With the fighting, though, comes a few messages that need sending. While Adesanya’s saga with Pereira was much more personal given a history dating back to their kickboxing careers, Adesanya’s energy toward Strickland is best described as stern.
The two crossed paths a handful of times as Strickland climbed the middleweight rankings since 2020, most prominently during the UFC 276 press conference in July 2022. Strickland took exception with Adesanya’s fashion sense, particularly the pearl necklaces and French tips Adesanya is known to rock from time to time. Later that week, Adesanya outpointed Jared Cannonier while Strickland suffered a knockout loss to Pereira. A little more than a year later, the two are finally set to do battle, and Adesanya is making sure his nails are on-point for his duel with Strickland.
“This is like a once in a while thing, but people like to hold on to it,” he said. “It's special for this. I just feel like I need to knock this guy out with some drip tips.”
More than the personal beef Adesanya may or may not have with his opponent, he is extra charged up for this card as it features five of his City Kickboxing teammates: Carlos Ulberg, Shane Young, Tyson Pedro, Blood Diamond and Kevin Jousset.
As the headliner, Adesanya feels like he needs to close the show in style to put an exclamation point on the night, and he is also hoping his fellow ANZ teammates appreciate this particular moment of time in New Zealand MMA. He harkens back to the K-1 success of people like Ray Sefo and Mark Hunt, as well as boxers David Tua and Joseph Parker, and knows this era is special, as well.
“We have to showcase the team,” Adesanya said. We have to showcase what we've done well, how we've grown. Dan (Hooker) was a first for my team in the UFC, and look at us now. It's historic, and I really hope people can really pay attention right now and just really soak it in because there's eras in the fight game. Right now, with MMA, I feel like there's a resurgence in New Zealand combat sports. I really hope people pay attention, not just the world, but that the Kiwis really pay attention and just realize this a special moment in time because one day it's going to be gone and then it'll be another how many years before it comes back again.”
UFC 293 represents the second pay-per-view in Australia for the mixed martial arts leader in 2023 following UFC 284: Makhachev vs Volkanovski. Featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski’s bid for double-champ status came up short, but it inspired Adesanya ahead of his rematch with Pereira, and he hopes to bring that same energy to Sydney.
The bout is Adesanya’s first in the Oceania region since he unified the middleweight title against Robert Whittaker at UFC 243 in Melbourne. That card broke UFC’s attendance record, and while Sydney won’t have the same capacity, Adesanya wants to deliver a barnburner all the same.
Israel Adesanya Exclusive Interview
Unlock MORE of your inner combat sports fan with UFC Fight Pass! Fighting is what we live for. And no one brings you MORE live fights, new shows, and events across multiple combat sports from around the world. With a never-ending supply of fighting in every discipline, there’s always something new to watch. Leave it to the world’s authority in MMA to bring you the Ultimate 24/7 platform for MORE combat sports, UFC Fight Pass!
Israel Adesanya Exclusive Interview
Even though few outsiders see Strickland as a kind of name that will add to Adseanya’s decorated legacy, it is a fight the champion needs to win, nonetheless. Even though Adesanya doesn’t get too caught up in the image he has crafted for himself as an all-time great, he is self-aware enough to understand the special life he is living.
"I trust my team, I trust myself, I trust my instinct, and I trust the Almighty,” Adesanya said. “I just know everything's happening the way I expected it, the way I prayed for, the way I planned it, the way I've manifested it. I'm very grateful. Every day I wake up now, I really (have) gratitude. Gratitude is a real attitude.
“(My) legacy is just me. Just me being me, me being free.”
UFC 293: Adesanya vs Strickland took place live from Qudos Arena in Sydney, Australia on September 9, 2023. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!