LAS VEGAS — Israel Adesanya is ready to level.
The UFC middleweight champion defending his title against J in the T-Mobile Arena on Saturdayared gunner in the main event of UFC 276has made a career of proving others wrong.
But now that he’s moving on to the next stage of his career, he’s ready to spin that star.
For a long time, Adesanya had to prove that he could defend the takedown as he was a kick boxer and not many were foolish enough to willingly stand with him and try to get him to the ground. But after brilliant performances defending takedowns in wins over Marvin Vettori and Robert Whittaker, that’s now in the rear-view mirror.
And given the level of his attack, he threatens to bring an explosive end at any moment if he doesn’t have to spend so much time fending off takedown attempts.
He’s not quite sure how the fight will go, but he’s firmly convinced that it won’t end well for Cannonier.
“Honestly, I really think I’m going to fool him,” Adesanya said. “I’ve said this several times, but I really feel like I’m going to screw him up. If he wants to try and take me down, go ahead. You won’t be the first. If you want to stand up with me and test the stand-up skills, I’m happy about that too, because that’s what I specialize in. But yes, stay tuned and expect the unexpected.”
Adesanya hasn’t gotten many knockouts lately – four of his last five have made the decision, including a challenge for the light heavyweight title against Jan Blachowicz which he lost – although much of that is opposition quality.
The higher a fighter gets on a rung, the harder it is to score KOs.
But UFC president Dana White pointed out that Adesanya has scored 15 knockouts among his 22 MMA wins. Given Cannonier’s style, White sees the fight as a brawl.
That could lead Adesanya to the kind of emphatic ending he seeks. He’s a master striker and if he can lure Cannonier into his range and land anything, the lights could be out. But what has made White so excited about the fight is that Cannonier also has serious power.
Cannonier has 10 knockout wins out of his 15 wins and has been KOd twice in his five losses.
“This should be an absolute firefight,” White told Yahoo Sports. “I don’t see either guy coming in and trying to wrestle or get this thing on the ground. I see a gunfight coming.”
Since winning the title in 2019 by knocking out Whittaker, Adesanya has been as active as any top-level UFC fighter. That gives him a lot of facetime with the UFC crowd and that is important to develop into a superstar.
Conor McGregor did it faster than most because he was one of the best trash talkers ever and delivered spectacular performances at the same time. Ireland stood behind him considerably and passionately, and that support helped make his story more compelling. It was similar to how the support boxer Manny Pacquiao pulled from the Philippines helped him gain mainstream status in the US
Adesanya was born in Nigeria, fought a lot in China and now lives in New Zealand, so the passionate support of the homeland that McGregor and Pacquiao have received is not so obvious to him.
But beating elite opponents, fighting regularly and taking the time to use media all contribute to the development of a superstar.
And Adesanya seems poised to burst into superstardom. He is already one of the biggest names in MMA, but there are indications that he will grow beyond MMA fans. He has an endorsement deal with Puma, a leading shoe brand, and he has been outspoken on social issues.
That’s the recipe for success. He’s built up the basics fight by fight and is now ready to take it to the next level.
And one of his secrets is that while he sets goals and has a game plan for moving forward, he values fluidity. He can adapt as needed and that makes a huge difference.
“I have a good balance physically and mentally, so I know how to walk the fine line by not underestimating but not overestimating them,” he said of his opponents. “You know, being in the present and not looking into the future, or just peeking. I know the most important thing to me is if I don’t beat Jared then all my plans I have will just push back. So that’s why I’m not worried.
“I don’t stick to the plans I have too much. I focus on the now, because if I don’t get it done now, those plans will be null and void. So that’s what helps me. Like I said, I have a good balance.”