Israel Adesanya on the brink of history, superstardom

UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya dismissed a question about whether he was biting off more than he could chew by moving up to challenge Jan Blachowicz for the light heavyweight belt.

“I’ve got a big mouth,” Adesanya said Thursday. “So I can eat a lot.”

The 31-year-old on Saturday night will attempt to be just the fifth fighter to simultaneously hold belts in two UFC weight classes in the main event of UFC 259 at the Apex.

“It’s a very elite, exclusive club, and I’m going to be the next one to join it,” he said. “This is exactly what I’ve always predicted to do in this sport is change the game and change history. I came here just over three years ago, and I’ve still got a long way to go.”

Preliminary card bouts begin streaming on ESPN-Plus at 3 p.m., with a simulcast on ESPN beginning at 5.

Adesanya’s journey is nearly complete. He had 80 professional kickboxing fights and dabbled in mixed martial arts enough to build an 11-0 record, mostly in China and New Zealand, before joining the UFC full time in 2018.

He arrived with the kind of hype that is nearly impossible to live up to, yet he has already exceeded expectations. Adesanya is 9-0 in the UFC, winning the belt with a knockout of Robert Whittaker in 2019 and then defending it twice in 2020.

Born in Nigeria and raised since age 10 in New Zealand, Adesanya’s crowd-pleasing dynamic striking style is accompanied by a swagger and confidence reserved only for the most special or most delusional in the sport.

He is already starting to flex his marketing muscle, becoming the first MMA fighter to sign an endorsement deal with Puma.

“It’s inevitable,” Adesanya said of potentially becoming one of the biggest stars the sport has produced. “I just have to get used to it. I just have to accept it and not hide from the role that I’m in and not hide from the platform that I’m on.

“I have what I have, so I just accept it.”

UFC president Dana White agrees. It’s one of the reason he put Adesanya’s attempt at history in the headlining spot on one the deepest cards the organization has ever put together, with three title fights on the main card, and Dominick Cruz, one of the best bantamweights in the sport’s history, on the preliminary card.

“If he keeps doing what he’s doing and continues to win and breaks records and things like that, like he said, (mainstream stardom) is inevitable,” White said.

Adesanya has even bigger goals beyond a second belt. He has been poking and prodding at Jon Jones, who vacated the light heavyweight belt to pursue the heavyweight title, in interviews on social media for months. That potential showdown is definitely on his radar.

Adesanya, however, insists he plans to drop back down to 185 pounds after securing the 205-pound belt on Saturday.

“Middleweight is my division. I run it with an iron black fist, so of course I’m going to go back and handle business there,” he said. “But I also peek ahead. I don’t look too far ahead, but I peek ahead and see the lay of the land and how I can change history again.”







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