Israel Adesanya came across UFC 253 opponent Paulo Costa in a hotel hallway recently. Pretty much a non-event: no fireworks, at least. But the encounter resulted in a simple takeaway on his opponent: “He’s insecure.”
Speaking at a virtual media session ahead of the event, Adesanya opined “that’s why we’re fighting each other. He’s trying to make this narrative, he’s trying to clutch at straws because he wants to create something. I’m like ‘f*ck it, I don’t like you.’ At least I’m honest about it. He doesn’t like me, I don’t like him. But yeah, we get to fight.”
Realistically, the pair are fighting because Costa and Adesanya remain undefeated talents at the top of the middleweight division. “The Last Style Bender” had a meteoric rise to stardom in the past two years which took him all the way to the middleweight title. Throughout, he’s maintained a certain energy — Adesanya is a self-promoter, not afraid to speak his mind.
Perhaps that’s why he views Costa as insecure. “The energy in the hallway, was like, someone you’ve been barking at behind the fence, when you see them — I’ve never barked at him. I’ve always just responded to him, he’s reacted to me. When he saw me in real life, what did he do? Submitted to me. I had him and Walid [Ismail, Costa’s manager] giggling like little girls.”
This fight is a lot more than a clash of personalities, however. It’s been called the biggest middleweight title fight of all time. Adesanya, perhaps surprisingly, says it isn’t. Costa’s record doesn’t allow for that.
There is legacy on the line however. And the chance to Adesanya to transcend the sport and cross over into the mainstream, with the right performance. Think Brock Lesnar, Ronda Rousey, and Conor McGregor. “The last fight was supposed to do that. The last fight was the big one because of the build up, the ESPN and all that kind of stuff,” admitted Adesanya. And of course, it didn’t happen. That fight against Yoel Romero was panned for its lack of action.
Maybe that needed to happen. “I feel like I needed a valley in my story, that was my valley and now it’s time to rise again,” said Adesanaya. “This is the time. This is going to shoot me into the next stratosphere.”
There’s also the need to remind people just who “The Last Stylebender” really is. “100%. I feel like Roy Jones when he said ‘Ya’ll must have forgot,'” Adesanya said. “Because people forget. Fans are fickle. Sometimes dumb in droves. I feel like I just have to remind them, so they can be like ‘oh my God, Israel’s so good, wow.'”
With a win this weekend at UFC 253, Israel Adesanya has suggested Jared Cannonier could be next in line. Cannonier, however, is matched up with ex-champ Robert Whittaker, who Adesanya has already defeated.
If Whittaker wins, could that mean a trip to light heavyweight? Adesanya has toyed with the idea of a fight against Jon Jones. Although Jones himself appears to be heading north.
“I like middleweight. I don’t need to move up in weight unless I want a showcase,” Adesanya said Wednesday. “If Whittaker somehow destroys Cannonier, and Dana says he’s next in line, then he’s getting knocked out again for a third time.”
Watch the full UFC 253 virtual media day interview with Israel Adesanya above.