Israel Adesanya may relate to some of the disappointment felt in his last league performance.
‘The Last Stylebender’ recorded his fifth consecutive defense of the undisputed UFC middleweight title at UFC 276 last July, winning a unanimous decision on Jared Gunner this drew criticism from fighters and fans for a lack of thrill. Overall, Adesanya was happy with the win, but knows he could have done more and allowed himself to acknowledge that he could have done more immediately afterwards.
“I don’t cling to things,” Adesanya said on MMA hour ahead of his headlining bout with Alex Pereira at UFC 281 this Saturday in New York. “I let myself be felt. People try to deny things and block them out, if you fight your emotions they will get you later. So I feel it.
“I cried backstage. Me and [coach] Eugene [Bareman] hugged him and he said to me, ‘Don’t worry, everything will be fine.’ I was like, ‘Just give me a bourbon, I’ll be fine.’ So I expressed it, I felt it, and I let it go. It’s a good way to release emotions… it relaxes you. It’s just a normal human function, I don’t know why we shame it.
Adesanya was coming off a pair of lopsided title defenses against Robert Whittaker and Marvin Vectors who were also criticized for not being entertaining, even as they cemented his place among the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world.
For his UFC 276 walkout, Adesanya made an elaborate entrance as a tribute to WWE legend The Undertaker, whose grandiosity only contrasted further with the relatively uneventful bout itself.
“[I was] upset with myself for what I wanted to do,” Adesanya said. “People are wrong. It’s not about other people. It’s about me. I did the Undertaker walkout and I had this Miyamoto Musashi mentality like I was going to keep him waiting, because I don’t think it’s going to last long. Then I get there and get a little frustrated during the fight trying to figure out how to take this guy. I’ve said it many times, his corner, wow, MMA Lab gorgeous, because they saved him. They would see things that I was putting together and would call it and I would just be like, ‘F***, OK, they can see this coming.’ So they spared him a lot and he’s also a good student to listen to them.
“For me, it was just the pressure I was putting on myself because it was International Fight Week, I was like, ‘Damn, I want to fucking take this to the next level after smoking this guy.’ And I I felt like I didn’t smoke this guy, but I beat him pretty easily. Easily. So for me, that’s the expectations that I set for myself, what is it.
Much of the criticism of Adesanya’s title fights has been directed at him as opposed to his opponents, an aspect of the business he understands even if he doesn’t agree with it.
“I think so,” Adesanya said when asked if the criticism was unfair. “It takes two to tango, so if you want to blame me, you have to blame the other guy. Like I said, you look at round five, how it went, I pressed the action. I was trying to fight. I was still touching him.
“[I was criticized] because I am the champion, I am the great,” he continued. “I’m the one-and I’ve told everyone about it, even our boy George [St-Pierre] … we talked in depth about this stuff and it happened to him, it happened to Silva, even Jon Jones it happened to him. In boxing it’s happened to a lot of greats, when you’re so good and you keep winning people want to shake the snowball a bit and start throwing shit and see what sticks.
Adesanya used St-Pierre and Anderson Silva — a pair of MMA legends who penned two of the most memorable headlines in UFC history — as an example of great fighters who were sometimes criticized by fans for playing it safe. “GSP” was known for employing a style of wrestling that kept him out of harm’s way as he racked up championship win after championship win while being one of the most proven pay-per-views in the UFC.
Silva has also been criticized for going the distance against inferior opponents, although he is also the author of some of MMA’s most memorable finishes.
“[St-Pierre is] a guy who – not many people in this life have ever been in my position and would understand,” Adesanya said. “You could see it, you could watch it on TV, but few have been in this life in my position. He has. I was there, I was a fan when people said, ‘He’s so boring. He just knocks people down. I’m like, ‘Bro, this guy is bothering people.’
“Same with Silva, I was there as a fan when people were talking shit about the Thales Leites fight, UFC 97. I was like, ‘Did you see the first three rounds? Did you see the styles he used? You don’t watch what I watch? Yeah, the last two rounds, maybe he coasted, but you didn’t like the show? People who were there live should be blessed to have seen an artist like this perform live, but now we are in the Tik Tok generation. You know how it is.”
On paper, Adesanya has an ideal style match to create fireworks this Saturday when he fights Pereira in Madison Square Garden. Pereira boasts two kickboxing wins over Adesanya, who is eager to not only avenge those losses, but engage Pereira in a “bloody” battle.
Adesanya knows he has the chance to win the hearts of the fans back with an exciting win and they could just as quickly move on.
“That’s the generation we’re in,” Adesanya said. “I smoke that guy next, ‘He’s the greatest of all time!’ Two weeks later, another pay-per-view happens, and then [mimics excited roar]. So I never really care about other people’s opinions. Like I said, I’m human, I listen to them, but I don’t cling to them. I just hear them and I’m like, ‘Hm, OK, cool.’ »