Israel Adesanya: The Belt Is 'Just A Trinket You Pick Up Along The Way'

By: Nathan Zur
Feb 27, 2019

Israel Adesanya has had a blistering start to his Ultimate Fighting Championship career. Barely a year removed from his promotional debut at UFC 221 last February, he is now 5-0 in the promotion, and set to fight for an interim middleweight title in April.

Adesanya is fresh off a unanimous decision victory over former middleweight king Anderson Silva at UFC 234 in Melbourne, Australia earlier this month. Undisputed middleweight champ Robert Whittaker was supposed to headline the event in Australia against Kevin Gastelum but was forced to withdraw to undergo surgery to repair a hernia. With the Aussie out of action for an unspecified time period as he recovers from that surgery, the UFC decided to have Adesanya and Gastelum face off in the interim with the winner to battle Whittaker later in the year.

Adesanya was a recent guest on The MMA Hour and talked about Gastelum’s “Mexican” style of fighting before stating that he thought Whittaker presents a bigger threat for him than Gastelum.

Kelvin Gastelum, there’s many ways I can classify his style,” Adesanya said. “I like it. He’s improved. One thing I can say is that he’s improved over his run in the UFC from ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ and now being a contender. But his style? It’s very Mexican. You have the Mexican style of boxing, and he has a Mexican style of MMA, like smart Mexican style. He doesn’t just brawl or look for wars. He’s calculated when he approaches the game.

“But, again, they haven’t fought anyway like me, they haven’t seen anyone like me. It’s the same rhetoric, but when I say it it’s not just talk. I’m speaking because it’s facts. None of them have seen someone like me. So, I’m looking forward to this test. I even said [Gastelum] was going to lose to Robert Whittaker and I was going to staredown Robert Whittaker in the Octagon. So, I think [Gastelum] is the easier fight out of the both of them. So, I’d rather get this one out of the way and then take on Robert next [fight]. “

Host Luke Thomas asked Adesanya to elaborate on what he meant by “Mexican style” with the undefeated middleweight pausing before gathering his thoughts.

“Boxing heavy, he likes to use his hands. His kicks? He’s not so good with kicks. Maybe he could get better on low kicks. A good tip for Kelvin: work on your low kicks,” Adesanya said. “But, yeah, boxing heavy, Lucha Libre, I know he can wrestle. He’s probably some NCAA something-something from America. He’s a 10th Planet black belt, I’m pretty sure.

“But yeah, the Mexican style, the way he moves, the way he feints, he even has a bit of a karate thing too lately,” Adesanya added. “Maybe that’s how he starts off. I know it’s him and [UFC flyweight champion Henry] Cejudo because they’re buddy buddy, so they might have some secret weapon they’re doing with some karate or taekwondo or whatever because of the way they stand and start the fight. But with Cejudo, he’s able to keep that going throughout the fight. With Gastelum he kind of fades and goes back to his natural movement when he stops faking the karate sh*t. It’s a good puzzle to solve and I can’t wait. This is what I do, I solve puzzles every single time.”

Adesanya admits Gastelum will be a tough opponent but believes his height and reach advantage will dictate how the fight plays out as Gastelum may rush him to close the distance which is where Adesanya will strike.

“With [Gastelum], I feel he’s going to be one of the hardest, not the hardest, but one of the hardest because of the troubles he presents,” Adesanya said. “But his wrestling, I haven’t seen too much of it lately because he’s been knocking everyone out and standing and banging. But with him, he’ll have to go back to his wrestling because he knows everyone has failed with me. The wrestling begins before you even engage in the clinch, I’ve said this already. This is one thing people don’t know, wrestling begins on the feet with the stand up

“Look at the stats. I’m what, like a nine-inch reach [advantage] on him, like a seven-inch height advantage? I tower over him. So, for him to even get close to clinch me, he has to get past my striking. Even if he wants to wrestle straight away, because he might want to bum rush me.. .they feel uncomfortable. There’s a point in the Brad Tavares fight where I scrambled his brain from a little sequence. It was like feint-feint-feint and I forced him to throw his left hand because he was southpaw. Things like that, I make them second guess themselves. I feel like I’m going to do that against Kelvin. Even if he think he wants to wrestle me, I feel I’m going to make him second guess himself and then he’s going to panic and I’m going to keep picking him off and he’ll fall.”

Adesanya’s rapid rise through the UFC ranks has not been without its detractors, particularly those who have criticized the level of opposition Adesanya has faced on his way to a title shot. Former middleweight champion Chris Weidman labelled him as “overrated.” Adesanya believes this stigma will be with him for the foreseeable future and that a win over Gastelum won’t change many people’s thoughts on him as a fighter.

“For me, I don’t want to say [beating Gastelum] doesn’t mean anything because it’s beating another warrior from another part of the world,” Adesanya said. “But, after I beat him, guess what? They’re going to say the same s---: ‘He hasn’t fought this guy yet or he hasn’t fought this guy yet.’ When I get the belt, they’ll say the same thing. When I defend the belt multiple times, they’ll keep talking s---. So what does it say about me? It could say a lot. I just want to get this one done and keep progressing forward. It’ll put some people on notice and I’ll probably get some new fans when I beat him. People like ‘Okay fine I’m on the bandwagon now because you beat Kelvin.’ But I don’t care. I don’t care what people say. I just want to keep fighting and winning.”

The 29-year-old didn’t mince words when it came to receiving a UFC belt if he beats Gastelum in April.

“I’ve said this on record,” Adesanya said. “F--- the belt. It’s just a trinket you collect along the way. At least when it’s said and done, I can say I was an interim champion and the unified champion as well. Everything just makes for a good story so I’m not really flustered about interim or real. It’s just a belt. It looks good on black skin. I wear gold all of the time. I collect gold like a magpie. A magpie is a bird that collects shiny things. It’s a black and white bird and they like shiny things.”

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