Kiwi Israel Adesanya is 'the future' of UFC, says president Dana White

UFC president Dana White almost ran out of superlatives, when describing sky-rocketing Kiwi fighter Israel Adesanya's show-stealing performance in New York City on Sunday (NZ time).

Adesanya's calculated first-round finish of Derek Brunson was a highlight of an eventful card at the spiritual home of combat sports, Madison Square Garden.

White was so impressed, he awarded Adesanya another 'Performance of the Night' bonus, putting an additional US$50,000 (NZ$75,110) in the 29-year-old's pocket.

The performance, described by White as his "breakout", was worth every cent.

"He's someone who's been on the rise here for a minute, but I really feel like tonight was his first big test," said White, at the post-fight press conference.

"His opponent hits like a truck and wrestles really well.

"But Madison Square Garden, opening the show - man, did he deliver.

"Many people, including me, think this kid is the future, and he went out and put a stamp on it tonight."

White was adamant he'd found something special when the UFC signed Adesanya in late 2017, and his four-fight unbeaten streak in 2018 has only strengthened that belief.

"The minute I saw this kid, I was like 'holy shit, this is really good - I like this'. Then you hear him talk, I like that too - he's the whole package.

"I literally can't sit here and tell you enough good things about this kid. He put the stamp on it tonight.

"He finished Derek Brunson tonight. It's a big deal."

Commentator and fighter Paul Felder went so far as to label Adesanya the "best striker in the UFC".

Despite such rave reviews, the prospect of a title shot in his next fight appears unlikely, with White claiming he already had an opponent lined up for Adesanya, which he wouldn't disclose.

There were also suggestions that he could slot into an injury back-up role, should either champion Robert Whittaker or Kelvin Gastelum be forced to withdraw from their February bout at UFC 234 in Melbourne .

White's conscious of pushing him too far, too quickly.

"He's very ambitious, I would like him to pump the brakes a little bit. This guy wants to f**king fight everybody right now and he wants to fight every month.

"If you want to become a big star, keep fighting. If you're a young guy who's healthy enough to fight all the time, I absolutely advise it.

"But what you don't want to do is put on a great performance then disappear, because people forget really quickly.

"I like him very, very much, but I don't want to move him as fast he wants to be moved, so he and I will get together, and find a happy medium."

Casting further doubt over his potential for a prompt turnaround is Adesanya's revelation that he may require surgery for an injured knee that almost saw him cancel his fight against Brunson.

"Breaking news - I almost pulled out of this fight," Adesanya admitted. "I was limping, my knee was so inflamed.

"Shout out to my dad, he advised me just to take a week off. Coach Eugene [Bareman] agreed and said we'd reassess later.

"Three days and my knee was getting better, then I had a cortisone shot. Then I got back to the gym and started killing it, but I might have to have surgery."

That didn't stop him from pleading his case as a primary contender for the next shot at the belt.

"We need something fresh, something that just make sense - a trans-Tasman rivalry," said Adesanya, hinting at the match-up with Whittaker.

"F**k rankings, all that shit doesn't make sense. What makes sense is what the people want to see and the people want to see me.

"They don't want to see the same old dance, the same old shit, the same old guys who have had chance after chance.

"I got told today I'm the only guy who's had four fights in the UFC and won them all in 2018. That's achievement unlocked.

"He has his ideas, but I know Dana can be persuaded."

Kiwi Israel Adesanya is 'the future' of UFC, says president Dana White
Photo credit: Getty

The 29-year-old was at his effusive best, as he reflected on his experience at the hallowed venue of Madison Square Garden.

"I loved the vibe, it was beautiful," he said. "After the fight, when it was done, I just soaked it all in.

"You do something crazy and people roar, and it just fills your energy, fills your soul.

"Eventually, all that shit's going to go away and - don't get me wrong - I can go cold turkey, but I love that shit.

"Where it really dawns on me is when I have my first shower, because that's when you're alone with your thoughts."

As for the fight itself, Adesanya knew when Brunson illegally grabbed his shorts that the American was all out of ideas. Brunson's attempt to keep the Kiwi in the clinch saw an enraged Adesanya flip a middle finger directly at his opponent and the end came soon afterwards.

"If he's doing that, you know he wasn't ready, you know he wasn't prepared - he was just clutching at straws. He's panicking from the get-go, I already knew.

There was no love lost in the immediate aftermath of the bout.

"Any time he saw me outside of the cameras and he started talking shit, I was like, 'Just save your energy, I'll see you tomorrow'.

"I pick my shots like a surgeon. I wasn't even hitting him hard, I was just touching him.

"I don't rush, I'm not a bum like him. I told him drop the chin or I will, and then I did."

Unbeaten 16-0 record intact, first on Adesanya's schedule is a well-earned break from the gym.

"The last two Christmases in New Zealand, I haven't really enjoyed it like I would've liked, because I've had to train through it.

"But f**k that shit this time. I've got my friend's wedding in Ireland, so I'm going to go over there, then I'm going to do a little Europe tour.

"I'm going to eat great food, drink and just enjoy myself.

"Don't get me wrong, Adelaide's [UFC Fight Night in December] isn't far away. I'll bring the mouthguard just in case, but for me, it's smart to just take the foot off the pedal.

"I'm coming back stronger. All you middleweights stay ready, because I'll stay ready."