UFC 236: Israel Adesanya eyes trans-Tasman 'super-fight' against Robert Whittaker

Kiwi UFC middleweight Israel Adesanya is just a win away from what he believes is a ready-made, trans-Tasman "super-fight" against the current champion, NZ-born Aussie Robert Whittaker.

On Sunday (NZT), Adesanya will take on Kelvin Gastelum in the UFC 236 co-main event in Atlanta, where the division's interim title will go on the line.

The winner is guaranteed to advance and take on Whittaker to consolidate the belts later this year, and the undefeated Adesanya sees the script playing out perfectly.

"It's destiny," Adesanya told MMA Fighting. "A big super-fight between the Aussie and the All Black, the flying Kiwi."

That bout is widely tipped to take place in either Sydney or Brisbane in August, when Whittaker should be back to full health, after hernia surgery saw him scratched from his defence against Gastelum in February.

On that same card in Melbourne, Adesanya's fight with Brazilian legend Anderson Silva - originally intended to decide the number one contender - was promoted to the main event slot.

"The Silva fight was the end of my first movie. Leading up to this fight is the beginning of my next movie and it's going to end after the Whittaker fight."

Whittaker.
Whittaker. Photo credit: Getty

Due to a nightmare run with injury, Whittaker has only defended his belt once, since he won it back in July 2017. Adesanya's calls for 'The Reaper' to vacate the title, and free it up for him and Gastelum to contest, fell on deaf ears and the interim strap was created instead.

While the real belt may not be on the line this weekend, this situation may ultimately add even further intrigue to a potential Anzac blockbuster.

But first and foremost lies Gastelum. This weekend, the hard-hitting American wrestler will be at a significant disadvantage in both reach and height, where Adesanya intends to cash in with his precision long-range striking.

"Expect me to just keep touching him. He'll keep trying to touch me, but I'll keep touching him and making him pay.

"Eventually, what happens will happen - the cards will fall where they may."

UFC 236: Israel Adesanya eyes trans-Tasman 'super-fight' against Robert Whittaker

The uber-confident 29-year-old admits that while he's always envisioned himself at the sport's pinnacle, reflecting on his journey to date still leaves him shaking his head in disbelief.

"I know what I had to go through to get to this point in my life - the ups and downs, the smiles and frowns.

"If you think it's cool watching it from your point of view, imagine what it's like for me - a young kid from Lagos, Nigeria who immigrated to NZ and then realised he wanted to be a fighter… it's crazy."

When he takes a rare moment for retrospection, a quote from boxing great Muhammed Ali still rings through his head.

"'I'm the greatest and I said that even before I knew I was' - that really resonates with me, because I felt that way. I just knew I could be the best at this one day."

All going to plan, he'll have the chance to establish himself at the top before the year is out and, at this stage, it's difficult to doubt him.

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