UFC 236: Israel Adesanya talks aliens, interim world title and Robert Whittaker

Kiwi UFC middleweight Israel Adesanya may be days away from a moment that's been years in the making - but he'll never turn down the chance for a leftfield hypothetical.

So, how would he describe his otherworldly fighting style - predicated on fleet-footedness and laser-like strikes from all eight points - to a life form of another world?

"I'd tell them I'm the overlord of Earth," a grinning Adesanya told Newshub."I have special powers and a special set of skills that can save the universe, and they should take me to their leader, so I can get the f**k up out of here."

But back to Planet Earth, where 'The Last Stylebender' will square off against Kelvin Gastelum for a chance to become the division's interim champion at UFC 236 in Atlanta on Sunday (NZ time).

Perhaps more importantly, victory will guarantee him first crack at champion Robert Whittaker's belt, once the Australian is fully recovered from the hernia surgery that forced him out of his February title defence in Melbourne.

If the undefeated Adesanya does what he's widely favoured to and gets his hand raised in Atlanta, it will be the culmination of a masterplan that he and City Kickboxing cohorts conjured up in the back blocks of Eden Terrace at the start of his pro career.

While consolidating the title against Whittaker would be the pinnacle, this belt represents a huge step for both himself, his teammates and the renaissance of New Zealand combat sports.

"It shows the work that me and my people in Auckland have been putting in. It shows the level of game we bring from our little corner of the world, and we get to display that on the world stage and let them know that 'hey, we're back'."

In 2014, Mark Hunt came up short in his quest to become the first New Zealand UFC champion, falling via TKO to Fabricio Werdum with the interim heavyweight belt on the line. Adesanya intends to go one better this weekend.

"We were on top of the world back in the day in K1 and boxing as well… but now we're back and we've got numbers behind us."

UFC 236: Israel Adesanya talks aliens, interim world title and Robert Whittaker

The last 13 months have been a whirlwind for the Nigerian-born Kiwi. From a UFC debut in February 2018 to a pay-per-view main event bout against one of his idols, Brazilian great Anderson Silva, precisely one year later and now a title shot.

Meteoric doesn’t do his rise justice.

Being front and centre on ESPN billboards, hanging out with famous rappers (he'll be "chopping it up" with Wale on Friday), this lifestyle seems to come naturally to Adesanya, who's devised his own mechanism for keeping grounded and deflecting the backlash that fame inevitably inspires.

"They say never drink your own Kool-Aid, but I say f**k that.

"Drink your own Kool-Aid, but don’t get drunk on it. Just sip a little bit and know you're the man, but know you ain't sh*t at the same time.

"I know myself, put it that way – and other people's insecurities that they want to project on me doesn’t even faze me."

Sunday will mark his staggering sixth bout in little more than a year. By UFC standards, it's a busy schedule, but not for a fighter who cut his teeth fighting in the wild east of the China pro fight scene, where he once reeled off 20 fights through a single calendar year.

"I've fought way more than this in the past in other leagues. This is just different, because it's the UFC, and they only have so many shows and a lot of athletes.

"When I'm champion, I'm going to be an active champion."

The 29-year-old has created a new blueprint for stardom, which his colleagues are already looking to replicate.

"You can see other fighters trying to follow suit, claiming they want to be as active as me, because they see the stock rising every time I go up and put it on them."

Next on his conveyor belt of victims comes Gastelum - a hard-hitting wrestler, who's morphed into one of the most technically effective boxers in the middleweight division, if not the entire promotion.

The Mexican-American has been vocal with his intentions of derailing Adesanya's "hype train", dismissing his win over Silva and claiming the Kiwi doesn't deserve his shot at the title.

Adesanya impressed against Silva in Melbourne.
Adesanya impressed against Silva in Melbourne. Photo credit: Getty

Adesanya has little regard for such comments. With a mammoth 22cm (8.5in) and 18cm (7in) advantage in reach and height respectively, his path to victory is relatively clear against the fighter he described having a "soft body, big head".

"From the start of the fight, I'm going to go at him - press him with a lot of energy.

"He's never fought a guy with the movement that I have when it comes to footwork. I can moonwalk around him if I want to - and I might."

To counter his striking, Adesanya has no doubt Gastelum will revert to his wrestling and try to bring the fight to the mat, where he's more than willing to exchange and display his lesser-seen ground game.

"He still has to get me to the ground first, then he has a whole plethora of moves he can use, but then he hasn't found out about mine as well."

Gastelum aside, the pot of UFC gold at the end rainbow lies in Australia about August - likely either in Sydney or Brisbane - when Whittaker should be fully recovered and ready to consolidate the two belts.

UFC 236: Israel Adesanya talks aliens, interim world title and Robert Whittaker

That bout promises to be a classic Anzac blockbuster and Adesanya has a message for those Kiwis still trying to claim the New Zealand-born, but Australian-bred Whittaker as one of their own.

"Ignore that guy - the dude lives in Australia, he hails from Aussie.

"I have a lot of Aussiefans as well, but he's Australian. Let him be over there and do his own thing

"I don’t even think he knows what a kumara is anymore."

But of course, first things first - it's all about solving the Gastelum puzzle, getting the strap back to Aotearoa and adding it to the vast array of silverware on the City Kickboxing mantelpiece - the jewel in the crown and the ultimate souvenir.

"Without my team, I'm nothing. I can't do this by myself.

"I'll be in the cage by myself, but just outside, it I'll have my head coach and my wrestling coach, and my other coaches as well. Behind them is a whole whanau of training partners that I have and that I've worked with for years.

"It's not just going to be my belt, it's going to be our belt and I'm bringing that belt home."

If all goes according to that masterplan, he'll be adding another alongside it by the end of the year. He's not quite paid in full.


Join us for live updates of Adesanya vs Gastelum at UFC 236 from 3pm Sunday