UFC 236: Israel Adesanya 'willing to die' in classic championship bout against Kelvin Gastelum

New UFC interim middleweight champion Israel Adesanya pointed to his mental fortitude as the key to his victory in a show-stealing classic against Kelvin Gastelum at UFC 236 on Sunday.

Adesanya responded to some early setbacks – including a first-round knockdown – to storm home and ultimately secure the win with an emphatic display in the final stanza.

"In that fifth round I found something deep," Adesanya said in the post-fight press conference. "Another level.

"I'm not one to quit. I'm strong mentally, I'm bulletproof in the brain, and I'm f**ked in the head a little bit. I just knew you're not going to break me. That was some movie type shit."

Sporting multiple cuts and a swollen upper lip, the 29-year-old said he'd gone to a "dark place" before the start of the last round, but one he'd been galvanised for at City Kickboxing.

"I've been there before in training - when it's put on you by bout seven or eight guys. I knew if they couldn't break me, one man couldn't break me.  At the end of the fourth round [Coach Eugene Bareman] said to go to that place.

"I don’t like to fight like that often, but you need those so you know you can go to that place."

Adesanya's five UFC wins to date - while impressive - hadn't come close to pushing him to the limits he had to reach in Atlanta.

"I found another level of that darkness… it's kind of scary to say, but I was willing to die right there.

"I looked at him across the octagon at the start of the fifth round and thought we're going to die, one of us."

"It's hard to explain. Only those who dare put themselves out there like we do will ever experience anything like that."

UFC 236: Israel Adesanya 'willing to die' in classic championship bout against Kelvin Gastelum
Photo credit: Getty

He confessed that the early knockdown he suffered had a significant impact on his approach to the remainder of the fight.

"That just got my footwork all over the place. I wasn’t able to set my kicks up the way I'd planned. I had some shit for him, but he caught me early and had me worried a little bit.

"A lot of people are weak mentally when they get to that point, they want a way out.

"I've done it to many people before, so I could see he was trying to do it to me and I adjusted my game."

UFC 236: Israel Adesanya 'willing to die' in classic championship bout against Kelvin Gastelum

Declaring underdog Gastelum the toughest opponent he'd ever faced, Adesanya said he could definitely see a rematch on the cards.

"We knew what we did, that what we shared in that space was special.

"These are legendary moments in time and history and I'm so grateful to be a part of it."

He revealed he was dealing with a left knee injury coming into the bout, but said there was never any chance of pulling out.

UFC President Dana White called it "one of the greatest fights I've ever seen", awarding both Gastelum and Adesanya an $US50,000 performance bonus.

He also confirmed that the fight to consolidate the title against Robert Whittaker – who's expected to be recovered from hernia surgery in August - would take place in Australia and "in a stadium, not an arena".

"That could be one of the biggest sporting events in Australasian history," said Adesanya.

"It could be in Australia, but Auckland I think is a viable option as well.

"He says we'll do it in August – I say let me go shower first. That's when I get my alone time, alone with my thoughts and really soak everything in.

"I just want to be able to close my mouth properly first, and then we'll see."