UFC 243: Israel Adesanya ready to write next chapter in trans-Tasman rivalry against Robert Whittaker in Melbourne

Israel Adesanya always had an inkling that his middleweight world title unification bout against Robert Whittaker at UFC 243 would end up taking place in Melbourne.

Although he's certainly not complaining, there was a part of him that was hoping Sydney may step up as hosts to form a blockbuster day of sport alongside the NRL Grand Final, which is also scheduled for Sunday October 6.

"You can have the UFC by day," Adesanya told Newshub. "Then by 4pm everyone f**ks off to the NRL and that's a two-for-one special."

On Tuesday evening - after months of uncertainty - the UFC finally confirmed Marvel Stadium will be the venue for what promises to be a record-breaking sell-out of 60,000 in attendance to witness the two battle to become the division's undisputed king.

That would eclipse the promotion's previous best of 56,124 that was incidentally set in the same city back in 2015, the scene of Holly Holm's iconic upset win over Ronda Rousey at UFC 193.

Early suggestions had the sparkling new Bankwest Stadium in Sydney and Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium as front-runners, until the dust settled in the Victorian capital. It's a location dear to Adesanya's heart having fought there multiple times, most recently at UFC 234 in February where he overcame Brazilian legend, Anderson Silva.

"I like Melbourne, it's my favourite Aussie city. I love the vibe there, I love the culture, the art, and the food."

After a frantic stretch during which he fought six times in just 15 months, the 30-year-old took a well-earned rest following his Fight of the Year favourite against Kelvin Gastelum to clinch the interim world title in April.

"I really needed that break. Fighting's easy for me but going from camp to camp to camp - it breaks you down. Just taking some time to be a young dude and do my thing - I needed that to refocus and get back to what we do best."

Refreshed and rejuvenated by the brief hiatus and a visit to his native Nigeria, Adesanya is now back in camp at City Kickboxing's spacious new surroundings and savouring every moment of being back on the clock.

"Right now, I'm so focused. It's my second week of camp and I'm an excited man. I can't wait."

As for his opponent, Adesanya and his longtime coach and mentor, Eugene Bareman has been plotting the NZ-born Australian's downfall since before he had even stepped inside the Octagon.

He's seen plenty he believes he can exploit, pointing to what he calls a dubious win against Yoel Romero in Whittaker's most recent fight.

"I had him losing. He got dropped so many times in that fight and your brain remembers that, and you don't want to get touched by me.

"Look what happened to the last person who said I had no pop in my shots," Adesanya says, referring to American Derek Brunson who fell victim to a first-round KO from the Kiwi.

"Look how sloppy they looked in the fifth round. Look at me when I fought in the fifth round, I looked better than I did in the first round. I turned up to another level I never knew was there."

Adesanya in action against Kelvin Gastelum in their classic in Las Vegas.
Adesanya in action against Kelvin Gastelum in their classic in Las Vegas. Photo credit: Getty

Adesanya and Whittaker's headline clash is one of only two fights booked on the card so far, alongside Australian heavyweight Tai Tuivasa taking on Russia's Sergey Spivak.

But Bareman is hoping to have at least locals Dan Hooker, Luke Jumeau, and Australian pupil Alex Volkanovski - in a Featherweight title clash against the winner of Holloway v Edgar this weekend - added to the mix alongside some potential debutants at an event that is sure to have a distinctly Australasian flavour.

"You want as many Kiwi fighters as possible," Bareman told Newshub. "I'm also looking for some new blood to be on that card. 

"I think there's plenty of talent in this gym and other places in New Zealand that there's a spot on that card for someone new to jump on it, and I'll be using as much of my influence I can to get someone that perhaps the world hasn't seen from our country."

The next chapter in the pantheon of trans-Tasman sporting moments is waiting to be written, and Adesanya has his pen at the ready.

"Look at me - I'm all black and he's a 'mozzie' - a wallaby. So imagine what happens when we all storm over there in October, jump over there and then bring it back to Aotearoa."

As brash as ever, Adesanya insists he's unfazed by his newfound fame. Don't expect that to change.

"I forget all the time that I'm on TV. I go to 'Pak n Save' looking like a homeless person, I don't give a f**k about any kind of superstardom. I just keep a close circle around me. I hang out with about five dudes, and those are my people. My digs, my girl, and that's me."



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