UFC 243: NZ's Israel Adesanya reflects on world title heroics

Adesanya has the title belt wrapped around his waist in Melbourne.
Adesanya has the title belt wrapped around his waist in Melbourne. Photo credit: Getty

As we've come to expect from Israel Adesanya and his unflappable demeanour, the newly crowned Kiwi UFC superstar was taking his ascent to the world's undisputed middleweight world champion all in his stride.

Without the benefit of his now customary post-fight shower to "download" his career-defining victory over Robert Whittaker at UFC 243 in Melbourne, Adesanya confessed it all seemed very "normal" - but couldn't help admit there was a surreal tinge to the day's events.

"It feels like I'm still lucid dreaming," Adesanya said, at the post-fight press conference. "You might see me do weird things, just to see if I'm dreaming."

The 30-year-old's second-round knock-out of Whittaker - who was previously undefeated at middleweight - was the brightest moment yet in a whirlwind rise to one of the sport's biggest stars.

"I said it was one my toughest tests, but that I'd make it look easy. I told you guys that.

"When I saw him walk out, he was too intense. You can't fake that sh*t, pull the hoodie over your eyes.

"I can smell it off him, that he wasn't with it. He was doing the right moves, but there was no feeling behind it.

"I saw everything coming. He hit me a few times, but I just showed that I can take and give it as well."

'The Last Stylebender' set the tone with a choreographed dance entrance to the Octagon with some long-time friends, before writing Whittaker's name in his notebook, a nod to 'Death Note' - one of his favourite animes.

"I tried to do that in the Silva fight in February and the UFC were like, 'No, we can't have that'.

"This fight is my show. I'm headlining this b*tch, so I was going to do it my way.

"Who else, on this kind of stage, is going to do that before they go in and whoop some ass? If I could sing, trust me - Justin Bieber wouldn't even have a job."

"There's no-one like me. No-one."

After taking an impromptu interlude to the press conference to take a facetime call from his "tipsy" cousin in Nigeria, the 30-year-old said he expected Whittaker's aggressive opening to the bout.

"I knew he was going to start fast, but he falls over himself a lot. What makes him great - like my coach said - also makes him vulnerable and susceptible to a lot of things… I just had to take my time."

Adesanya.
Adesanya. Photo credit: Getty

He confessed to being part of the confusion that sprung from his last-second dropping of Whittaker as the first-round finished.

"I thought it was over for a split-second… when the referee jumped in, I saw his eyes and I held my fist off [the last hit].

"The next time, I'm not going to do that. I should've punched him, until the referee actually jumped on him."

Despite Whittaker's post-fight claims that he was landing consistently, Adesanya said he never felt threatened at any stage of the fight.

He was unwilling to admit that Paulo Costa would be the next in line, despite his heated post-fight callout.

"I like that fight, the casuals will see his muscles and think that's the guy [to beat me].

"He's my b*itch and I'm going to make him my b*tch. That's why I did what I did."

Melbourne was a marquee moment for all three City Kickboxing fighters, after Brad Riddell and Dan Hooker also had their hands raised, and Adesanya was full of praise for his teammates.

"Dan's a superstar in the making and I'm glad he did what he did tonight on this stage.

"I heard him say Dustin Poirier in 2020, so I'm looking forward to that. I think that should headline Spark Arena in Auckland next year."

Riddell and Adesanya were also awarded Fight of the Night and Performance of the Night bonuses respectively, a $50,000 kicker in their pay packets.

To Adesanya, it's just that - a bonus. There's a bigger picture at hand for the Nigerian-born Kiwi.

"I don't chase money, the money chases me. It's about legacy, it's about moments, it's about becoming an icon.

"I showed you guys tonight that I can do things that nobody else has ever done. From the walk-out to the fight itself, it was perfect for me and my team."

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