UFC: Israel Adesanya pleads for title defence against Paulo Costa in New Zealand

UFC megastar Israel Adesanya has already proved he can sell out stadiums on historic levels - and he's now made it abundantly clear where he wants to next grace the Octagon.

On Sunday (NZT), Dana White hinted that the UFC was exploring the possibility of hosting another event in New Zealand to take advantage of its crowds amid relatively coronavirus-free conditions.

That suggestion has switched on the proverbial light bulb in the UFC middleweight world champion's head and he wants his next title defence against Paulo Costa to headline a card on home soil.

"That's a no brainer," Adesanya tells Newshub. "100 percent, f**k yeah.

"I have to headline Spark Arena before my career is over and to defend my title there against this inflated balloon animal, that'd be beautiful."

The UFC has been a trailblazer for sports operating during these tumultuous times, continuing to stage fight cards at its Las Vegas performance centre and commissioning a purpose-built 'Fight Island' venue in Abu Dhabi to allow more flexibility with international fighters.

But as successful as those events have been - Sunday's UFC 251 ranked in their top five all-time pay-per-view buys - the absence of a raucous crowd has undoubtedly left a void.

That has detracted from the sense of occasion, particularly with some of the barnburner fights - namely, Kiwi Dan Hooker's war with Dustin Poirier - that have played out in front of just a handful of officials.

"It makes sense. If you want a crowd, if you want things to go back to fans and have them enjoy the show and give them what they want live, there's no better place to do it than New Zealand."

The 30-year-old believes a ready-made card awaits in Aotearoa, including City Kickboxing cohorts Kai Kara-France, Shane Young and Dan Hooker, as well as Core MMA's Luke Jumeau and a multitude of fringe prospects eager for a shot on the sport's biggest stage. 

Despite being just two weeks removed from his Fight of the Year candidate with Poirier in Las Vegas, Hooker has gone straight from quarantine back into the gym and has told Adesanya he's ready to go again.

"We have a lot of talent in this gym and downunder that we can bring over and have them quarantine for as long as possible while they're still training.

"We have the talent... we've got killers."

Adesanya knows his boss well and is quick to point White to the bottom line.

"He's a smart man… I'm pretty sure they miss that gate money, so they'll definitely want to bring it down to NZ. I miss that gate money too.

"Don't you like gate money, Dana? Merchandise money and then pay-per-view money all around the world?"

Adesanya last fought back in March, when he successfully defended his title against Yoel Romero in Las Vegas, after original opponent Costa was scratched with a bicep injury.

The Brazilian has since been earmarked as a near certainty for Adesanya's next challenge, but the promotion is yet to make it official.

'The Last Stylebender' hints that he has been given a date for the fight, although the venue has yet to be confirmed. 

"We're one of the first in the western world to have crowds, because we've dealt so well with this whole COVID-19 business. I was at the Blues game about three weeks ago - we're going to have 'King in the Ring' this weekend.

"If you want a crowd and things to go back to the way they used to be, New Zealand would be a good starting place.

"Dana, make it happen."