UFC 259: 'It's legacy': Israel Adesanya prepares for shot at MMA immortality against Jan Blachowicz

Kiwi UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya has never been one to question his own capabilities as a fighter and he insists he won't be doing the same of Jan Blachowicz.

On Sunday (NZ time), 'The Last Stylebender' will square off with the light-heavyweight champion at UFC 259 in Las Vegas to become just the fifth fighter in the promotion's history to hold simultaneous world titles - a feat that would earn him a place in the pantheon of mixed martial arts.

But the undefeated 31-year-old warns not to mistake his brash demeanour for over-confidence.

While fellow fighters, pundits, fans and bookies across the planet all-but write off Blachowicz's chances of defending his title for the first time, Adesanya is much warier of what the veteran brings to the Octagon.

"I see a bit of [the talk]," says Adesanya. "But I think everyone's counting Jan out and everyone's kind of just dismissing him... like, 'that's it, he's going to get slept' and what have you.

"I think they're mistaken. I take him very seriously."

After a shaky start to his UFC tenure back in 2015, Blachowicz (27-8) has developed beyond his initial pigeon-holing as a one-dimensional grappler with a big right hand into a fearsome striker with genuine one-punch knockout power.

The 38-year-old is riding a four-fight win streak that includes three early stoppages caused by that power, capped with a jaw-bending KO of Dominick Reyes in their clash for the vacant title at UFC 253 in September.

Adesanya headlined that same event in Abu Dhabi, defending his title against Paulo Costa with a dominant second-round knockout of his own. 

While he respects Blachowicz's threats, he suggests the blueprint to beat him almost writes itself.

"It's pretty obvious when you see it," he says. "He fights coming forward.

"He doesn't like to fight backwards. He's got a good grappling game, so we'll take advantage of all that we can."

Jan Blachowicz celebrates his KO of Dominick Reyes to win the light heavyweight title last year.
Jan Blachowicz celebrates his KO of Dominick Reyes to win the light heavyweight title last year. Photo credit: Getty

Adesanya has fought at heavier weight classes during his kickboxing and boxing days, winning the King in the Ring at heavyweight, and is well versed in the different impact of shots at that level. 

He also regularly spars against larger opponents, including City Kickboxing teammate Carlos Ulberg, who'll make his light-heavyweight debut on the undercard of Sunday's event.

"You definitely feel the difference in power with glancing shots when they hit you or your arm," he notes. "But also you feel the difference in speed. 

"They're a lot slower. They take a little while to get to their target, put it that way.

"The pace is a lot different at that weight and it's fun for me."

In the build-up to the bout, Blachowicz has been vocal about his 'Polish power', the likes of which he's adamant Adesanya has never experienced.

But the deadly silver lining to that equation for Blachowicz is speed, where Adesanya and his otherworldly, dance-influenced footwork could prove a nightmare for him to contend with.

Possessing power is one thing, but getting within range to inflict it is another altogether, especially against the rangey Adesanya, who - despite stepping up a division - will have a 5cm advantage in both height and reach.

Closing the distance is still the most fundamental starting point to overcoming the Kiwi-Nigerian, but - as his previous 20 opponents will attest - it's much easier said.

Adesanya cruised to a second-round KO of Paulo Costa in September.
Adesanya cruised to a second-round KO of Paulo Costa in September. Photo credit: Getty

Alongside the complex diversity of his striking, that movement will likely be Adesanya's most glaring advantage, although the smaller Octagon at the UFC Apex centre will somewhat mitigate that edge.

"He talks about the 'legendary Polish power', but everyone has power," says Adesanya. "I just don't want to get touched by anyone.

"Same with Paulo... I didn't get touched by him once - not once - and he's a lot faster than [Blachowicz].

The one relative unknown with Adesanya during his nine-fight tear through the middleweight division has been the question mark over how he'd fare against a large, strong grappler and Blachowicz clearly fits that mould. 

"Every single fight, we anticipate that one opponent that's going to be able to close that gap and put us into territory that we haven't necessarily been in so much," says Adesanya's head trainer, Eugene Bareman.

"We prepare for that, we expect that and then it never happens, because Israel is just too good at controlling that distance.

"This fight, we have that same expectation, that Jan is going to be the guy - with his physicality and his size - to finally be able to close the distance and push Israel against the cage, and maybe even take Israel down.

"We've definitely prepared for those facets of the game."

Fresh from earning his purple belt in Brazlian jiu-jitsu, while training under Andre Galvao in San Diego, Adesanya looks forward to dispelling the myth that he has a weakness on the mat.

"I was there for five weeks and my BJJ went all the way up," he says. "It's a deceptive thing.

"If you want to jump in the pit - 'the hole in my game' - you want to see how deep that hole goes, then be my guest. By the time they find out it's a trap, it'll be too late.

"I look forward to using my grappling at some point. I do want to choke someone out, but they just keep getting knocked out."

Should he get his hand raised on Sunday, Adesanya - now the world's No.3-ranked pound-for-pound fighter - will have added another chapter to his storied UFC tenure, which is still barely three years old.

It will also boost his already substantial earning power. Adesanya is one of the UFC's most heavily marketed athletes and recently signed a lucrative sponsorship deal with sportswear brand Puma.

"It's like doing something most men in the UFC, let alone the world, have done," Adesanya says of the opportunity in front of him. "Doing it while I'm in my prime, while I'm active, while I'm gunning for everyone.

"But again, cheddar makes it better."

By his side since Adesanya was just a Whanganui kid with a dream, Bareman admits the entire situation feels surreal.

He's still coming to grips with the magnitude of the stakes on offer in Sin City, where an Adesanya win will propel his star in the stratosphere.

"When I think about it it bewilders me a little bit," Bareman says. "This is massive, this is absolutely massive.

"It's not boxing, where there's a myriad of weight classes separated by a few pounds. There's only a few weight classes, and you have to go up or down significantly to get that next belt. 

"Part of it is him cementing his pace in history, part of it is him doing something that people think he can't do - that's the kind of philosophy that he's lived his life by and it's just fun to be a part of it."

For Adesanya, who has the luxury of not having to cut any weight for this bout, it's all business as usual, insisting the step-up in weight class will have no impact on his preparations.

"I'm still going to eat clean, fight week," he says. "I'm still going to jump in the sauna fight week... I'll just be able to drink water in the sauna, that's all.

"But I'm not going to differ from anything I normally do. I'm going to keep the same energy, keep the same routine, just so my brain knows what it's doing.

"Same shit, different fight."

Join us for live updates of UFC 259, including Adesanya v Blachowicz, from 3pm Sunday