UFC 230: Forget the future, unbeaten Israel Adesanya is angling to become the UFC’s ‘now’

NEW YORK — If there’s one objection unbeaten Israel Adesanya has with being labeled UFC’s “next big thing” or the future of the 185-pound division, it’s the tense used to describe him.  

“I’m the now, I’m the now,” Adesanya quickly interrupted, during Thursday’s interview with CBS Sports at UFC 230 media day. “I’m the now of the UFC, the now of the middleweights and [the now] of everything.”

The 29-year-old native of Nigera, who moved to New Zealand in his early teens before cutting his teeth as a fighter in China, would also prefer you would refrain from comparing his lean body type or dynamic (if not daring) striking style to any UFC legends who draw similarities. 

As Adesanya (14-0) likes to put it, he’s not the next Jon Jones or Anderson Silva. He’s the first Israel Adesanya and his reign of terror on the UFC middleweight division, which continues Saturday against battle-tested veteran Derek Brunson (18-6) at Madison Square Garden, is well underway. 

“Facts,” Adesanya said. “Easy, easy work. It’s facts, I don’t make jokes. It’s all facts. 

“Listen, I’ve got bars, man. I’m the now, the now, right now. I’ve done way more, even in my first two UFC fights, than [Brunson] or many of them have done in their career. This is nothing new to me, this is just another day in the office. I’m just enjoying everything and soaking in the atmosphere and just rolling with the energy.”

The energy that Adesanya exudes while he speaks is nothing short of intoxicating due to the level of almost sinister self-belief it’s underwritten in. In fact, it’s something that might only be topped by the energy he has shown inside the Octagon in three victories since his UFC debut in February. 

Adesanya’s arrival in UFC came with plenty of hype and fanfare behind it. He finished the first 11 fights by knockout to open his pro career and, along with a 6-1 record as a pro boxer, was thought of as one of the most talented and dangerous kickboxers in the world after going 75-5-1 over a seven-year run. 

Not only has Adesanya met those lofty expectations since joining UFC, he likely raised them. Given a five-round main event slot in July during International Fight Week in Las Vegas, Adesanya shut out Brad Tavares in a flashy and thoroughly dominant performance that essentially sped up his timeline. 

Despite a recent run of bright prospects (think Darren Till and Francis Ngannou) who came up empty after UFC fast-tracked them into title shots while searching for the next great crossover star, Adesanya believes he’s already mentally prepared to handle the pressure. 

“After my fourth fight, I already knew I was going to be the best in the world,” Adesanya said. “This is just chilling, this is just regular. I’ve done this shit in my head for so long just drilling, just visualizing and thinking about it and daydreaming. I’m here and it’s just another memory. I’m that guy and I’ve always been that guy. I’ve got the ‘it’ factor but I don’t shy away from it, I just run with it. I’m doing me. 

“I know what I bring to the table, I know my worth, so that’s what I’m looking to show for myself and for the world to see. I’m under the spotlight now and the scrutiny of the public but for me, I shine brighter than the spotlight.”

Adesanya, who calls himself “an attention whore” who does so simply “to make that cream,” hasn’t shied away from boldly proclaiming that it will be he — and not former champion Chris Weidman, veteran Ronaldo “Jacare” Sousa or any of the other seven middleweights on the UFC 230 pay-per-view main card — who will get the next shot at Robert Whittaker’s title after he faces Kelvin Gastelum in early 2019. 

Not only has Adesanya predicted a spectacular finish of Brunson, he believes a title fight pairing him against Whittaker, a native of New Zealand who fights out of Australia, will become a no-brainer for the UFC. 

“If Robert wins against Kelvin Gastelum, there has always been that Trans-Tasman rivalry,” said Adesanya, whose UFC 221 debut in Australia came on an undercard that was supposed to be headlined by Whittaker. “That makes way more sense than any of these guys. They had their shot, they are already old. I’m the new guy, I’m going to bring some freshness to the division. I’m going to bless the division with some freshness. 

“They are going to see artistry [on Saturday]. The styles itself makes this a great showcase fight for me and I’m going to showcase all over his face.”

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