FROM rugby union to rugby league and cricket to netball, the sporting rivalry between Australia and New Zealand runs deep.
It could be about to take another form if up-and-coming Kiwi UFC fighter Israel Adesanya has his way.
He wants to take on Aussie UFC middleweight world champion Robert Whittaker in a title bout next year in Auckland.
“I’m predicting it. It’s going to be at Spark Arena. I’ve seen it happen so many times in my head. I have visualised it, it’s me and Robert Whittaker fighting for the belt. A Kangaroo or a Wallaby versus the All Black,” he said.
Israel Adesanya is fighting for a shot at Robert Whittaker. Picture: Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images
“If you’re not in this game to be the best then there is no point in being in this game. I came here to be the best and to prove I’m the best and that’s what I’m going to do.
“It’s going to be something that will be spectacular to witness when it happens and to be something special to be a part of.”
His first step towards that trans-Tasman showdown is a win against world No.6 Derek Brunson on UFC 230 at New York’s fight Mecca, Madison Square Garden, on November 3.
“The magnitude of this fight in terms of ranking is my biggest fight yet. But in terms of skill, I’ve had harder fights outside of the UFC and outside of Brunson,” Adesanya said.
“He’s a guy you have to be careful with because he’s very chaotic but I know to handle that. “He’s so s… at the way he strikes but I guess it’s a method to his own madness. But he knows his striking isn’t great and he’s admitted it.”
UFC middleweight champion Rob Whittaker is recovering from injury. Picture: Sam RuttynSource:News Corp Australia
The card will be headlined by the heavyweight world title bout between reigning champion Daniel Cormier and Derrick Lewis. It also features four top 10 middleweight fighters, including Adesanya, who are all vying for a shot at Whittaker’s belt.
The Aussie champion broke his hand against Yoel Romero at UFC 225 in June and won’t be able to defend his title until early 2019, when he is scheduled to defend his belt against Kelvin Gastelum.
Adesanya, who only made his UFC debut in February this year, will step into the cage for the fourth time in 2018 and his currently undefeated.
Before turning to mixed martial arts he was an accomplished kickboxer and in 2017 was the No.6 middleweight kickboxer in the world.
He took up kickboxing after moving from his homeland of Nigeria to New Zealand as a means of self defence.
Israel Adesanya weighs in at UFC 221 in Perth earlier this year. Picture: AAPSource:AAP
“I was a kid that was always bullied in school. It was one of those things that I just had to learn how to defend myself because the town I was living in was a little bit dangerous,” he said.
“I’ve seen so many street fights end up on the ground and a lot of people don’t know what to do. It was just one of those things, I had to learn to deal with the gangsters and the bullies. Eventually once I got really good at fighting a lot of that stopped.”
Adesanya, who has amassed a cult following on social media, is also a dancer. He says his dancing skills have helped make him a better fighter in the cage.
“I’ve always been a show-off and dancing was my first outlet to be able to express myself. If I was bad at dancing I wouldn’t be the fighter I am today,” he said.
“I probably have the best footwork in the UFC, the timing, the rhythm and being off beat and on beat. There are so many correlations between fighting and dancing.”
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Originally published as Feisty Kiwi sees Whittaker tilt in his future
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