Newbie Kiwi UFC fighter makes bold ass claims following his victorious debut over the weekend
Kiwi middleweight Israel Adesanya isn't getting too far ahead of himself after an impressive outing in his UFC debut on Sunday.
"The Last Style Bender" looked a class above Australian opponent Rob Wilkinson throughout their bout at UFC 221 in Perth, earning a second-round TKO win to move to 12-0 in MMA after leaving behind his highly-decorated career as a kickboxer.
The 28-year-old offered a measured assessment of his efforts, awarding himself a grade of a "C or C-" which seemed to reflect his muted celebrations post-fight, despite doing enough to be awarded a US$50,000 (NZ$68,890) Performance of the Night bonus.
"When I came to The Octagon and I felt the energy and the crowd, it just felt different. So I decided that I wasn't going to put my foot on the gas just yet… just see where he's at and make him react, see what he gives me," Adesanya told Submission Radio.
The Aucklander withstood the early pressure as Wilkinson, a submission specialist, looked to turn the fight into a grappling contest, remaining composed and showcasing some exceptional defensive grappling of his own.
Adesanya stayed active in the clinch and negated the Australian's takedowns by springing immediately back to his feet, dispelling any suggestion that he's simply a single-dimensional fighter.
"I knew he was going to hug me straight away… but I like to cuddle so it was all good. I gave it to him back. He came off me after the first and he was bleeding. I was messing him up on the fence."
The Kiwi's heralded striking came to the fore in the second round as he stalked a defeated Wilkinson down and delivered a calculated series of precision strikes while the Australian rapidly wilted, forcing the referee to step in and end the contest.
"I pick the shots, I'm a shot selector. A lot of these guys just want to bum rush… I knew he was ready to go I just started to dig it in.
"They've said throughout my career I don't have KO power, but I hit sharp. If I touch them enough times I know they'll fall. They can't take it.
"I slow-cooked him in the first; I fried him in the second."
The enigmatic personality and natural charisma, which will likely ensure a fast-growing fanbase, were on full display during his post-fight interview. He signed off by telling a packed Perth Arena, "I'm the new big dog in the middleweight division and I just p*ssed all over the cage.
"I didn’t plan it, it just happened. When a dominant dog walks into the dog park - head high, tail high - and just pees all over the place just to mark his territory, he lets them know - this is my spot."
With a wealth of experience in the combat sports world, Adesanya appeared far from phased by the weight of expectations surrounding his first foray into The Octagon, not shy in comparing the buzz surrounding his debut to that of a certain brash Irishman.
"The pressure has been the same since the jump, since 2008 when I started fighting," Adesanya told Sherdog.com
"Pretty sure I had more hype than Conor [McGregor] before he jumped in UFC. Now people know who I am and it’s time to work.
"But I'm the UFC now, I've felt the buzz - same thing, different day.
"I've been watching the UFC for a long time... I know how this works. I've prepped, visualised all this, and it's happening now. I just need to roll with it. I ran toward this fight."
As for now, Adesanya plans to take a week or so off to "chill and let my hair down" before he contemplates his next move, well aware that he now has a large target on his back.
"I like to stay active… Everyone's going to try and call me out now, so I'll leave it to you guys to fight over who wants to fight me next," he says, directly into the camera.
"I want to be the top 10 by next year, but who knows, could be this year."
Results were mixed for the other two Kiwis in action in Perth with veteran heavyweight Mark Hunt losing via unanimous decision in his co-main event bout against Curtis Blaydes, while Hamilton's Luke Jumeau overcame Daichi Abe claimed a decision win.