If Israel Adesanya wasn’t a star before this weekend, he certainly became one during his magnificent triumph over Kelvin Gastelum in the co-main event of UFC 236 in Atlanta on Saturday.
Adesanya was hurt badly from the lethal fists of Gastelum on multiple occasions in the five-round war, and “The Last Stylebender” was in serious peril in the fourth. However, Adesanya traveled to a place deep within himself in the fifth to rally, nearly knocking his Arizona-based adversary out in one of the most brutal rounds in UFC history.
“I’m ready for five rounds,” Adesanya told the assembled media at the post-fight press conference. “I didn’t like the fact that he jabbed me so much, but he rocked me early. That messed up my footwork early. I had some shit for him, but he caught me. I just adjusted and it was cool. When you get rocked, like a video game, it takes away some of your XP or life points.”
Adesanya is always candid with the press and he didn’t mince words or shy away from what happened to him in the fight, which is a frontrunner for “Fight of the Year.” His face was busted up, his lips looked like he was stung by a hive of bees and he openly admitted to taking tons of damage, but he relishes what he endured inside the Octagon.
“I was hurt,” he said. “He took my feet from under me. Later on, I’ll be glad I went through this because I know why people break. I know why people get wilted and they get weak mentally. They want a way out and I’ve done that to many men. I could see that he was trying to do that to me, but he couldn’t and he was starting to get discouraged. But that was some movie shit, me coming back from adversity. I wanted to finish him. I was ready to die because I was willing to kill.”
After being nearly taken out in the fourth, the Nigerian star said he had to go where he had never gone before in order to prevail.
“In that fifth round, I found something deep,” he stated. “I went to another level. I’ve trained for this, but I found another level. That darkness. I was thinking, we are going to die right here; you and me. He’s a tough dude, but he couldn’t put me away.”
The next logical step for Adesanya – after he takes a much-needed vacation – is to unify the middleweight titles. He captured the interim belt by besting Gastelum, but the genuine champ at 185 pounds is Robert Whittaker. UFC president Dana White addressed that looming showdown as well as a potential pairing between Adesanya and reigning light heavyweight monarch Jon Jones, a man whom “The Last Stylebender” was trading barbs with on social media last week.
“He’s got Whittaker to look forward to now,” White told the media at the same presser. “Whittaker is a bad dude. He’s bigger than Kelvin, he hits harder than Kelvin, and he needs to focus on him right now. I know him and Jon Jones have been talking some smack, and listen, if he wins, and he becomes the middleweight champion, obviously I’d love to see him and Jon Jones fight. But we’ll see how everything plays out and timing.
“The other thing is if Israel fights Whittaker and wins,” he added, “there’s other guys that have been waiting in line, too, to fight for the title. If (Ronald) ‘Jacare’ (Souza) keeps winning and doesn’t get a title fight, that guy might kill me. But that Jon Jones fight is going to be out there for Israel no matter what. That ain’t going anywhere.”
White focused on Adesanya-Whittaker, though, but didn’t have a timetable of when it’ll happen. One thing he does know, though, is that it’ll occur in the Land Down Under, Whittaker’s home and a country that is in very close proximity to New Zealand, where Adesanya lives.
“I was thinking about having it in the States, but after tonight, that fight won’t be in the States,” White laughed. “It’ll be in Australia. We need to find a stadium for that. Do you know how huge that fight will be? No way that fight won’t be in Australia.”