The UFC middleweight champ speaks with Boardroom ahead of his UFC 271 clash with Robert Whittaker about style, anime, cars, becoming a businessman, and the next steps for his MMA legacy.
Israel Adesanya knows his way around the A-side of a UFC pay-per-view. And from the beginning, there was something fateful about the whole thing.
The very first headliner for the man known as “The Last Stylebender” came three years ago at UFC 234 against none other than Anderson Silva, who may or may not be the single greatest mixed martial artist of all time, in a bout promoted from co-main to main event status after the original headliner was cancelled.
The universe and its various vibrations just seem to know when it’s Stylebender Season.
Curiously enough, that would-be headliner was meant to feature Robert Whittaker, who was then the UFC middleweight champion. Eight months later, Adesanya would knock the Aussie out to win the 185-pound belt. He’ll have that belt around his waist when he walks into the octagon at UFC 271 for a championship rematch with Whittaker.
This week, Israel Adesanya spoke with Boardroom about the fight, how his style has changed since first winning the belt from “Bobby Knuckles,” and the moves he’s making as an investor and entrepreneur in the latest episode of “A Conversation With…”
SAM DUNN: Is this the longest that you’ve gone between fights in your UFC career?
ISRAEL ADESANYA: Feels like it. I like to be active and this was a long layover, if you will.
SD: The persistent narrative has been how different Whittaker is compared to the first fight, but how have you changed as a fighter, as a dude, as a professional?
IA: A hundred percent, I’ve evolved. A lot of people say Robert’s leveled up and this and that, but I didn’t just sit down and twiddle my thumbs. I got to work as well and I evolved as a fighter.
I’ve matured a lot in different aspects, professionally, personally, and also even stylistically. Wait until you see how I come out for this fight. People are gonna be in for a treat.
SD: Without giving away any spoilers, might that include your walkout?
IA: No, I mean, the walkout [at UFC 243] was special because of where it was, the magnitude of the event, it caught people off guard.
I don’t think who else is gonna beat that. Who else in history on an event like that, the biggest crowd, you know, coming out, showing off, and then showing out in the cage.
Now, people are expecting it. So expect the unexpected, which is just me handling business.
SD: With that in mind, what are the chances of that, that this rematch with Whittaker goes the same way as the first with a big knockout?
IA: Very highly likely, very highly likely. But I’m looking forward to a more clean performance, ’cause last time I kind of called the audible and I got wild in there, ’cause I didn’t know he was getting wild, so I kind of just got wild in there as well. ‘Cause I’m crazy like that. But yeah, much more clean performance this time.
SD: You’ve headlined five pay-per-views since then and become one of the biggest stars in combat sports. You’ve made some bread, so I want to hear about Izzy the businessman — what sorts of ventures are you involved in?
IA: Mainly real estate. And this is the thing I love, people don’t really know that side of me. People think I’m doing this just for the money, but look, if I was doing this just for the money and to get out, I would’ve done that three fights ago. I’m set for life.
I do this for more than money. Money’s really nice and that’s why I do it, but I do this for legacy, for history. You know the quote [from] Troy, “And that’s why no one will remember your name.” Trust, by the time I’m done with this, people will remember my name for generations.
But yeah, real estate and a few other things I dabble in, if you will. And stay tuned. Even things like NFTs [are] coming soon
SD: I was gonna ask you about that because your fellow UFC champion Francis Ngannou is all-in on NFTs and cryptocurrency. Can you tease anything you’ve got coming?
IA: I’m not one of these guys who constantly looks at the market in crypto like, “Oh, it’s up. Oh, it’s down. Oh no, ah, slit my wrist. Ah, fuck, oh no, it’s up again. Oh, glue it back together.” That’s not me. I invested heavily and I sit there ’cause I see the potential. I know it’s the future. So I just smile and wave, smile and wave.
With NFTs, I’ve got some things coming out. I’m still fleshing them out in my head, even some artwork that I’m gonna do myself in the crypto space and in the metaverse, and I’ll be selling eventually. But right now, I’m just chilling, just incubating ideas.
SD: So stay tuned for the Stylebender-verse?
IA: We’ll find out. We’ll find out. The metaverse, the crypto space, the NFT space is constantly evolving, constantly changing. So you have to be able to be adaptable, and I’m very adaptable and I’m always trying to stay on the ball.
SD: One of your fight week rituals is renting a series of really nice cars. What have you been riding in Houston?
IA: I’m just riding a Rolls-Royce Cullinan. A black one. but I might swap it out for a white one and give it that panda flow.
SD: You’re also well-known as a huge anime fan. What’s in your rotation right now?
IA: Check out Baki — Baki Hanma, ’cause you might hear a familiar voice on that. I’m also finishing off season two of Dota: Dragon’s Blood. Just those two at the moment,
I still haven’t got back to Jujutsu Kaisen, but I know the movie’s coming out. I will maybe when I get back home.
SD: Could you see yourself as either a creative storyteller or a producer getting involved in some of these types of projects yourself, whether on the written side or the film and television side?
IA: A hundred percent. After this, after this game’s over, I’m gonna have my own production company and I’m gonna produce some great ideas I have in my head. And people that I find along the way who have great ideas, I’m gonna give them a platform and an opportunity to work with me.
It’ll come to fruition in some time, but right now, there’s only one thing I’m focused on and that’s kicking ass and making money.
SD: If things go the way you want them to go Saturday night, are you going to want to get back into the cage quickly?
IA: Yeah, definitely. I wanna stay active this year, at least three times I wanna fight. But if we can make it four, that’ll be awesome. I wanna be active and fight this year.
SD: Does that come with any potential concern about cleaning out the division and lapping the field to the point where there are no compelling challengers left to book?
IA: That’s the motivation for me. I want to do that. I want to lap the division. [Anderson] Silva did the same thing at 185. I wanna do that as well, recreated in my own way. And I’m on my way.
SD: And that brings us to your prediction for UFC 271.
IA: Just stay tuned Saturday night. You’ll find out the real result.