Interviews

Middleweight UFC Champ Israel Adesanya on How He Became The Biggest Star in Mixed Martial Arts

We talked to Adesanya about his favorite animes, his most recent purchase, and his next big fight.

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Andy Brownbill/AP/Shutterstock / Shutterstock

Israel Adesanya, the UFC middleweight champion, is the modern blueprint for how MMA fame should be done. The Nigerian native and New Zealand resident took to fighting over a decade ago and has dabbled in boxingkickboxing, and MMA. As a kickboxer, Adesanya amassed an overall record of 75-5. He went 5-1 in boxing, and is undefeated in MMA with 18 wins.

In mixed martial arts, the UFC is known for making quick work of a potential star. A fighter may have it all—the face, mic skills, and fighting acumen—but find himself on the end of an awry haymaker that sends his body (and confidence) careening to the canvas. Or once they’re at the top, they wrestle with a relentless and draining media circus that takes them from country to country. It’s rough. The fighters who are able to win, cut entertaining promos, and keep their fans hyped are the ones who rise through the ranks and make the big bucks.

Adesanya arrived in the UFC in February 2018 and put on a striking clinic in each fight, with an amusing post-fight interview and press conference to go along with each. He quickly worked his way up to UFC 243, where he knocked out Robert Whittaker, the then-champ, in the second round on Oct. 6, 2019. Now, Adesanya is sitting pretty as the king of the middleweights—all in just a year and a half time in the UFC. He’s witty. He’s confident. He can fight, and Adesanya appears to be here to stay.

We caught up with the current champ to discuss his recent fame, his favorite animes, and his future plans in the UFC, which, according to him, include a fight with UFC great Jon Jones.

M&F: What do you love about being at the top?
Israel Adesanya: I say, “Fuck fame, but I enjoy the perks.” When I was working a regular job, I’d go into Footlocker and daydream like, man, when I get money I’m going to get that shoe, and that one, and that one. But here’s a plot twist: once you have all the money, everyone gives you stuff for free.

And what’s one aspect of fame that you dislike?
The lack of privacy. I think that people lose track of their manners and respect when they meet someone famous. I was at a grocery store, and I normally look homeless when I’m running errands, and someone spots me at check out. He yells, “Oh my God! I’m your biggest fan.” Everyone looks and starts freaking out. I’m just a regular dude at the end of the day, and it’s a little embarrassing when I’m trying to buy groceries and some guy is yelling in my face.

How do you feel about people getting tattoos of you?
If someone can look at my journey and take inspiration from it, that's cool. Like I respect that and I appreciate that. You know, but yeah, just don't get a cheap one. I'll just advise you, because this mug is really hard to draw.


What’s the most overrated and underrated anime of all time?
The most overrated anime of all time, I’d say is Dragonball GT. I expected more from that and it kind of just didn't live up to the hype. I didn't even finish it. An underrated anime, low-key, is Devilman. It's on Netflix. I liked that and I don't think it gets as much attention as it deserves. So Devilman or Castlevania. No, no—Devilman.

What would your own anime look like?
I’d like to be a guy who can time travel and he's going on a quest to assassinate certain people across time and space. Bending time and space. I'll leave it at that and just elaborate later on.

Out of your seven UFC fights, who has hit you the hardest?
Kelvin Gastelum, without a doubt. My face looked like a potato after that fight. He hit me the hardest, but I took it all.

What was the first thing you bought after cashing your check from UFC 243?
I bought three new properties to add to my already expanding portfolio. You’ve got to make your money work for you.

How did you think Darren Till looked against Kelvin Gastelum after moving up to the middleweight division from welterweight?
I thought his performance was very smart, because he’s coming off of two losses where he has been finished and he had to play the game against a beast-like Gastelum. He played a good distance game—he was either way out or very close, attacking with short elbows. I was impressed.

Till said that he wants to fight you for legacy. What do you think about that?
We’ve met each other and we’ve always known that we’re going to fight at one point. I said so to him last year when we met in LA and he was still a welterweight. If he went out there and starched Gastelum, I’d heavily consider it, but you know, he played it safe. He just got here. I did a lot to get this belt, so he’s got to do some work as well.

Are you looking to defend your belt or have a super fight with your Twitter rival, Jon Jones, before he moves up to heavyweight?
Even if he moves up, I’ll fight him. But for now, I have a lot of work to do. I’m not going to disrespect anyone in particular, but people from this era decide, ‘I have the belt, now I want a super fight.’ What the fuck? Defend your belt first. Clean out your division. Respect the game—I’m not going to hold up a division to just make some fight happen. So yeah, I’m going to do my homework, clean out the division and then move up to heavyweight. I’ve already given the date: 2021, at Raiders Stadium in Las Vegas. I decided in July when I saw it being built across the desert; this is where the fight will be.

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