When it was announced Israel Adesanya would make the walk to the Octagon against former champion, and pound-for-pound great, Anderson Silva at UFC 234, it left many fans and pundits scratching their heads.
Sitting at No. 6 on official UFC’s middleweight rankings, Adesanaya, 29, is fresh off a violent first round stoppage win over Derek Brunson at UFC 230. On when flip side, the unranked Silva, 43, hasn’t fought since Feb. 2017.
On paper, the booking didn’t make much sense as Adesanaya was essentially risking a potential title shot in order face a legend of the sport.
However, “The Last Stylebender” told Luke Thomas on The MMA Hour that it was all part of his master plan.
“Initially, when I went to Sydney to meet Dana, this was the exact plan I gave to him,” revealed Adesanya. “I told him let’s get this done in Melbourne as a co-main event. But, he had other ideas. He had an idea to get me versus Anderson as a first card on the ESPN show. So, he said he’s going to talk to Anderson because he liked my idea as well.”
But while Adesanya was all-in on facing the Brazilian icon early next year, the path to his dream fight didn’t come without a few road blocks. But in the end, the fight with Silva finally materialized, much to the surprise of Adesanya.
“Initially, Anderson said no and I was kind of like ‘F*ck. I mean it’s kind of good I don’t have to like kill my hero,’” said Adesanya. “Then we got a new opponent, [Ronaldo] “Jacare” [Souza- It was “Jacare” for the January ESPN show. I think it was Jan. 19. So yeah I was like ‘Cool. I’ll skip my Europe trip, go to a wedding, come back, probably skip Christmas and just get everything done so I can smash this guy.’ And, yeah, that was set. I thought it was ready.
“Then yesterday I get the call from my trainer saying “Jacare” needs more time to prepare and I can understand because he just fought like hard battle [at UFC 230]. Mine was easy. You know I cleaned Brunson easily but his battle [against Chris Weidman] was back-and-forth, so he would have taken some knocks and injuries. So he said he has to recover first and get better. Then my coach just said Anderson came back and said yes. So, in my head I was like ‘I wonder why. I wonder what actually changed his mind. Who got in his ear?’”
Famously, following his 2011 win over Yushin Okami at UFC 134, Silva declared the only fighter he felt could challenge him inside the Octagon was his clone. For Adesanaya, these comments stuck with him throughout his career as he watched Silva decimate the elite of the UFC’s middleweight division in highlight reel fashion.
Now, seven years later, Adesanya is ready to give Silva the type of fight he always wanted.
“I’m a guy that started off modeling my style after his because he’s a skinny black guy like me and I looked up to him,” said Adesanaya “So, I was like ‘If you want to fight your clone, you can fight me. But I’m better than your clone because I’ve studied every single thing you’ve done and every f*cking move you made.’ I know when he’s going to chill, I know one he’s going to attack, I know when he’s offensive, I know when he wants to blitz. I’d feel it.
“I know this man better than he knows himself. I know some things about him that he doesn’t even know about himself because I’m on the outside looking in. But I’m glad he took the fight and I’m glad it’s on. And it’s [UFC] 234. Perfect synchronicity, 2-3-4. Melbourne, my favorite city in Australia. So now I’m ready. This is all mine for the taking.”
This eagerness to step in to the Octagon against Silva wasn’t always the case for Adesanaya. Following his win over Brunson, the hypothetical fight was one of the many thrown his way at the post-fight press conference. At the time, Adesanya shot down the notion of fighting his idol, declaring he didn’t see the point.
But, as has become custom with Adesanaya, some outside force helped him realize accepting the fight against Silva, and inevitably carrying the middleweight torch, was his destiny.
“Initially, I didn’t want to fight Anderson” said Adesanya. “I’ve been on record saying that there was no need because he is a legend. He’s done what he’s done. Like, why would you want to put him up against a guy like me? But then I had a dream job on a Sunday night about two weeks ago. Then, on Monday, I got to the gym and after training my coach pulled me aside and said ‘Look I know you’ve been on record saying you don’t want this fight and blah blah blah. I don’t believe in all this f*cking destiny and whatever matrix sh*t you keep talking about. But I feel like this is is supposed to happen. You have to fight this guy.” I was just like ‘Yeah, I agree’ and he’s like ‘What?’ and I was like ‘I had a dream last night.’”
As Adesanya so eloquently put it, this scenario, and how it unfolded, was tailor-made for a Hollywood classic.
“When my movie of my life comes out, this is going to be a f*cking pivotal moment,” said Adesanya. “This is going to be that moment like ‘Who writes this sh*t?’ I mean seriously, I get to f*cking beat the guy that actually put me on in the game. So it’s the perfect story. It’s a perfect storybook ending for him as well because after this fight, I mean, he’s done what he’s done so he can he can let me handle it. He’s been the greatest middleweight champion of all time. But I’ll take it from here. I’ll take the torch by force if I have to.”
For Silva (34-8, 1 NC) his controversial decision win over Brunson at UFC 208 in Feb. 2017 got him back into the win column after dropping decisions to two-division champion Daniel Cormier and former middleweight champion Michael Bisping. Combine this with a no-contest against Nick Diaz as well as back-to-back losses Chris Weidman and fans haven’t seen Silva string together a pair of wins since 2012.
However, Silva also several UFC records, including the longest win streak in UFC history (16), which included a middleweight title reign of 2,457 days, as well as the most finishes in UFC title fights (9), total knockdowns (17) and overall wins in middleweight history (13).
So, even with his Silva’s prime years behind him, Adesanaya (15-0) is ready for the same fighter that dominated the 185-pound division for more than half a decade.
“He’s still Anderson Silva,” said Adesanya. “Whether you like it or not, he just smashed- well Bisping won the fight on paper but I had Anderson edging it out. You could have stop the fight in the third [round] rafter that flying knee dropped [Bisping]. So he’s still a guy that’s dangerous, he’s still the guy that f*cking front kicked Vitor Belfort in his face, he’s still crafty and he’s a guy that among everyone else can probably play with me better than most people because we’re cut from the same cloth, the cloth of greatness. Like the way we move is different from the rest. So yeah, he’ll be a guy that understands how we move differently. So, don’t ever sleep on him. He’s ‘The Spider.’
“I know I’m going beat him and I have to beat him. But, I’m not overestimating him and I’m not underestimating him. I just have to go in and do my job. I’ve said it, just because I’m a fan doesn’t mean you can’t catch these hands. Just because I’m a fan doesn’t mean I won’t put it on him. I’m not going to be like [Georges St-Pierre] when he first faced Matt Hughes. You know GSP was looking down and he admitted he was scared and he wasn’t worthy of being in there. That’s how he felt. This is not that. This is not that story. I’m coming in there to kill him, I’m coming in to destroy him.”
As for his mindset leading up to the fight against a man he holds in such high regards, an emotional Adesanaya didn’t hesitate to break down exactly what the fight meant to him personally.
“This means more to me than the f*cking world title,” said Adesanya. “I’m getting choked up even right now even thinking about it. Like honestly, this f*cking means the world to me. UFC 90 was the first time I watched this guy fight live. Before that I was watching him on DVDs f*cking murking dudes. This is like LeBron James getting to face Michael Jordan.
“So this means more to me than any f*cking shiny belt. Like, I can kill this guy and then I can be like ‘I’ve done what I came here to do. I’m done.’ But, I’m not done. After this, I’ll go on to do other things. Yeah, the belt comes with it. But I’ll carry on the legacy of the other avatars in this game.”