New undisputed UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya beamed with pride after UFC 243 – and took great pleasure rubbing his performance in the faces of critics.
“I just showed you guys I can take it and give it as well,” Adesanya told reporters after Saturday’s event at Marvel Stadium. “Apparently, because I’ve got no knockout power, and I’ve got pillow hands. Boo-oo.”
A second-round knockout erased any doubt of Adesanya’s power, but the new champ felt compelled to remind the world that many had doubted him. And with the belt strapped around his waist, he enjoyed the last laugh.
Adesanya spoke of deja vu as he recounted the details of his final preparations for the title unifier. From his stunning walkout to his walk to the cage, it all had a familiar feeling to the Nigerian-born fighter, who dropped a Manga reference to describe the inevitability of Whittaker’s fall.
Of course, it didn’t hurt that Adesanya immediately sensed the champ was off, energetically speaking.
“When I saw him walk out, he was too intense,” he said. “You can’t fake that s*it. You can put your hoodie over your eyes and (beat your chest) all you want. It’s pheromones. I can smell it off him. It’s like, he’s not with it. He was doing the right moves, but there was no feeling behind it. So I saw everything coming.”
Just before the second frame started, Adesanya said he caught Whittaker looking up at the screen, looking at the knockdown that had ended the first frame. The New Zealander flashed him a wink, which didn’t have its intended effect.
“I was like, don’t look at the TV – look at me,” Adesanya said. “You’ve got to worry about me right now. I could have rested on my laurels and be like, ‘I dropped him, and I’m going to rush him now.’ Nah. He’s a beast. If I try and fight dumb and try and go for the finish right now, he could catch me and lay me the f*ck out.”
Instead, Adesanya laid all the traps he’d set in camp with City Kickboxing mastermind Eugene Bareman and the rest of his team. Whittaker pressed the action early, believing he could right the ship if he continued to put Adesanya on the back foot.
That only played into his demise, Adesanya said. Even when it appeared Whittaker had gotten off a shot, there were other factors at play.
“What makes him great makes him really vulnerable and susceptible to a lot of things,” Adesanya said. “It looked like he hit me. But what I was doing was bending my knee – not ‘Triple C’ – just bringing it in, like when someone tries to attack you and you take it away. I knew he was going to start fast, and I just had to take my time.”
With less than two minutes to go in the second, Adesanya had found his moment. A perfect left hook counter crumpled Whittaker, forcing quick referee intervention and the finalizing of a belt transfer.
As much as things went according to plan, there was one thing Adesanya didn’t foresee. When Whittaker hit the deck at the end of the first, there was a moment he could have beat the bell and fired down another punch. His hand was cocked and ready.
Next time, the champ promised not to hesitate.
“I held my fist up,” he said. “That’s stupid. I should have punched him until the referee jumped on him. I guess the referee saved him on that one.”