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‘I was waiting for him to gas out’ - Israel Adesanya claims TKO was strategy in action

The former middleweight champion wants people to know that he wasn’t truly badly hurt in the fifth round against Alex Pereira.

UFC 281: Adesanya v Pereira
Israel Adesanya moments before his TKO stoppage loss to Alex Pereira.
Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Muhammad Ali was the master of the ‘rope-a-dope,’ spending long stretches of time with his back against the ropes, letting opponents wing wild shots at him until they’d spent every last bit of their energy and were primed for picking off. It’s a dangerous gambit, all the more so in MMA, which both features more potential threats and lacks a referee’s count to test just how hurt a fighter really is.

Perhaps those are odds that will give Israel Adesanya some pause in the future, when deciding to employ such a startegy. The ‘Last Stylebender’ recently showed up on the MMA Hour, following his fifth round TKO loss at the hands of Alex Pereira, to give an account of why he didn’t make it to the final bell. Despite getting clearly stung by several very hard punches in the fifth round of his last title defense, the City Kickboxing standout claims that what the referee saw as his downfall was actually a moment of strategy.

“So at some point in the fight, I’m trying to move,” Adesanya claimed, noting that he didn’t blame referee Marc Goddard for the stoppage (transcript via MMA Fighting). “You know when you’re walking and your leg trips and it drags on the floor accidentally? I was getting that through the fight, and I’m like, ‘Is something wrong with my leg?’ And eventually I was like, ‘Oh sh-t, I think my leg is that thing.’ I’ve never had it happen to me in a fight before, ever, but I knew what it was. So he hit me with two big shots, lateral move ... and then I tripped. So it looked bad. I think the referee was like, ‘Two big shots and he wobbles, oh sh-t.’ It wasn’t from the shots, I promise you. There’s no reason for me to lie. It was from the legs, which he caused, the damage.”

With his movement apparently hindered and Pereira pouring on the pressure, the Nigerian-born New Zealander was hoping to ride out the storm until the gas tank of ‘Po Atan’ was spent and Adesanya could come charging back.

“So I was like, ‘OK, stand there, stand there, just don’t move anymore, let him gas out,’” Adesanya continued. “So I was waiting for him to take big shots, so I put my head down; I could see his arms and I could see his legs. That’s all I needed to look at. I know where his head is. So I’m just there moving, moving, moving. But to the referee, after two big shots and then I wobble, and I’m standing there looking like that, he’s going to be like, ‘Nah.’ And he’s being safe. So when he jumped in I’m like, ‘I’m fine. Aw, f-ck.’ I was literally just disappointed. I was waiting for him to gas out so I can do my work. I was going to take him down and then beat him up again.”

No word on just when the 33-year-old plans on returning to action. For the moment it sounds like he’s hoping to rest up over the holidays heading into 2023.

“I’ll eat, I might drink a little bit, go out, maybe go to a New Year’s gig. I haven’t really enjoyed it, so this New Year’s and Christmas, I’m going to really enjoy myself and just chill.”