Reigning UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya fought just twice in 2021 and says they were two of the most boring fights of his professional career.
Adesanya first fought Jan Blachowicz for the light heavyweight title at UFC 259 and then dropped back down to middleweight to defend his 185-pound strap against Marvin Vettori at UFC 263.
‘The Last Stylebender’ lost to the former but beat the latter and, despite maintaining his top-three standing in the UFC men’s pound-for-pound rankings, says 2021 was probably the worst year of his UFC career.
“I want to get three this year,” Adesanya told ESPN ahead of his rematch with Robert Whittaker at UFC 271 (h/t Alexander K. Lee of MMA Fighting). “At least, at least three fights this year. I’m not happy. Last year was my, to be honest, most lackluster year in my UFC career, I feel. It was just two fights. I went up to light heavyweight, failed that side mission, and I defended my belt at middleweight, and there’s a point in that [Vettori] fight I got bored. My [striking] coach ‘Twista’ was like, ‘Don’t get bored, Izzy. Stay in it.’ I remember he said that and I was like, ‘Oh yeah, true.’ He could notice. I don’t know what he saw, but he just noticed I switched off. I was just like, ‘Meh, this isn’t fun anymore.’ Because the guy wasn’t trying to win, he was trying to survive. I was like, I’m the one with the belt, you’re being super defensive, so yeah.”
“I’ve accomplished a lot, exceeded a lot of my goals, but I’ve written down new ones,” he added. “I’ve jotted down new ones that I will accomplish, so yeah, I’m going back to my younger self. I’m tapping back into my younger self when I was soaking everything up, really enjoying the moment, really all the experiences I was soaking up. So I’m tapping back into that young Izzy.”
Part of the reason Adesanya was bored in the Blachowicz fight was that Jan took him down multiple times and held him there. Whittaker may try to incorporate a similar gameplan heading into UFC 271 but Adesanya says ‘The Reaper’ will be in for a rude awakening should he try to outwrestle him.
“Where in that [Blachowicz] fight did I actually get hurt,” Adesanya said. “He beat me, guaranteed. Some people don’t agree, but I think he beat me, just. But where in that fight did I actually get hurt? I never felt in danger once in that fight. He was in danger because I rocked him. He even admitted it, he felt my power. But where in that fight was I actually hurt. I never felt in danger once. I never felt like I need to escape my hip, I need use this leg, I need to do this, because I was just like, he’s gonna rest on me, he’s gonna lay his weight on me because he doesn’t me to get up because knows what he felt when we were standing. There was no point in that fight where I ever felt like I was in danger, like I was going to lose this fight.”
“I wasn’t trying, that’s the thing, when Jan was doing that. It was kind of similar to what Twista said in the Vettori fight. I was kind of bored, to be honest. I was just like, ‘Alright, are you going to posture up or something? Try and punch me? Are you gonna try and go for a submission?’ I was waiting for something, but Jan was just doing enough so the referee keeps it going. He’s a veteran, he made the right moves and congrats to him. If that’s what [Whittaker] wants to do to try and win this fight, try it. I don’t know if he’s 225 pounds, but try. And he’s never felt me grapple. Everyone that’s felt me grapple, they know I’ve got that strength. But once they feel it, it’s different, because of the frame they think, ‘Skinny boy. No power.’ They find out.”
UFC 271: Adesanya vs. Whittaker 2 takes place this Saturday, Feb. 12 at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas.