Israel Adesanya says there's plenty left for him to achieve in the UFC as he looks to cement his legacy following a spectacular knockout victory against Paulo Costa at UFC 253 in Abu Dhabi on Sunday.
The undefeated middleweight champion, 31, demonstrated his star power once more by picking apart the previously unbeaten Costa within two rounds, earning a TKO at Flash Forum to retain his title. The event marked the first of five in the second Fight Island series in the capital.
With the win, Adesanya climbed to 20-0 in professional mixed martial arts and 9-0 in the UFC. It was his second successful defence of the belt, and the seventh ranked fighter he has seen off in the division. Costa, meanwhile, departed with the first blemish in his 14-fight pro career.
Asked in the post-fight press conference what he still had to prove, a triumphant Adesanya replied: “There’s a lot left to do in this game, and I’m just steadily working my way day-by-day, fight-by-fight. Seven guys in the top 15; Paulo only fought two. And everyone was like, ‘This Israel’s all hype, it’s all hype’. But I love the hype. And if there was any hype job it was him. I ain’t no hype job, but I’m all hype.”
Adesanya confirmed he would next take on No 3 contender Jared Cannonier – despite eying a move up in future to light heavyweight or heavyweight – should the American get past former champion Robert Whittaker at UFC 254 in Abu Dhabi on October 24. He has already defeated Whittaker, when he claimed the middleweight crown last October.
However, Adesanya said he was more concerned with checking off all worthy challengers than retaining the gold.
Pointing to the belt alongside him, the Nigerian-born athlete said: “This thing is beautiful, but it doesn’t mean anything. For me, it’s about the victories, it’s the champions, the names you collect, the scalps you take along the way.
“If I had lost tonight – god forbid – I wouldn’t care about this; I would’ve been sad that I lost the fight. All I care about is fighting. This is just nice, because cheddar makes it better. It brings more money, more notoriety, all that. I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing and my legacy will be cemented in time.”
As UFC president Dana White put it, Adesanya “dismantled” Costa in a brutal display of wicked kicking before putting him down with a hefty right hand to the temple. Billed as a Fight of the Year contender, and the toughest test of Adesanya’s career to date, he stopped Costa 3:59 minutes into the second round. Adesanya said he knew after the first round that he had his long-time rival's number.
“I was so fresh, I looked over, I could see he was sitting down,” he said. “He just wanted me to stand there so he could punch me. I’m not stupid, dummy. I’m smart. I understand this game.
"This was my 100th win in combat sports all around. I’ve had over 100 fights. I’m not a baby in this game. I’ve been in this for a long time. And I’m still fresh. I’m 31, I look like I’m 26.
“My narrative for this fight, because everybody was saying he’s a bully, he walks people down. And it’s not news to anyone that I’ve been bullied my whole life. For me, back then I didn’t really have the skill or the will to fight back. And now I know what to do; I have the will and the skill to take the bite out of the bully.
“Even some of the [stuff] he did online. Back then, we didn’t have that when I was growing up, but now kids go through that social-media bullying. And he was trying to do that to me. It’s like he was trying to trigger out the younger Izzy. But you do that and you get the big dog in the yard now.
“I dedicate this fight to anyone, whether it be at school or at home or at work if your boss is grinding you. I dedicate this fight to you guys because you have to fight back. You can't just take that all the time – you have to bite back.”
On whether he will beat Anderson Silva’s record of dominance at middleweight, Adesanya said: “Yes, but that’s not my goal. I’m not trying to repeat because there’ll never be another Anderson Silva.
“For me it’s just being me, being the last and only ‘Stylebender’ and just keep doing what I’m doing. All the guys he ran through on his run, I would’ve beat them as well. So it’s not about quantity, it’s about the quality. And already I’ve some really good quality wins under my belt. That’s my 15th knockout in MMA and my 100th win in fighting. So I’m not chasing his legacy, I’m chasing my own legacy.”