Not long after Israel Adesanya answered lingering questions about his mental fortitude inside the octagon during UFC 287’s main event, he sat on the dais in front of the UFC access media. Once there, basking in the glow of his spectacular second-round knockout win, with the UFC middleweight title not far from his right hand, Adesanya put those questions back into the minds of his detractors and doubters.
In the lead-up to rematch against Alex Pereira, who won the UFC middleweight title by knocking out Adesanya at UFC 281, there was talk about the mental hurdles Israel Adesanya needed to overcome to regain the UFC 185-pound crown.
Pre-UFC 287 questions
Retired MMA referee John McCarthy and retired fighter Josh Thomson, both current Bellator commentators, discussed that topic on a January edition of their “Weighing In” podcast.
“Let me ask you this,” McCarthy said to Thomson, “A guy beats you. Now the first one, in kickboxing, you look at it, and you go, ‘I don’t think I lost it.’ Okay. But then he goes, and he starches you. So you got that loss. And there’s nothing you can say. It happens. Then you have an MMA fight, and you’re doing well, and he puts you out again. Tell me it’s not in the back of your mind. Tell me it’s not in the back of your mind, Josh Thomson. You know it is.”
With two kickboxing losses to Pereira, one a decision and one via KO, and the UFC 281 knockout loss in his mind, Adesanya compartmentalized and focused on what he could control and what was in front of him at UFC 287. Yes, the man who was 3-0 against him in combat sports and 1-0 in MMA was standing in front of him inside the octagon, but those losses were in the past. Adesanya had a clean slate, and a new fight in Miami. While inside the cage, Adesanya focused on April 8, 2023, not those setbacks from 2017 and 2022. He was in the present, and nothing else mattered to him.
With that mindset, Adesanya finally got his revenge and evened things up with Pereira in MMA. He knocked out his rival, regained the UFC middleweight crown, and knotted the UFC series with the man who has become his greatest combat sports foe at 1-1.
Israel Adesanya’s unforced error
Then, at the UFC 287 post-fight press conference, the newly minted two-time UFC middleweight champion committed an unforced error.
In a head-scratching statement, Adesanya said, “I don’t keep score. I settle it, and now it’s settled.”
And with that, the doors he closed with his knockout win were blown back open.
Adesanya tried to justify his thinking that he had settled things after going 1-1 in the UFC and 1-3 against overall against Pereira.
“I got that immediate rematch because what I’ve done in this game. I won the (interim UFC middleweight) belt against Kelvin (Gastelum). I defended (unified) against Rob(art) Whittaker, (Yoel) Romero, (Paulo) Costa, (Marvin) Vettori, Rob again, (Jared) Cannonier. That’s seven,” said Adesanya, “I did the hard yard, and I earned my f–king rematch. Now he has to do the hard yard and earn it, but I don’t think he’s going to.”
Adesanya is not new to this game. He knows “earned” has nothing to do with getting a UFC title shot or a UFC title fight rematch, especially in a division like middleweight, where the only fight that makes sense for Adesanya, and the UFC coffers, is a trilogy fight opposite Pereira.
Fair or not, with what he said after his win on Saturday night, detractors will continue to question Adesanya’s mentality and desire to face what many consider to be his Boogeyman. By instantly opting out after one win, he opens himself up to more scrutiny by publicly saying he wants no part in an incredibly tough rivalry that so many people likely still want to see concluded.
Because let’s be honest, nothing is settled between Israel Adesanya and Alex Pereira in the UFC as long as the series is tied at 1-1.
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