UFC 290 was, by practically all accounts, a perfect night for the UFC. Even, for those that might want to nonetheless count its blemishes. Not only did fans get treated to a masterful performance in the main event, and an epic war in the co-main, they saw a new title challenger formed when Dricus du Plessis knocked out former champion Robert Whittaker. All taking place in front of one of America’s most powerful men, Donald Trump. The kind of night built straight out of Dana White’s fantasies.
Packed right along with it all was a heated verbal exchange inside the Octagon, after Israel Adesanya took the stage during du Plessis’ post fight interview to deliver an emotionally and racially charged message to his future opponent.
“Relax, relax, relax,” Adesanya told security staff as he approached du Plessis in the Octagon. “This is my African brother right here. Let’s go, n—a. What’s up, b—ch. Let’s go n—a, yeah n—a! What’s up n—a? What the fuck you gonna do, n—a? Yeah, my African brotha. What’s up n—a?”
“I’ll tell you one thing,” Adesanya continued. “I don’t need a DNA test. I don’t need a 36 and Me [sic] to know where I’m from. If I do a 26 and Me [sic] it’ll say I’m from Nigeria. Do a 26 and Me [sic[ DNA test, it’ll show you where you’re from. I will show you where you’re from.”
The Adesanya/Du Plessis feud was always going to end up here
Adesanya’s tirade was always going to be the inevitable point these two men arrived at. Whether du Plessis intended to make his points about Africans in the UFC one of race or not, he stirred a pot bubbling with a long and ugly history of segregation, violence, and pain behind it. His points, mostly blather about living and training on the continent, needled high profile fighters who had been forced to leave the places they were born, either because their families emigrated while they were still kids, or because they were escaping a crushing life of hardship and poverty all on their own.
The South African’s blanket statements have been fairly soft compared to the vitriolic reactions they bring back, but the underlying messages hit at a more difficult conversation than he’s seemed willing to have. For Adesanya, it may well be that the only way he can get ahead in this war of words is to rip off the band-aid. Make the conversation too hot to handle if ‘Stillknocks’ really is just trying to get his flowers from his hometown crowd.
In the meantime, the whole thing has made for truly high drama in a sport where trash talk often feels much more canned and stagey. The anger here couldn’t feel more real. Which means the UFC has been happy to let the fighters run with it. Something Adesanya seems perfectly prepared to do.
When asked about the in-cage showdown, and Adesanya’s choice of words, after the event, UFC president Dana White was quick to make it clear that he’s not going to stop them.
“He’s black. Who gives a s—t?” White told the assembled press after UFC 290. “I could care less. This is the fight business. Israel Adesanya can say whatever he wants to say. Who gives a sh-t? Why? Are people b—ching about that? Of course they are. Too f—king bad.”
Matt Brown agrees with Dana White
White isn’t alone in his sentiments either. At least one other longtime veteran of the fight game agrees with the UFC president’s assessment, that whatever the merits (or lack thereof) of what either Adesanya or Du Plessis are saying, the UFC is right to let them keep going at it. Nothing sells fights better than a feud, and these two have one hell of a feud going.
“With Dana specifically, like what the f—k is he supposed to do?” Brown told MMA Fighting’s The Fighter vs. The Writer podcast. “If he tried to do something every time a fighter acted out or said something the media doesn’t like or the mainstream has a problem with, he literally wouldn’t have time to do anything else in his entire [life]. He wouldn’t get anything else done.
“That’s why I think Dana is like that. He’s like you guys are talking about it. All PR is good PR. You guys are f—king talking about it. Let’s f—king go, keep saying stupid s—t. You’re not hurting anyone.”
At this point, honestly, it’s hard to disagree with Brown or White. This is a conversation that Du Plessis started, and he’s made it the backbone of his path to UFC glory. He wants to be known as something a cut above of his African peers in the world’s largest MMA promotion, celebrated for the fact that his path to success has been one that allowed him to live and train in Africa—and that makes him something special.
Presented with that story—and his own complicated relationship to national identity—Adesanya’s choices are to either let Du Plessis run the narrative: that Adesanya’s bonds to his people are more shallow. Or to force the conversation further, to push back and make Du Plessis consider how far he’s willing to take his view of things. Combat sports are a place of conflict, as long as both men are willing to keep stoking the fires they’ve lit, it wouldn’t just be paternalistic, it’d probably also be bad business for the UFC to try and stop it.
TikTok censors Dana White
Nowhere more does the reality of how poorly corporate entities handle authority come across than TikTok’s reponse to this new UFC drama. Of all the points and places for someone to start “b—ching” about this whole situation, it seems the vlogging giant has started with the UFC president himself. Fans have reported that attempts to share Dana White’s comments have resulted in posts removed from the platform, with a warning for ‘hate speech.’
For now, the war of words between Adesanya and Du Plessis is certainly ugly, and often awkward, but it’s also been a reflection of how the fight game runs and has always run. These two men, who are set to enact violence upon one another in just a few months time, have found room to actually get mad at each other in the meantime. Nothing sells a fight better than that.
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