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Nigeria’s Israel Adesanya Goes For History in Saturday’s ‘lucrative’ Middleweight UFC 271 Title Defence Deal

  • Israel Adesanya can become the first UFC fighter to defend their title four times in the calendar year.

UFC 271 fight week was always going to be about Israel Adesanya. 

Yes, it’s also about middleweight challenger Robert Whittaker — the former champ who Adesanya overthrew for the title in 2019 — but it’s the champion from Nigeria by way of his longtime home of New Zealand whose magnetism is drawing eyeballs in the combat sports world.

But now the fight itself, among the most anticipated contests in Adesanya’s MMA career, shares some of the attention. This week, it was announced that the champ has signed what his management team, Paradigm Sports, referred to in a statement Wednesday as “one of the most lucrative multi-fight deals in [UFC] history.” 

What that amounts to is anyone’s guess, as the 32-year-old Adesanya (21-1, 15 finishes) and his team have been vague with the slightest of details.

“That’s for me to know and for you guys to stay tuned,” Adesanya repeated in response to any questions about his new pact when speaking with The Post via phone on Thursday. These questions including how the effect of his deal could trickle down and help other fighters — something Adesanya mentioned earlier this week when speaking with media members — and whether the deal reached seven figures per fight, rarefied air in the UFC.

Not that the thoughtful, quick-witted Adesanya is typically shy with what’s going on, but fight mode clearly is settling in ahead of Saturday night’s main event at Toyota Center in Houston. The contract is done, but the second fight with Whittaker (23-5, 14 finishes) is not yet won.

Whatever happened when they last met — a second-round Adesanya knockout that followed a flash knockdown just before the horn in the first frame — is in the past. Rematches tend not to play out in similar fashion to the first fight.

That’s exactly what Adesanya is counting on, drawing a little inspiration from Anderson Silva, the middleweight GOAT himself, whose path and skills frequently come up in comparison to the current 185-pound king. At the advent of Silva’s historic 2,457-day title run, The Spider ran through respected champion Rich Franklin to claim the belt. The two met a year later, with another Silva tour de force of a win via hellish clinch knees.

Even Adesanya admitted the parallels between him and Silva, and Whittaker and Franklin, struck him earlier this week.

Robert Whittaker and punches Israel Adesanya
Robert Whittaker and punches Israel Adesanya will battle it out once again in a rematch.

“I was like, huh, this feels like Anderson Silva [vs.] Rich Franklin when he beat him the second time worse than the first time,” Adesanya said. “Rich Franklin, one of the greatest middleweights of all time, he handled the clinch a little better at first, ’cause he realized that was his biggest mistake in the first fight. But then, eventually, he just succumbed to the power of the clinch, so I feel like it’s gonna be similar in this fight. 

“[Whittaker] thinks he’s gonna handle my grappling or whatever, or take me down, all this stuff. But then, he’s gonna be in for a rude awakening come that time.”

On the feet, Adesanya draws raves for his striking arsenal and the way he slips and counters — again, not dissimilar from Silva. Before the first fight, Whittaker’s capable wrestling was expected to factor in. It didn’t, and the New Zealand-born Australian paid the price with the loss of his title. 

If tactics change, and Whittaker aims to take the fight to the floor, the idea doesn’t seem to bother the champion.

“I hope so, but I’m prepared for anything,” Adesanya said. “I kind of want to show off my [grappling]. This is a language that I speak quite fluently. I’m not an expert, but I speak it very well. So I look forward to him trying to speak my lingo with me.” Will Israel Adesanya win his UFC 271 rematch? Be the first to comment.

If Adesanya has his way, this could be the first of as many as four title defenses in 2022, an unprecedented accomplishment. Only six fighters in UFC history have made even three successful title defenses in a calendar year, most recently a year ago by current welterweight champion Kamaru Usman.

Such a feat would require both the cooperation of the champion and promotion, and health plays a factor. The UFC rarely attempts to schedule four title fights for the same division in the same year. But Adesanya won’t rule out the aspirational goal.

 “Anything can happen,” Adesanya says. “The UFC is a crazy organization. I love it. … We can make s–t happen.”

Stay tuned.

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