Israel Adesanya picked up the biggest win of his MMA career on Saturday and his boss took notice.
At the UFC 230 post-fight press conference, company president Dana White was asked several questions about the unbeaten Adesanya’s impressive victory over Derek Brunson. Adesanya, who has now won all four of his UFC appearances, was tasked with opening the main card at Madison Square Garden, and he did so by knocking off one of the middleweight division’s top-10 contenders.
“Israel has been a guy who has been on the rise here for a minute, but I really felt like tonight was his first big test,” White said. “His opponent hits like a truck and wrestles really well, and Madison Square Garden, opening the show, man, did he deliver. Many people — including me — think this kid is the future, and he went out and put a stamp on it tonight.”
Adesanya made his Octagon debut earlier this year with a second-round TKO victory over Rob Wilkinson at UFC 221. He followed that up with a split decision win over Marvin Vettori that raised some questions about how well-rounded Adesanya was, but he then picked up a third UFC victory by dominating veteran Brad Tavares in July.
An accomplished kickboxer in addition to his previous MMA exploits, “The Last Stylebender” came into the UFC with considerable fanfare and White has been exceedingly pleased with what he’s seen so far.
“The minute I saw this kid, I was like, holy shit this is really good, I like this,” White said. “Then you hear him talk, I like that too. He’s the whole package. He is very ambitious, I would like him to pump the brakes a little bit. This guy wants to f*cking fight everybody right now and he wants to fight every month, which I love.
“Listen, you want to become a big star? Keep fighting. If you’re a young guy who’s healthy enough to fight all the time, I absolutely advise it. Do it. What you don’t want to do is put on a great performance and disappear because people forget real quickly. But yeah, I like him very, very much and I don’t want to move him as fast as he wants to be moved, so he and I will get together and find a happy medium.”
That happy medium could potentially involve a matchup with legendary former middleweight champion Anderson Silva, who Adesanya has drawn comparisons to; former champion Luke Rockhold; or possibly a short-notice booking in place of current champion Robert Whittaker or Kelvin Gastelum should one of them bow out of their title fight that is rumored to be taking place in February.
Presented with those names, White coyly avoided giving a straight answer, only saying that nothing is set in stone yet and that he has someone in particular already in mind for Adesanya. What he could say for certain is that Adesanya’s win over Brunson all but guaranteed that a marquee matchup will be next for him.
“He came out tonight and put the stamp on it,” White said. “He came out and really looked good tonight. If you look at how good he’s looked in his other fights, he didn’t even finish. He finished Derek Brunson tonight. It’s a big deal.”