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Israel Adesanya plans to drown Marvin Vettori at UFC and FOX 29 and ‘see how hard that head is’

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GLENDALE, Ariz. — Even before his spectacular Octagon debut, Israel Adesanya knew he wanted to fight UFC on FOX 29 foe Marvin Vettori.

Adesanya, a decorated kickboxer who cemented himself as a blue-chip middleweight prospect with his February romp over Rob Wilkinson, indicated Thursday at UFC on FOX 29 media day that he was given a choice of opponents for the April 14 event and selected Vettori, partly because of the Italian’s youth and gameness, but also partly because Adesanya claimed the two up-and-comers crossed paths last year in Las Vegas — and the exchange left a bad taste in Adesanya’s mouth.

“The weird thing is so far, my two UFC opponents, I’ve kinda picked them before they already got presented to me,” Adesanya told MMA Fighting. “Because Rob (Wilkinson), he was an AFC champion in Australia, and then when I got that belt, he started talking sh*t about little boys fighting for his old toys. Then at (UFC) 219 in Vegas, the last show of last year, I was in the MGM walking through, and I happened to see Marvin and his crew walking through as well. Out of respect, I always just, you know, ‘Hey, good fight.’ And he just kinda gave me this weird look, and I just didn’t like the energy.

“I was like, ‘What the f*ck?’ Then I talked to [my coach], ‘I want to fight that guy.’ He looks at me, that’s my coach, he’s like, ‘Huh.’ I was like, ‘No, I want to fight him.’ Then when it came down to it, there was the option right there. I think the last two [options offered by the UFC] were him versus a guy he fought, this older guy, striker. And for me, I just felt, I don’t want to look like I’m just picking on the old dogs. He’s young, he’s tough. Like I said, he’s got a f*cking marble head that can take shots.

“I want to test that, see how hard that head is.”

Adesanya, 28, emerged on the scene at UFC 221 with a sublime second-round knockout over Wilkinson. The victory garnered “The Last Stylebender” a Performance of the Night bonus and pushed Adesanya’s perfect MMA record to 12-0, with all 12 victories coming by way of knockout or TKO. It also opened eyes to Adesanya’s potential as a future star on the rise in the 185-pound division, helped by the Nigerian-born fighter’s confidence on the mic.

Such confidence both inside the cage and out is uncommon for a new UFC fighter, and could very well rub some veteran fighters the wrong way. So it’s not surprising that Adesanya said he already had his next opponent for after UFC on FOX 29 picked out, based on another run-in he had with a middleweight Thursday morning at the fighter hotel in downtown Phoenix. Adesanya declined to reveal the name of his mystery adversary, stating only that he first needed to deal with Vettori before he could shift his focus elsewhere.

And make no mistake, Vettori is a tough out. The 24-year-old Italian prospect is 2-1-1 over his four UFC appearances but has flashed signs of the well-rounded and gritty style that led him to be one of his country’s most promising up-and-comers.

Speaking Thursday to reporters, Vettori said he did not remember his supposed UFC 219 exchange with Adesanya and generally laughed off the hype surrounding the kickboxer. He promised to show Adesanya a different level of skill than “The Last Stylebender” has seen before in MMA — but when asked if Vettori was on his level, Adesanya just chuckled.

“No, no,” Adesanya said. “I mean, he reckons. In the Countdown, he was all, ‘There’s levels to this striking game, man, and this guy has got a lot of holes in his game.’ I’m like, well, okay, cool, I have holes in my game. Take a step in, and before you realize, it’s too late. It’s a trap. You can’t get out. You’re drowning. It’s like, ‘Oh sh*t. I shouldn’t have jumped in this hole.’ So I welcome him to try and step in the holes in my game and see what happens.”

Although he sports a combat sports résumé that features over 80 total wins, Adesanya took the slow road to MMA. He spent six years perfecting his craft on the regional scene before finally making the leap to the UFC last winter. Given his background though, and his confident style, Adesanya knows there will be questions about his aptitude in the grappling and wrestling sides of the game, and he looks forward to answering them.

“We took our time to get to the UFC because we wanted to be able to face the best, the top 10, top five, straight away,” Adesanya said. “So I didn’t just come here like, ‘Oh, I’m here to just, here I am, gonna take part.’ Nah. I’m coming to dominate. So we came ready, and I’ve been working on everything for years. Like, everything. So my last fight, I kept on saying that wasn’t just an eight-week training camp, it was an eight-year training camp. We never really stopped. We keep going, and people will find out. You just have to find someone to keep me down for long enough to see what my ground game’s about.”

In the meantime, Adesanya will head into UFC on FOX 29 as one of the most intriguing figures on the card — and if the moment calls for it, he may have to claim his territory again, just as he did after his UFC 221 blowout of Wilkinson.

“I don’t know, it might need a fresh coat. It might need a fresh coat of dog piss in the ring,” Adesanya said.

“If I feel the need to, if I feel like I can’t really smell my scent as much anymore, then I might have to lift my leg up real quick.”