Israel Adesanya barely had a chance to celebrate his win over Robert Whittaker to become undisputed UFC middleweight champion before he started surveying the list of potential opponents for his next title defense.
With seven fights already on his UFC resume in under two years’ time, Adesanya has been one of the most active fighters on the entire roster and he has no plans to change his schedule now that he’s champion.
In fact, the 30-year-old Nigerian wants to fight again as early as February or March – if the UFC can find him a willing opponent.
Originally, Adesanya expected to face hulking Brazilian Paulo Costa, who earned the right to call himself No. 1 contender when he got past middleweight wrecking machine Yoel Romero in August. Unfortunately, Costa recently had to undergo bicep surgery and is expected to be sidelined until at least April 2020.
Never one to wait, Adesanya isn’t going to delay his plans to wait for Costa, though he’s still hopeful that fight will happen one day soon.
“I guess he wasn’t ready to fight,” Adesanya said of Costa in an interview with MMA Fighting. “If he wanted to fight, he would have made sure to do the right things to be in shape already to fight. I don’t pull out. My pullout game is weak.
“Unfortunately for him, he might miss his shot forever if he doesn’t climb his way back up the ranks.”
Adesanya’s rivalry with Costa stretches back further than his current title reign, but the two top middleweights have never crossed paths inside the Octagon.
Costa’s win over Romero seemingly cemented his claim to the next title shot as he moved to 13-0 in his career with five straight wins in the UFC, including four by knockout.
While it may not end up as his next fight, Adesanya definitely intends on settling the score with Costa once he’s healthy enough to compete again.
“That’s why I said I want to fight homeboy Paulo Costa because I want to get him and I want to beat him before USADA gets him,” Adesanya said. “I like the challenge of that.”
“100 percent I’m looking at him,” Adesanya said about Cannonier. “He’s a beast in the division. He’s the dark horse in the division. He’s the guy everyone is sleeping on but you can’t sleep on him because you’ll get put to sleep.
“I think he’s the guy, the second most dangerous guy in the division behind myself. I look forward to fighting him after his next fight.”
Skill for skill, Costa and Cannonier both present their own issues. But the two fights couldn’t be farther apart when it comes to the bad blood shared with Adesanya.
He rarely bites his tongue when it comes to the disdain he shares for Costa, which is why that fight is so appealing to him. When it comes to Cannonier, Adesanya doesn’t have a bad word to say about the American, though he’s sure a fight between them would sell just as much, but for vastly different reasons.
“I was looking forward to my next fight, because that would have sold itself,” Adesanya explained about a potential showdown with Costa. “Because he would try to trash talk me in his broken English, and I would embarrass him on the mic, and then eventually I’d embarrass him on the mat. So that was already set in stone that it was going to be glorious.
“But a guy like Cannonier, I don’t have to. The fight sells itself because of the skill set, and just people want to watch me. Something about me that people just want to watch me get my ass kicked maybe. So they’ll be tuning in either way.”
While an opponent remains in question, Adesanya can be certain about one aspect of his next fight and that’s the location.
After wowing more than 50,000 fans in Australia to unify the middleweight title back in October, the Adesanya road show will be returning to the United States when he fights next in 2020.
“I do want it to be in America,” Adesanya explained. “A lot of people want it to be in New Zealand, but I feel Dan Hooker should be the next guy to headline in New Zealand. I can take over the United States.
“I’ll come here, maybe Las Vegas, maybe Houston, maybe Staples Center [in Los Angeles]. We’ll see. We’re talking right now.”