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Israel Adesanya believes he’s No. 1 contender despite Robert Whittaker pulling out of UFC 234

UFC president Dana White said the UFC 234 fight between Israel Adesanya and Anderson Silva would be a middleweight title eliminator bout. And Adesanya is going to stick with White’s original statement — despite some chaos this weekend.

Middleweight champion Robert Whittaker pulled out of his scheduled title bout Kelvin Gastelum in the main event of UFC 234 in Melbourne, Australia due to a hernia, which needed emergency surgery. That left Gastelum without his promised title shot and he spent the card carrying around a title and proclaiming himself as the new champion.

Adesanya vs.Silva was moved to the main event and Adesanya won via unanimous decision. In Adesanya’s mind, he has now done enough to get the next title shot.

“In the long term, I’m the No. 1 contender,” Adesanya said in the post-fight press conference. “I’m the guy fighting for the belt. I don’t care. Kelvin or Rob, whoever it is. I’m fighting for the belt. Whoever has the belt, because I see Kelvin walking around with that belt and I don’t know who gave it to him. I’m fighting for the belt next — that’s all I know. I did my job, I showed up to work.”

Adesanya, 29, doesn’t care if Gastelum gets the next shot at Whittaker and then he faces the winner. But “The Last Style Bender” was pretty adamant that his next fight will be one for the gold.

“I can wait for however long I need to, because I’ve done so much for the company,” Adesanya said. “I’ve played my part. And I’m the No. 1 contender. ‘Jacare’ [Souza] can fight Kelvin. Oh, they already fought already. Get a rematch — I don’t care. I showed up to work, that’s all I know.”

Many were expecting a more thunderous performance for Adesanya against the 43-year-old legend Silva. It didn’t happen. Silva, the former longtime middleweight champion, proved more than a worthy foe and at times was able to hang physically with the man who is 14 years his junior. Adesanya said he did not want to make a mistake and be lured in by Silva’s much-chronicled shenanigans.

“I’m not stupid,” Adesanya said. “I’m not like everyone else he’s fought where he beckons them on and then I fall into the Spider’s web. … I’ve seen so many people fall for his tricks. So, I wasn’t gonna fall for his tricks again.”

After he won, Adesanya was interviewed in the cage by Jon Anik. The video screen showed Gastelum with a belt (which he borrowed from flyweight champion Henry Cejudo). The crowd booed. Adesanya told him to put it down. But the Nigerian by way of New Zealand acknowledges that Gastelum isn’t completely wrong in his thinking.

“This ain’t wrestling, this ain’t high-school wrestling,” Adesanya said. “This is MMA, this is the UFC. So, those rules don’t apply here. But … he has a point. He does have a point. But I think sit it out, fight Rob and then the winner can fight me.”

It would have been a little easier if Whittaker vs. Gastelum went down this weekend. The middleweight division would have had some clarity. Now, it’s as confusing as ever. Adesanya said it was so set that he’d be next for the winner that he was going to come into the Octagon and have a faceoff with the champion coming out of the bout.

“That was the plan with me and Dana,” Adesanya said. “So, after Kelvin and Rob would have fought, I said, ‘What happens is, I come back out.’ Not like [Daniel Cormier] and Brock Lesnar on some, I’m gonna push you, some fake WWE shit. I just wanted to stand there. Hopefully, if Rob won just face off for like 30 seconds intensely. I felt like that would have set that place on fire, hyped up the next fight straight away. If he wasn’t too hurt. Because it could have been a war, Kelvin is no joke.

“That was the plan, but unfortunately variables happen. I was the main event. Those pay-per-view points gotta go somewhere. We’ll see.”

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