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Israel Adesanya excited to ‘solve puzzle’ of Kelvin Gastelum’s ‘Mexican style of MMA’ at UFC 236

If all goes right for Israel Adesanya, he could see UFC gold wrapped around his waist just 14 months into his UFC career. But standing in his way on his path to glory is the surging Kelvin Gastelum, who meets Adesanaya for the interim middleweight title at UFC 236 in April.

In his last contest, fans witnessed Adesanya (16-0) dismantle former champion Anderson Silva in the main event of UFC 234 in February. Gastelum (15-3, 1 NC), on the other hand, watched from the crowd after his scheduled title fight was called off after champion Robert Whittaker was rushed to the hospital. So with Whittaker still recovering from a hellacious hernia, UFC officials pulled the trigger on booking the interim title fight.

As for how he views Gastelum’s style inside the Octagon, Adesanya had one very specific phrasing for his Hispanic counterpart.

“Kelvin Gastelum, there’s many ways I can classify his style,” Adesanya told Luke Thomas during an appearance on The MMA Hour. “I like it. He’s improved. One thing I can say is that he’s improved over his run in the UFC from The Ultimate fighter and now being a contender. But his style? It’s very Mexican. You have the Mexican style of boxing, and he has a Mexican style of MMA, like smart Mexican style. He doesn’t just brawl or look for wars. He’s calculated when he approaches the game.

“But, again, they haven’t fought anyway like me, they haven’t seen anyone like me. It’s the same rhetoric, but when I say it it’s not just talk. I’m speaking because it’s facts. None of them have seen someone like me. So, I’m looking forward to this test. I even said [Gastelum] was going to lose to Robert Whittaker and I was going to staredown Robert Whittaker in the Octagon. So, I think [Gastelum] is the easier fight out of the both of them. So, I’d rather get this one out of the way and then take on Robert next [fight]. “

When asked to elaborate on what he meant by “Mexican style,” the Kiwi-Nigerian paused to collect his thoughts as he looked for the words to describe Gastelum’s unique skillset

“Boxing heavy, he likes to use his hands. His kicks? He’s not so good with kicks. Maybe he could get better on low kicks. A good tip for Kelvin: work on your low kicks,” Adesanya said. “But, yeah, boxing heavy, Lucha Libre, I know he can wrestle. He’s probably some NCAA something-something from America. He’s a 10th planet black belt, I’m pretty sure.

“But yeah, the Mexican style, the way he moves, the way he feints, he even has a bit of a karate thing too lately. Maybe that’s how he starts off. I know it’s him and [UFC flyweight champion Henry] Cejudo because they’re buddy buddy, so they might have some secret weapon they’re dong with some karate or taekwondo or whatever because of the way they stand and start the fight. But with Cejudo, he’s able to keep that going throughout the fight. With Gastelum he kind of fades and goes back to his natural movement when he stops faking the karate sh*t. It’s a good puzzle to solve and I can’t wait. This is what I do, I solve puzzles every single time.”

While Adesanya was correct in Gastelum’s wrestling pedigree, his upcoming foe never actually made the jump to the NCAA mats. Instead, the 2009 Arizona state high school wrestling champion chose to pursue a full-time career in MMA. But, even without the college accolades, Adesanya knows he has a tall task against Gastelum when the two are finally locked inside the Octagon. Too bad, it’s nothing he hasn’t seen before.

“With [Gastelum], I feel he’s going to be one of the hardest, not the hardest, but one of the hardest because of the troubles he presents,” Adesanya said. “But his wrestling, I haven’t seen too much of it lately because he’s been knocking everyone out and standing and banging. But with him, he’ll have to go back to his wrestling because he knows everyone has failed with me. The wrestling begins before you even engage in the clinch, I’ve said this already. This is one thing people don’t know, wrestling begins on the feet with the stand up.

“Look at the stats. I’m what, like a nine inch reach on him, like a seven inch height advantage? I tower over him. So, for him to even get close to clinch me, he has to get past my striking. Even if he wants to wrestle straight away, because he might want to bum rush me...they feel uncomfortable. There’s a point in the Brad Tavares fight where I scrambled his brain from a little sequence. It was like feint-feint-feint and I forced him to throw his left hand because he was southpaw. Things like that, I make them second guess themselves. I feel like I’m going to do that against Kelvin. Even if he think he wants to wrestle me, I feel I’m going to make him second guess himself and then he’s going to panic and I’m gong to keep picking him off and he’ll fall.”

For Adesanya, his upcoming title fight birthed from one of the most meteoric rises even seen in the UFC. Making his debut against in February 2018 with TKO over Rob Wilkinson, “The Last Stylebender” followed this up with victories over Marvin Vettori, Tavares, Derek Brunson and Silva. Oh yeah, this all happened in just under 12 months.

But even if he does emerge victorious against Gastelum and leaves the Octagon with a shiny new belt around his waist, Adesanya already knows how critics will respond and the hate that inevitably awaits him.

“For me, I don’t want to say [beating Gastelum] doesn’t mean anything because it’s beating another warrior from another part of the world,” Adesanya said. “But, after I beat him, guess what? They’re going to say the same sh*t: ‘He hasn’t fought this guy yet or he hasn’t fought this guy yet.’ When I get the belt, they’ll say the same thing. When I defend the belt multiple times, they’ll keep talking sh*t. So what does it say about me? It could say a lot. I just want to get this one done and keep progressing forward. It’ll put some people on notice and I’ll probably get some new fans when I beat him. People like ‘Okay fine I’m on the bandwagon now because you beat Kelvin.’ But I don’t care. I don’t care what people say. I just want to keep fighting and winning.”

But actually holding the UFC championship, interim or otherwise, has to mean something for Adesanya right? Well, not as much as fans would think.

“I’ve said this on record,” Adesanya said. “F*ck the belt. It’s just a trinket you collect along the way. At least when it’s said and done, I can say I was an interim champion and the unified champion as well. Everything just makes for a good story so I’m not really flustered about interim or real. It’s just a belt. It looks looks good on black skin. I wear gold all of the time. I collect gold like a magpie. A magpie is a bird that collects shiny things. It’s a black and white bird and they like shiny things.”

Adesanya and Gastelum will finally lock horns in the co-main event of UFC 236 inside the State Farm Arena in Atlanta on April 13.

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