PHOENIX — The bad blood simmering between UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya and Marvin Vettori reached an explosive crescendo Thursday afternoon in a rollicking and often incoherent press conference ahead of the pair’s UFC 263 rematch.
Adesanya is set to return to his old stomping grounds at 185 pounds on Saturday to defend his title following a failed attempt to win a second belt from UFC light heavyweight champion Jan Blachowicz in March. The setback marked the first loss of Adesanya’s MMA career, and it’s one Vettori reminded Adesanya of several times at Thursday’s pre-fight press event. But considering the history between the two middleweights — Adesanya defeated Vettori via split decision in April 2018 — the champion was quick to point out the difference between the ways the two have handled their most recent losses.
“I am a man – I step up even if I lost,” Adesanya said in front of a raucous crowd in Phoenix. “Even if I lost, I take it and I accept it and I move on — unlike him. He holds onto that loss to me like it’s the biggest win of his career.”
“He’s telling himself a story to convince himself of bullsh*t, because his whole character is bullsh*t and he just believes in his own bullsh*t,” said Vettori, who’s argued for the better part of four years that he should’ve been the rightful victor of his first fight with Adesanya. “That’s what it is. It’s fake to the fullest.”
“Well, I’ll tell you this thing: This weekend you won’t need the judges,” Adesanya replied. “We got (dissenting judge) Chris Lee out of there, but this weekend you won’t need the judges.”
“I can tell you the same,” Vettori responded.
“Oh no, I will show the same,” Adesanya shot back. “Trust me, do your thing. What are you going to do, try and sniff my jock? You’re going to try to sniff my jock for five rounds, but in the second round you’re going to hit the floor. You’re going to be sniffing the floor with that plastered ass nose on the left side of your face.”
Adesanya (20-1) added that he didn’t believe Vettori deserved the title shot that’s been given to him, but vowed to prove a point in the rematch nonetheless. “The Last Stylebender” said he took inspiration from the way his fellow Nigeria-born champion, Kamaru Usman, violently finished Jorge Masvidal in a rematch at UFC 261 after initially defeating Masvidal in a much more mundane effort in their first bout.
Vettori (17-4-1) has emerged as a legitimate contender at middleweight since his setback against Adesanya, racking up a 5-0 record over a run that includes wins over ranked foes Kevin Holland and Jack Hermansson. “The Italian Dream” has long expressed disgust at the scoring of his first bout with Adesanya, which saw judges Derek Cleary and Chris Hayes award the win to Adesanya, but judge Lee give the fight to Vettori. Notably, 15 of the 17 media scores on MMADecisions.com scored the bout for Adesanya.
That tension between the two middleweights was on full display Thursday, as they interrupted each other throughout the event and erupted into loud shouting matches.
“You can’t even understand the mumbling he’s saying,” Adesanya said at one point after another particularly unintelligible back and forth. “Doesn’t he look like that (character) from ‘The Goonies’?”
“What, because you think you look good?” Vettori angrily replied. “You look like a f*cking bum! Look at how you look. Look at how you dress.”
“Look at how you look!” Adesanya responded. “You look like the f*cking orc from ‘Lord of the Rings’. I’ll f*cking smash you with my shins, throw bows at your face, and make you f*cking even uglier than you are.”
Adesanya’s résumé, in particular, appeared to be a major point of contention for Vettori, as the Italian fighter consistently suggested that the champion is overrated. Adesanya is a perfect 9-0 as a middleweight in the UFC, and has authored spectacular performances over the likes of Paulo Costa, Robert Whittaker, Kelvin Gastelum, Derek Brunson and more.
Nonetheless, Vettori wasn’t impressed — and Adesanya simply wasn’t trying to hear it.
“Honestly speaking, since we last fought, you can look at the stack of people he’s fought and the stack of people I’ve fought — there’s a vast difference,” Adesanya said.
“You lost against (Yoel) Romero,” Vettori interrupted. “You lost against me. Then you lost against Blachowicz. Who did you beat? You beat Borrachinha (Paulo Costa)? And he was drunk the night before? That’s who you beat? Great, wow.”
“Who have you beaten?” Adesanya shot back. “Tell me, who have you beaten? Name three top-10 opponents you’ve beaten. Name them. Exactly. You ain’t got sh*t. I can tell you who I beat. All of you know who I beat.”
“Listen, I showed up every single f*cking time,” Vettori responded. “Just because they can’t make it to a fight with me, that ain’t my fault, man. Whoever showed up got beaten by me.”
“It’s your fault because you don’t even run your own career. I run your career,” Adesanya said. “I am the narrative in your career. I run your f*cking sh*t, b*tch.”
“You tried to ignore me, b*tch! You tried to ignore me — here I am. I’m your f*cking nightmare,” Vettori said, ripping off his sunglasses to lock eyes with Adesanya.
However that only drew a cackle from the champion.
“Look at him,” Adesanya said. “You know what that’s called? That’s called roid rage. Try me again. That ain’t caffeine — that’s roid rage, b*tch.”