Israel Adesanya has definitively cemented himself as the best middleweight in the UFC after 10 consecutive wins in the division, including five victories in title fights. But who does he consider the second-best fighter at 185 pounds?
It’s a tougher question to answer that you might imagine, especially considering the way he has torn through his competition while beating numerous fighters inside rankings. That said, Adesanya is willing to put rivalry aside to give credit where credit is due to the man he’s about to face at UFC 271 — even if he throws a little shade at the same time.
“Let me think, the second-best middleweight — it’s not a close second, I’ll tell you that,” Adesanya told MMA Fighting. “It’s a long way down. But right now it would be [Robert] Whittaker because of what he’s done in his last three fights.
“Credit to him, so right now it would be Whittaker. But it’s more than a few steps down the ladder.”
Considering Adesanya demolished Whittaker in their first meeting, he’s got every reason to feel like he’s head and shoulders above his competition, especially if the former middleweight champion really is No. 2 in the division.
Adesanya has also earned a pair of wins over Marvin Vettori, he’s taken out Paulo Costa inside two rounds, and needed even less time to dispatch Derek Brunson.
Based upon those kinds of results, Adesanya has every reason to feel like he’s that much superior than the rest of the fighters competing at 185 pounds, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Definitely set myself apart from the pack because I’m the alpha,” Adesanya said. “[I’m] the big dog in the yard. I’m not the new dog in the yard anymore, I’m the big dog in the yard. So yeah, I love the position that I’m in. I call the shots, as I should.
“I like where I’m sitting, but the same time being the alpha, there’s always people hunting you, trying to come for your spot. So I stay strapped and I stay wary. That’s one of the things that keeps me on point so I never get complacent.”
As he approaches his second straight rematch, Adesanya knows the pitfalls that can trap fighters when they think that the race is already won.
The last time they met in 2019, Adesanya was like a sniper picking and choosing his shots as he decimated the aggressive attack coming from Whittaker, who was swinging with bad intentions behind every punch thrown.
On paper, it was nearly a flawless victory from start to finish. But perhaps that’s what separates Adesanya from so many of his contemporaries, because he wasn’t satisfied, and he’s looking to do even better on Saturday night.
“It’s a challenge for myself to do it more decisively,” Adesanya said. “Because the last time, I kind of got wild and crazy in there and I out crazied him. He was blitzing at me, trying to lunge, and I was like let me match that energy. I called an audible. We didn’t even use the game plan.
“So now I want to execute him. I want to execute the game plan in a fashion that’s clean. That five nil work. It’s like on the ground, on the feet, on the fence, he couldn’t do sh*t to me. He just accepts that I’m the better fighter.”
If he’s able to beat Whittaker a second time, it’s likely that Adesanya will be staring down another potential rematch if Brunson is able to get past Jared Cannonier at UFC 271.
If not him, there’s fresh blood in the division coming from Sean Strickland, who just picked up his sixth win in a row last week, or maybe even Alex Pereira, the Brazilian striker who actually knocked out Adesanya in a kickboxing match back in 2017.
Whether it’s old foes or new talent standing across the octagon from him, Adesanya has already done plenty to separate himself from everybody coming after him at 185 pounds.
Still, he’s not satisfied, and while he appreciates whatever compliments come his way, he prefers to just keep working hard to ensure nobody ever gets the chance to surpass him.
“They throw that word around me too much — legend,” Adesanya said. “Like, ‘Oh, you’re a legend,’ and my response every time is, not yet, one day. ‘No, man, you’re a legend.’ One day. I don’t feel like I’m there yet.
“I know what I’ve done is legendary. I’ve done some legendary things and had some legendary moments that will live forever in this game, in combat sports and sports in general, but I’m not done. I feel like I’m still in the stride of my prime. I’m going to keep working to express myself as the artist that I am.”
When it comes to the legacy he wants to leave behind, Adesanya refuses to compare himself to anybody else, which is why he never gets caught up in the debate about who is the greatest of all-time.
He’s never offended when somebody touts Anderson Silva as the best middleweight in history any more than he pats himself on the back his name gets mentioned in that same regard.
When it’s all said and done, Adesanya is confident he’ll be proud of his entire résumé, but he’s far from finished adding to his long list of accomplishments.
“Just being on the right path that I’m on right now [will make me legendary],” Adesanya said. “Doing what I’m doing. Taking out the names that I’m taking out. Lapping the division. Going back up and doing another side mission at 205 [pounds], accomplishing that side mission. Things like that will make me legendary.
“But it’s not just about that. I guess the people that I inspire along the way — I kind of want people who watch me fight and know he fought everyone, he never ducked nobody. Let it be said, I never ducked anyone. I called all the toughest guys out. Just keep doing what I’m doing and I’ll get there.”