UFC middleweight Israel Adesanya isn’t thrilled by his fifth undisputed title defense at UFC 276. But that doesn’t change the way he feels about his work – or the critics who say he delivered a snoozer against Jared Cannonier.
After five tactical, largely lackluster rounds against Cannonier, Adesanya admitted he had an “off-night” at the T-Mobile Arena. The champ’s coach, Eugene Bareman, said those closest to him could tell he was not in peak form.
“And still, I still f***** him up,” Adesanya said. “It was in the fight, maybe when I couldn’t find my power shots, my kicks. ... He was adjusting well. It wasn’t just me versus him. It was him versus my team.”
Just as important as the belt was to Adesanya and the chance to beat his selected opponent Cannonier was a matchup of their coaches, Bareman and Cannonier lead John Crouch. It was, he said, “a battle of the gameplans.”
In the end, the crowd in Las Vegas didn’t like the game plan – or what happened when it went south. Adesanya, though, had no time for his haters. Just as he batted aside air traffic that competed with his microphone at the press conference, he said people who didn’t like his performance, politely put, weren’t important.
“F*** them,” he said. “They’ve been here since 3 p.m., they’re all drunk, they don’t know what real fighting is. I’ve said this, the greats, they all get to this point.”
There Adesanya has a point. Previously dominant champions like Georges St-Pierre and Anderson Silva, his predecessor, reached the point where many of their title defenses weren’t that competitive. The less competitive they got, the louder grew the accusations that they were fighting safe, point fighting, or just boring.
Adesanya sat in the cheap seats before he took over the UFC and knows this cycle.
“GSP, people would boo him, and I’m like, ‘What the f*** are you guys watching? You dumb f****. [Muhammad] Ali, Floyd Mayweather, same thing. You get to this point where, like, you’re so great, people just want to see you fall. They just want to see you fall, no matter what. If it’s not like a show-out, spectacular performance, then it’s like, ah, he’s not even that good.
“But trust, Jared knows I’m a good fighter. He knows I’m a great fighter, and I gave him the same credit as well.”
There will be another chance for Adesanya to demonstrate his greatness when he attempts to avenge a pair of kickboxing losses – one by brutal knockout – to Alex Pereira, who knocked out Sean Strickland on the UFC 276 main card.
Strickland, the unofficial comedy hero of the UFC 276 presser, might have stolen the initiative from Pereira with a win. Instead, he wound up on a highlight reel, and Adesanya re-focused on the man that beat him.
“That’s the next fight,” Adesanya said. “I saw his fight. It was a good fight, but Sean Strickland should have focused on his job, like I told him to. How soon [will I fight him], we’ll find out.
“I’m facing a guy who’s beat me in kickboxing, and now, he’s still chasing me, because he knows I‘m the king, and he wants to try and get that away from me. You guys see what happens when my back’s against the wall.”