4 Feb 2019

Israel Adesanya: The historic UFC bout that almost wasn't

1:54 pm on 4 February 2019

Rising star Israel Adesanya forced the hand of UFC boss Dana White for the chance to face veteran Anderson Silva and is now on the brink of title contention.

UFC Middleweight Israel Adesanya.

UFC Middleweight Israel Adesanya. Photo: Photosport

It's a middleweight match-up for the ages.

The master of unconventional striking Brazilian Anderson Silva versus the prodigy in Nigerian-born Kiwi Israel Adesanya.

It's a fight the 29-year-old never thought he would have in his lifetime, the chance to face the man he has long regarded his hero and who sparked his MMA dream.

The similarities between the two middleweights are uncanny. Long limbs that strike at lightning speed, the movement of both head and body to avoid hits while counter striking or transitioning with ease, a tank of fitness that can't seem to be emptied - not to mention the bravado to boot.

It's these common attributes that make this fight so intriguing, but use it as the co-main event at UFC 234 in Melbourne to the middleweight title fight between Kiwi Robert Whittaker and American Kelvin Gastelum? Now we're talking.

"Look at his resume he's the longest reigning champ in the UFC, he's one of the best fighters in the world across all combat sports and that's what attracted to me to fight with the guy I consider the greatest ever," said Adesanya.

"At first it was like oh s**t this is crazy! But now I'm over it. I have been influenced by him heavily, so I feel like I'm the guy that will bring out the best Anderson.

"And if you don't want to fight at the top of the game what are you doing here you should retire, I can help him with that."

The 43-year-old who has been inactive for two years has been lured to fight with a guaranteed title shot should he win. While questions remain as to whether the veteran ranked fifteenth is deserving of that chance, the way he has single-handedly shaped the middleweight division answers them.

Silva's era began in the year 2000 when Adesanya was 11 years old. Silva became middleweight champion in 2006 and up until recently was the longest reigning champion of all time defending his belt 10 times while remaining undefeated after six years.

It's a legacy undefeated Adesanya (15-0) could only dream of which is why the heavy favourite took matters into his own hands to be part of the new piece of imminent history.

Adesanya fighting American Derek Brunson at UFC 230 at Madison Square Garden

Adesanya fighting American Derek Brunson at UFC 230 at Madison Square Garden Photo: Noah K. Murray

The UFC did not want this fight to happen, in fact, the '2018 Breakout Fighter of the Year' wasn't supposed to feature on this card at all. Adesanya was offered a spot as a backup should the main event fall through, despite his teammates Kai Kara-France and Shane Young already confirmed.

City Kickboxing head coach Eugene Bareman fought tooth and nail during "backroom deals" to be granted this fight but the UFC refused to budge. It took Adesanya to fly to Sydney in November, plead his case with UFC chief executive Dana White personally, resulting in White over-ruling his organisers decision.

"We had an inkling that this fight might be available, but the UFC wanted another fight on another card but we actively pursued this fight," said Bareman.

"We came to a point where the UFC wanted one thing and we wanted the other and sometimes negotiations get a bit tight, that's when Israel actually went to Sydney to visit Dana to plead his case for this fight on this particular card.

"I felt that if we could get Dana in front of us and show him how passionate we are we could be more convincing rather than emails and phone calls... a bit of strategy involved just like a fight."

Now the co-main event between Anderson and Adesanya is being publicised more on new broadcasting provider ESPN than the main event itself, the Melbourne card also sold out in ten minutes post its' announcement.

Although the fight is set in stone, the golden question remains - 'Will Israel Adesanya get the same opportunity as Silva to fight for the middleweight title should he win?'

Current UFC middleweight champion Kiwi Robert Whittaker

Current UFC middleweight champion Kiwi Robert Whittaker Photo: © Photosport Ltd 2016 www.photosport.nz

Bareman says it is obvious that both fighters have a lot to fight for in Melbourne, though it appears Adesanya's negotiating skills are just as strong as those he holds in the octagon.

"Anderson Silva and Israel are middleweights, we are fighting on the undercard to the guys fighting for the middleweight title - Anderson has been promised a title shot," says Bareman.

"All I'm going to say is that for people wondering what is going to happen next - I'm not going to speculate but use logic to work it out and you will get your answer, I'm not even going to wink [laughs].

"Use logic to work it out we are not focussed on that or anything to do after this fight - as you know it's a big mistake to look further down the field."

UFC 234 - 10 February at Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne:

MW title fight - Robert Whittaker v Kalvin Gastelum

Co-main event - Israel Adesanya v Anderson Silva

Featherweight bout - Shane Young v Austin Arnett

Flyweight bout - Kai Kara France v Raulian Paiva