Israel Adesanya is set to face former middleweight champ Anderson Silva in the co-main event of UFC 234 (Poster Credit: UFC Twitter)
Few fighters can match Israel Adesanya’s 2018 UFC resume. In just nine months, the New Zealand-based middleweight has gone from intriguing Octagon newcomer, to an undeniable force that demands to be reckoned with. And while statement-making wins over the likes of Rob Wilkinson, Marvin Vettori, Brad Tavares and Derek Brunson have added his name to the division’s title discussion, his next test will come against a now-irrelevant living legend who once possessed all that Adesanya currently desires.
In what will be just his fifth UFC appearance, Adesanya will face former middleweight champion Anderson Silva–“The Last Stylebender’s” Octagon idol and the man who many still see as the best fighter in MMA history. Set for February’s UFC 234 in Melbourne, Australia, this fight won’t feature the top two middleweights on the planet. But it will represent a rare moment as Silva–once the sport’s most captivating and undeniably dominant champion, meets Adesanya–arguably the most intriguing newcomer since Conor McGregor and the man who many see as the “Next Anderson Silva”.
On paper, this fight doesn’t make much sense for either combatant. After earning his fourth straight win and third “Performance Of The Night” bonus with November’s opening-round, knockout win over Brunson, Adesanya was rumored to be headed towards a middleweight showdown with revitalized contender Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza. The potential impact of that matchup on the division’s title discussion was obvious. But UFC president Dana White upped the ante in order to entice Silva by offering him a chance to reclaim the belt with a win over Adesanya, and clearly, there’s a deeper significance to a bout between “The Last Stylebender” and “The Spider”.
That significance begins with Adesanya’s admitted admiration of Silva. According to the undefeated middleweight, facing the former 185-pound king is his destiny, and during a recent interview with “The MMA Hour’s” Luke Thomas, Adesanya spoke about the indirect education he received from one of the sport’s very best.
“I’m a guy that started off modeling my style after his [Silva’s] because he’s a skinny black guy like me, and I look up to him,” said Adesanya last Monday on The MMA Hour. “So I was like, if you want to fight your clone, you can fight me. But I’m better than your clone, because I’ve studied every single thing you’ve done, every [expletive] move you make. I know when he’s going to chill, I know when he’s going to attack, I know when he’s offensive, I know when he wants to blitz.”
Adesanya’s rise has seen him skyrocket in popularity in his local New Zealand, making the cover of M2 men’s lifestyle magazine (Photo Credit: Israel Adesanya Instagram)
Although initially hesitant to accept a fight with Adesanya, the opportunity is definitely an unexpected blessing for Silva. After losing the middleweight title to Chris Weidman in 2013, Silva went on to test positive for performance-enhancing drugs, which cost him a 2015 win over Nick Diaz, and as a result, served a one-year suspension that kept him out of action until he suffered a 2016 loss to rival Michael Bisping.
Since, we’ve seen Silva enter the Octagon on just two occasions. In July 2016, the former middleweight king stepped-in to face Daniel Cormier when Jon Jones was pulled from UFC 200 for failing a drug test. At the age of 41, Silva was a shadow of his former self and dropped an uneventful unanimous decision to Cormier. But the Brazilian bounced back with a win over Brunson of his own at UFC 208 in early 2017, and when coupled with the mystique that still surrounds Silva–to a lesser degree, that victory is enough to quiet the many critics currently claiming that he’s no longer qualified to face a dangerous young contender of Adesanya’s caliber.
Much like many of the sport’s best fighters, Adesanya truly believes he’s following a pre-determined path to Octagon greatness, and failure just isn’t an option. At a flawless 15-0 as a pro, including a 4-0 mark in the UFC, it’s clear that his recent success is further fueling his grand ambitions.
“When my movie comes out, when the movie of my life comes out, this is going to be a [expletive] pivotal moment,” said Adesanya. “This is going to be that moment in that–you can’t write this [expletive]. Seriously, I get to [expletive] beat the guy that actually put me on in the game, unknowingly. It’s the perfect story.”
“I’ll tell you this right now; This means more to me than the [expletive] world title,” said Adesanya. “I’m getting choked up right now even thinking about it. Honestly, this [expletive] means the world to me. ”
Now 43, Silva won’t be expected to handle his unintentional protege with the same ease that he once finished Forrest Griffin with when he meets Adesanya on the same card that features a middleweight title fight between current king Robert Whittaker and challenger Kelvin Gastelum. But Silva will be expected to be the best version of himself that he can be at this point in his career when he crosses paths with the dangerous middleweight who possesses the potential to one day be his Octagon equal.