Put that one straight into the scrapbook of Israel Adesanya’s career highlights. His headline bout against Anderson Silva at UFC 234 in Melbourne might not have finished how many expected, but he faced — and beat — the greatest middleweight in UFC history, as Adesanya lived out a dream.
As he put it: “For a basketballer, this is like playing against Michael Jordan. This is it for me.”
The 29-year-old Kiwi remained unbeaten in MMA with a unanimous decision win over Silva at a sold out Rod Laver Arena, with the two putting on a show in the Brazilian’s first ever fight Down Under.
After City Kickboxing teammates Kai Kara-France and Shane Young took decision wins earlier on the card, Adesanya followed suit in a showdown of two wild styles.
The influences Silva has had on Adesanya were clear during the fight, with similarities between the approaches of the two obvious to see. Adesanya started the fight well and landed some heavy shots in the first round. Silva came back in the second, but a strong third round was enough for a comfortable Adesanya victory. Silva’s durability surprised, as Adesanya couldn’t knock him down despite planting some good shots on the Brazilian’s chin.
“It was just like fighting anyone else, but there were certain things that he was doing that I have seen so many times, that he has caught other people with, like with his hands down, the bounce, calling me on to the cage with his back against the fence, but not me,” Adesanya said. “The energy was cool, it was an honour to share the space with him, I can’t describe it. As a kid, as a fan, it was cool. In the long-term, I am definitely getting the belt next.”
The fight was named fight of the night, with both athletes earning a US$50,000 bonus. With the win, Adesanya earns a title shot, however it remains to be seen whether that will be the next bout for the middleweight title.
Current champion Robert Whittaker was supposed to headline the card in a title defence against Kelvin Gastelum, but had to withdraw hours before the card due to a twisted bowel and a hernia. With the bout scratched, Gastelum showed up to the arena wearing the middleweight title over his shoulder, claiming he won by default. There was no official word on whether a fight to establish an interim title holder in Whittaker’s absence will be made.