UFC 276: Israel Adesanya 1-on-1 with Kevin Iole

Yahoo Sports' Kevin Iole talks to UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya ahead of his title defense against Jared Cannonier at UFC 276 on Saturday in Las Vegas. Adesanya recaps his last win over Robert Whittaker, shares his thoughts on his teammate Alexander Volkanovski's third fight versus Max Holloway and previews the Cannonier fight — "I'm going to f*** him up."

Video Transcript

KEVIN IOLE: Hey everybody. I'm Kevin Iole, UFC 276 on July 2. It is going to be an amazing card. The UFC has been on an incredible run with these great cards. UFC 275 was wild, UFC fight night in Austin was really crazy. UFC 276 on paper has some great fights, and none of them are better than the middleweight title fight at the head of the card.

My next guest, the champion Israel Adesanya against Jared Cannonier. Izzy man, it seems like every time I talk to you, one tougher fight after the other. But Jared Cannonier, boy, that's a really tough match-up for you.

ISRAEL ADESANYA: Yeah definitely. We don't take him lightly. But at the same time, as I don't underestimate him, I don't overestimate him. I understand he's human. He bleeds. And I know what I'm capable of.

KEVIN IOLE: I want to add, the last fight with Robert Whittaker maybe, did something for you mentally. I know you were confident, right, but a lot of people talked about, well if you can get Izzy to the ground, and if you get him to the ground, he's not the same fighter. And Whittaker really worked hard to try to take you down, and he wasn't able to successfully do that. Do you think that performance, A, kind of solidified in your own mind what you knew from the gym, and B, do you think it changes the way opponents will attack you because they saw that?

ISRAEL ADESANYA: A, yeah it did solidify what I already kind of knew, when it comes to the him on the ground. And their strength, a lot of these guys, their strength and B, yeah I think it's going to change the tactic of how these guys approach me, because, I mean he tried to copy the first time the Kelvin Gastelum game plan. And the next time he tried to copy the Yan game plan. I'm like bro, stop copying other people's homework. Just do your own homework.


ISRAEL ADESANYA: I've said that. They don't listen.

KEVIN IOLE: You're a difficult guy to fight though right, because I mean, you got that size. You got that reach. You know, you master distance very well, right? So I mean when you have that takedown defense, it seems like to me, that's when you're really at that at the top of your game. Marvin Vettori wasn't able to do anything with you because he tried to get you down and couldn't do that. I mean, do you feel like given your experience in kickboxing, if your takedown defense was on point, that you're largely home free at that point?

ISRAEL ADESANYA: My experience kickboxing, it helped me to a certain degree, but being really good at stopping people from getting me to the ground early on was paramount in my UFC debut and the fights following. But now I'm not too worried about going to the ground. That's why when I [INAUDIBLE] You watch the fights in my early UFC career, the urgency to get up when I get to the ground, because-- not that I was lacking in those skills, but I just wasn't as confident.

But now, I know what I can do on the ground. I'm very confident over the past few years in the gym on the ground. It just so happens that I haven't been able to do what I want to do on the ground, because these fights really go to the ground. Only one was Yan, but what did he do on the ground exactly? Wasn't he meant to Polish Power me, or as a black belt in jujitsu, and a heavier guy submit me?

But no, he only took him to the ground because he felt my power on the feet, and then he used veteran skills to sneak away the win. But, not taking any credit from him. He won the fight. I'm just saying yeah, this whole thing about taking him to the ground and it's over. I feel like these guys are just like the clutching at straws.

KEVIN IOLE: I want to ask you, and I know you love MMA, and you watch a lot of the fights and everything. Alex Volkanovski, who's going to be in the co-main event defending his featherweight title against Max Holloway. His fight against Ortega, like when you're watching that, you see him get caught. That was an unbelievably tight choke. I've talked to him about this. What goes through your mind as a friend, and as guy who watches? I mean, did you believe he's getting out of that, and like did you ever put yourself in that fight going, hey, what if this is me? How do I deal with that?

ISRAEL ADESANYA: Check out my FREESTYLEBENDER YouTube page. You'll see the live reaction event happening as it was happening if I can describe the clip. He was in the choke, and then I just-- my neck just kind of shrunk straight away. And I started to fight this choke with Alex. And yeah, if you have a look at my YouTube page, FREESTYLEBENDER you'll see the reaction.

And I had no doubt, and I was really impressed. He got out of the guillotine that Ortega is known for, and also, his other signature submission, the triangle choke, TC. He got out of that, and went to work straight away, throwing bombs from heaven. So yeah, I always have faith in my friends. And I feel like that fight inspired me. That fight really lit a fire under my ass.

KEVIN IOLE: I want to ask you, Alex is going to be out there in a fight before you you're going to have Eugene Berryman out there with him. Not having your coach in there right before you go out and warming you up and all that, is that-- you know, are you a veteran, does it not matter? Like you know, you hear a lot of people say hey, I want my coach there with me right when I'm warming up.

ISRAEL ADESANYA: I don't have Eugene there with me, but I've got my other coaches Tristram. I've got what's his name, Andrei Paulette, who's my wrestling coach. He'll be back there with me warming me up. So, I fought in China without having Eugene with me. I fought in other countries without having Eugene with me. He trusted me enough to get the job done, and I trust myself as well to get the job done.

KEVIN IOLE: So you know, I'm not asking to give away any secrets, but since you know a little bit of how Eugene coaches, I just want to get your take on Holloway and Volkanovski 3, because that's going to be a phenomenal fight. A lot of people are talking about it. Alex is 2 and 0 in the in the series. Some people thought Max deserved to win that last fight, but curious what you think of that fight, and what you think the keys are going to be.

ISRAEL ADESANYA: First fight was 5-0. I was there live, and yeah, I saw how that fight played out. Second fight was close. Max had some good moments in that fight, really good moments. I think dropping with a head kick, or rock them with a head kick at one point. So yeah, but I just feel like once you spent that much time with someone, you get to read them. You get to really know a lot about them, and they spend 10 rounds with each other. They know a lot about each other, but right, now the momentum I feel is on Alex's side, because of the way he's been fighting, dominating, and winning.

And Max, just-- he's a great fighter, don't get me wrong. I'm a big fan of [INAUDIBLE] as well, but I just don't see him surviving the onslaught that Alex is going to bring this time, because Alex is raw. Something's different with-- even with the Kai, THE MINDSET. Those two, they started to come into their own and believe you know-- like their own spirit, you know what I mean? And it's beautiful to watch, and see their confidence is growing. I feel like it would be too much for Max to handle.

KEVIN IOLE: Interesting. If I can talk to you about Jared. I talked to him yesterday, and one of the things I brought up to him is, he is faced six-- if you count Kelvin Gastelum having the interim title, six fighters who have had UFC championships. Do you think that benefits him going up against you, just having been in there against the greats of the game, right? He fought Glover Teixeira, I mean, Anderson Silva, you go up and down the lineup. You know, he's fought a lot of really good fighters. Do you think that gives him any kind of advantage, like he knows what it takes to fight against a champion at this point?

ISRAEL ADESANYA: Yes and no, because there's levels to this. Like, he's fought those guys, yeah sure, but has he ever fought a guy like myself in International Fight Week, with the amount of press he has to do, in the amount of attention and energy this takes. It's not for everyone, man. This is an acquired taste, this lifestyle, this champ lifestyle, and I don't feel like he's cut out for it. I know I am.

KEVIN IOLE: What is the hardest thing about it? Like, you know in other words, a lot of fighters say what you just said, right? I've heard that many, many times. But what is it? Is it just the fact that people are always chipping away at your time, and you don't your time is not your own up in a couple of weeks before a fight?

ISRAEL ADESANYA: Right. Oxygen. What's the hardest thing about it? It has nothing to do with a cage of a minutes-- outside the cage. Kind of what you said, but outside the cage. I'll be on a date, or I'll be with my family or my friends, and people just wanted to take, take, take, take, regardless of-- I'm with my family right now. And they all say, I don't mean to be that guy, I don't mean to be that guy, but can I get a photo? I'm like yeah, but you're being that guy? So clearly, you need to be that guy. And you can see I'm with my family right now, trying to have a beautiful dinner, and here you are, feeling entitled and important enough to disrupt the flow of our family conversation to come grab your--

So those are the hardest bits for me, but I know how to deal with them. And also, it depends on-- I like fans. I like taking photos, don't get me wrong. But time and place. And if it's not the time and place, don't disturb me. Don't fucking pull up on me in traffic and scare me, and try and grab a photo, because that's happened multiple times. So yeah, time and place. And people just tend to lose their marbles when they see someone they perceive to be quote unquote famous.

KEVIN IOLE: Do you feel like-- I mean, do you enjoy being famous? Or like, I know you like to fight, and I know you like showing off your creativity and whatnot. But do you like actually being famous? Or like you wish you could snap your finger, and after the fights are over you kind of just melt into the background and people don't know who you are?

ISRAEL ADESANYA: Man, I've said this for years. F*** the fame, but I love the perks. Yeah I love the perks, but the whole thing with fame-- it's not the way you think it's going to be, put it that way. And I'll say this firsthand, because you know, everyone grows up kids. You think you want to be famous, you want to be like your favorite pop star, your favorite movie star whatever, but yeah. Be careful what you wish for, quote unquote. You know, but yeah. There's no book on how to deal with this. But I feel like I had the right people around me, I have my family with me, and my really, really close circle, who make dealing with fame easier, because they protect my energy along with me.

KEVIN IOLE: I want actually this, you know. It's just an aside. Dana deals with that a lot, right. UFC president Dana White? I think it was UFC 87, so a while ago. I was in Minnesota. There was the Mall of America, they had the pre-fight press conference. One interview, Dana afterwards, and it was a line of people lined up to get his autograph. So he says, hey, just come back in a little bit when I do these people. I walked around the mall with a guy. We had lunch, we came back. It was two hours later, and he's still there signing autographs. Can you imagine like putting yourself in that kind of boat, where you're giving so much of yourself? And he does that almost on a daily basis. But I mean, does that blow you away when you see somebody that can deal with it like that?

ISRAEL ADESANYA: Blow me away? No, everyone is different. Everyone has the capacity. I can do that. It's times I've done that. But you know, like I said, time and place. I don't know. Right now I'm on the Vegas International Flight Week. I'm headlining. So I expect that when I go to the win, I'm going to get bombarded. Yeah, I'll have time to sign some stuff and say what's up to people, but my time is precious, and I value my time. So, I'm sure Dana does too, so I don't think he'll be doing that on a daily basis. He'll get whisked away. He has people to whisk him away. But yeah for me, I wouldn't say it blows me away, but yeah. Just time and place. I don't mind it, but just time and place.

KEVIN IOLE: Time and place I want to be is UFC 276 at T-Mobile Arena. Let's just get a couple quick questions about the fight. How do you see this thing finishing? You know, where is his vulnerability at, and what do you think you take advantage of with him?

ISRAEL ADESANYA: Honestly, I just I really think I'm going to f*** him up. I've said this already multiple times, but I really feel I'm going to f*** him up. There's just, if he wants to try and take me down, go ahead. You won't be the first one. If you want to stand up with me and test the stand up skills, I welcome them to, because that's what I specialize in. But yeah, just stay tuned, and expect the unexpected.

KEVIN IOLE: Expect the unexpected, well that's very interesting. When you go into fight weeks like this, everybody wants to ask you like what's next, and what you want to do, because that's the natural thing, right? How do you maintain the focus on, OK, you know what, I know I'm going to be able to beat Cannonier. You've just expressed a great deal of confidence. You know, you want to take him seriously, not lightly. And you know, I would imagine it's a hard balance when you feel like hey, I'm going to really beat him badly, but you don't want to look past him and think what might be next on the road. What is your process for handling that?

ISRAEL ADESANYA: I've got good balance physically and mentally, so I know how to walk the fine line of not underestimating them, but overestimating them. You know, being in the present, and not looking in the future, or just peeking. So yeah, I just know the main thing is like, for me, if I don't beat Jared, then all my plans that I have just push back. So that's why I don't fret.

I don't hold on to the plans I have too dearly. I focus on the now, because if I don't get it done now, those plans become null and void. So that's what helps me. But like I said, I have a good balance.

KEVIN IOLE: Awesome. Champ, we appreciate you. I know you got a lot of work to do, so I don't want to take any more of your time. I appreciate you. UFC 276, July 2, T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Israel Adesanya against Jared Cannonier, in the main event. Good luck, Izzy. Thank you.

ISRAEL ADESANYA: My man, thanks Kevin.

KEVIN IOLE: See you, brother. Be well.

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