When Israel Adesanya fights this Saturday, the drama will center less on the fight itself than its place in a wider narrative.
A heavy favorite against aging legend Anderson Silva—a -650 favorite to be exact (bet $650 to win $100), per OddsShark—Adesanya routinely names Silva as the inspiration for his decision to pursue MMA. If Adesanya fulfills expectations and takes his idol down, the rising star will be well-positioned to challenge for the UFC middleweight title. As coincidence would have it, Adesanya-Silva serves as the co-main event of UFC 234, one slot below champion Robert Whittaker's defense against Kelvin Gastelum.
The 29-year-old Nigerian-New Zealander is 15-0 as a pro, including a 4-0 UFC mark highlighted by two knockouts. An electric first-round finish of Derek Brunson last fall in New York's Madison Square Garden launched Adesanya's star into a new layer of the UFC atmosphere.
Adesanya recently spoke exclusively with Bleacher Report's Scott Harris about his title aspirations, his newfound celebrity, his everyday life and the latest plot points in a cinematic life.
Bleacher Report: You and your team have said you're all business during camp. What do you do every day to make sure you maintain concentration day after day and hour after hour?
Israel Adesanya: I just try to stay in the moment. It's hard to do. I want to think about what I want to have for dinner, why I want to win, how I want to win. Staying in the moment is something I'll never achieve unless I'm hanging out with the right people and just being in the gym as well. If you don't do it, you get caught.
B/R: A lot of pro athletes are creatures of habit and routine or even superstition. What are some ironclad pieces of your training or pre-fight routine?
Adesanya: I don't know. I try to wake up every day. Actually, I'm gonna get a haircut the week of the fight. I like to get trimmed up. I like the hair looking nice and crisp. Because you're getting your picture taken a lot, you know? Sometimes they use those things for life. And I like to watch Netflix before a fight.
B/R: So, what are you watching on Netflix?
Adesanya: I just finished You. That was pretty good. I'm watching Bob's Burgers, binge-watching that. And I'm watching Killer Mike's show, Trigger Warning. I like that one. People are talking a lot about Killer Mike. I figured that would be a good one to watch.
B/R: You've talked about how much you value manners and politeness in people. You've also talked about, with your increasing fame, how you're dealing more and more with issues related to that. What is your favorite and least favorite thing about everyday life now that you have this higher profile?
Adesanya: My least favorite thing or my pet peeve would be people who literally ignore the other people you're with, or the situation, and they just dive right in and cut off the conversation. Sometimes people hand their phones to the other person I'm with, the person they just interrupted, to take a picture.
I think some of that bulls--t gets passed down from person to person. Or it's how they see people react [to celebrities] on TV or in movies, so they think it's how they're supposed to react.
But other times people are nice. Sometimes they just smile and wave. And I like that. And yeah, I know this is all first-world problems. I'm well aware of that.
My favorite is, as weird as it is, when you can just feel the vibe somewhere. When it's natural and there's a vibe, and people come up and say, "can I get a hug?" We share a moment. I'll never remember it—you can't remember them all—but in the moment, you shared a moment.
Also, I like free stuff. The other night I got a free dinner. Everything was free, the whole night. It's funny because when I had nothing I had to pay for everything. Now that I can afford it, they won't let you. Come on, man, I have the money now. Let me spend it!
B/R: Let's say you're out one night and some drunk guy insists he can whip you. He won't leave you alone, won't let it go. You leave, he follows. Let's say you have some kind of magical assurance that the police won't intervene. Break out the telestrator and give me a breakdown of that matchup.
Adesanya: Normally I just say I'm not gonna knock your ass out for free. But OK, if they don't back off? Brazilian jiu-jitsu is a beautiful thing.
You could do a quick hold or even like a muay thai clinch, just to let them feel your power. That actually happened to me once. I snapped his head down and got him in a front head lock. I didn't try to choke him, just the hold. You really don't have to hurt someone.
B/R: I know you like movies. A lot of movies have a theme where the student bests the master. I looked some of them up. Darth Vader and Obi-Wan Kenobi. Drunken Master. Kill Bill. For the Silva fight, you have to have some of that kind of imagery in your head, right?
Adesanya: This is the movie of my life. This fight is the ending of part one. It's where I kill the master. The beginning of part two is when I challenge Whittaker for the belt.
Nothing can stop me, man. This is The Matrix. When you feel something and you put work behind it, you control the Matrix.
B/R: Oddsmakers, fans, media, everybody's expecting a win from you here. How do you react to that kind of consensus?
Adesanya: He is still dangerous. People say he's too old, he's this, he's that. He's still dangerous.
And then everybody's like, "If you beat Silva, it will be an old Silva." But Whittaker beat Yoel Romero twice, and did anyone say anything about that? [Note: Romero was 40 and 41 for his two bouts with Whittaker; Silva will be 43 when he fights Adesanya.]
B/R: What if Silva beats you?
Adesanya: They said they would give him a title shot if he wins. I think they're honeyd--king him, man. Honeyd--k? You know, that movie with the guy? What's his name. Seth Rogen! That movie with Seth Rogen. Honeyd--k.
They're honeyd--king him. But hey, if he beats me, he deserves a shot. If he wins, good game to him. But I'm the future and the future is now. Maybe in another universe. Maybe. But it's not in this timeline.
[Note: For the record, it’s a term from one of Rogen’s movies, The Interview, and refers to telling a man what he wants to hear to get him to do what you want.]
B/R: So what's next if you win?
Adesanya: Like I said, part two of the movie. A while ago, I sat down with Dana White, and we talked. He was on board 100 percent. The path has been cleared.
B/R: What does that mean, exactly?
Adesanya: The path has been cleared, that's all I can say. If Whittaker wins I'm gonna challenge him for the belt. And if Kelvin Gastelum wins, guess what? I'm going to Mexico.
Scott Harris covers MMA and other topics for Bleacher Report and CNN.