Across the MMA Universe: Israel Adesanya Has the Eye of the Tiger

Scott Harris@ScottHarrisMMAMMA Lead WriterMarch 5, 2021

Israel Adesanya reacts after defeating Derek Brunson during the first round of a middleweight mixed martial arts bout at UFC 230, Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018, at Madison Square Garden in New York. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Julio Cortez/Associated Press

Welcome back to our regular Friday MMA column. Here, we'll scour the sport's landscape, preview upcoming cards, tell interesting stories and, if at all possible, have fun. Let's get it on.

            

If Israel Adesanya does to Jan Blachowicz what he's favored to do this Saturday, he'll become just the fifth fighter to wear two UFC belts simultaneously. That's pretty good.

It's also right in line with Adesanya's (20-0) oft-stated mission not just to be great but to be a legend. He'll write the first page in the multi-divisional chapter of his story Saturday against reigning light heavyweight champ Blachowicz (27-8) in the main event of UFC 259 in Las Vegas.

"For me, this is what I always predicted to do in this game," Adesanya said Thursday at a virtual press conference. "It's to change the game, to change history. … I peek ahead, I get the lay of the land and I see how I can change history again."

That's some lofty trash talk. Although he did acknowledge Blachowicz's presence on one or two occasions, Adesanya appeared focused not just on Saturday but also its larger meaning in his career. He was detached but dialed in. Even as he lounged in his chair, he appeared ready to spring up onto the table at any moment. It sure looked Thursday that Adesanya had a bit of the eye of the tiger, and that's not a good sign for Blachowicz fans.

You might have this confidence too if you had downed a murderer's row of Robert Whittaker (22-5), Yoel Romero (13-5) and Paulo Costa (13-1) over the past 17 months and sat staring at an entirely winnable title fight. Adesanya is a -230 favorite to win Saturday, per DraftKings, with that otherworldy surgical counterstriking and lightning-quick movement appearing capable of overwhelming a good-but-not-great champion in Blachowicz.

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But that calm confidence comes from more than just his resume. It's something more innate—an unabashed and unabated rush toward history.

"It's a very elite, exclusive club," Adesanya said of so-called champ-champ status. "And I want to be the fifth one to join that club."

When asked if he could one day be as big of a star as, say, Conor McGregor, the quick answer was, "It's inevitable." And it didn't come off like empty peacocking.

After a reporter asked Blachowicz whether he viewed Adesanya, who will be undersized at light heavyweight, as a knockout threat, a thin smile slowly spread across the challenger's face. (For the record, the light heavyweight champ answered in the affirmative.)

If his past performance and fight-week demeanor are any indicators, Adesanya knows exactly where and who he is, what he needs to do and how he needs to do it. We'll find out soon enough if this confidence is justified. 

After defeating Rob Wilkinson in his UFC debut in 2018, Adesanya announced in the cage that "there's a new dog in the yard." He's not new anymore. And these days, he looks ready to live up to his lofty goals.

"I came in here just over three years ago, and look what I've done so far," Adesanya said Thursday. "And I've got a long way to go."

               

Can Megan Anderson Catch the GOAT?

We've been diluting the GOAT trope lately, be it for Khabib Nurmagomedov (29-0) or Kamaru Usman (18-1) or whomever. If Adesanya wins that second belt Saturday, you can be sure his name will enter the conversation. So if this trend annoys you, and I know there are a lot of you out there, buckle up.

The only GOAT who brooks no debate is Amanda Nunes (20-4), the best female MMA fighter ever. She's owned two belts (featherweight and bantamweight) for more than two years and hasn't tasted defeat since the Obama administration.

The one true GOAT will reappear Saturday, when she'll be a massive -1000 favorite against Australian Megan Anderson (11-4).

Myself and the entire B/R team picked Nunes to win. But you know what? Part of me can't shake the image that Anderson could catch the champion. Maybe, just maybe, the co-main event could get a little Holly Holm-esque on us. 

Why? At 6'0", Anderson is four inches taller than Nunes and has powerful kicks that she can land from range without wading into Nunes' danger zone. (Anderson's arm reach is, at 72.5", also considerably longer than Nunes' 69").

Can she do it? Sure. This is her only chance, honestly. But in the end, that image of mine is likely just an image. Relax and watch a real GOAT chew through another claimant. The important part is that I can say I called it in either case.

      

Chimaev: Bad Day at the Office, or Something More?

Khamzat Chimaev (9-0) is the latest upstart from Russia's North Caucasus region to walk through the UFC's swinging doors and dominate all comers. The 26-year-old was one of 2020's breakout stars, gaining emphatic stoppages in all three of his UFC contests. One of these set a record for shortest turnaround time for a UFC win: just 10 days.

But recently, life has seemingly laid Chimaev low.

The UFC flew him to Las Vegas in February to treat "lingering effects" from COVID-19, per ESPN's Brett Okamoto, who spoke with Chimaev's manager, Ali Abdelaziz. But Chimaev recently took to Instagram to hint at retirement in a since-removed post (h/t TSN's Aaron Bronsteter).

The translation, and in-app Instagram feature, said in part: "I want to say thank you to everyone for their support in my path in this sport ... I think I'm done, yes, I know that I didn't take the belt, but this is not the most important victory in this life, it may upset you, but my heart and body tell me everything."

UFC President Dana White walked back those comments, per MMA Junkie's John Morgan:

"When he got here, the doctors took care of him, and they put him on prednisone, which is a nasty f--king steroid. So he's on prednisone, and he's supposed to be taking this thing and chilling, relaxing, and letting himself recover. He went in and f--king trained today, felt like s--t, and got super emotional and posted that ... now he can't even train, so he just got emotional and posted that, but he ain't quitting."

Now Chechen government head and well-established warlord Ramzan Kadyrov has also said Chimaev has not retired. Still no word from Chimaev, though, and even if there were, his comments would seemingly come under considerable duress. 

I'm in no position to assess Chimaev's medical situation from afar. That said, we know COVID-19 is a nasty business that doesn't move on any timeline but its own. So it's interesting to note that it's White, not Chimaev, who's saying the post was nothing more than blowing off steam after a testy day at the office.

Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

However, this isn't the first time Chimaev and his team have publicly expressed frustration over his inability to get going in the gym.   

"He wanted to train," manager Majdi Shammas told Frontkick Online (h/t Yahoo! Sports) Feb. 12. "Then we tried, and it failed. He was really bad … He started coughing, he started feeling ill again, and we had to cancel the training. He even went in an ambulance to the hospital."

So there's precedent here, and it's not good, especially given the more extended coronavirus timeline. Chimaev's post was understandable.

Here's hoping he can fully recover and return to ruining people in the cage. But the only one who can decide if he'll come back is Chimaev. And it's up in the air as to whether he'll follow the boss' lead.

          

Stone Cold Lead-Pipe Lock of the Week

Welcome back to the small but special corner of the internet for conservative MMA bettors like myself. What's on tap for UFC 259? We could always say Nunes, but she's such a huge favorite it's not even sporting.

No, we must dig deeper. And that's where we uncover a young man by the name of Dominick Cruz.

Cruz (22-3) is back after losing to the great Henry Cejudo (16-2) last spring. He's been limited in activity (this is his second fight since 2016) because of a well-documented litany of injuries.

Now he gets Casey Kenney (16-2-1). Who? Exactly. Honestly, he's pretty good. But Cruz is a former bantamweight champion and owner of one of the craftiest, weirdest, hardest-to-prepare-for styles that MMA has ever known. 

Cruz is a +110 underdog. I'll take that every day and twice on Sunday.

      

I'll give you another walkout song next week. Consider that an as-space-permits situation.

            

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