Welcome back to TGIFighting, where we preview the weekend's combat sports action and make humorous observations about the relevant news of the day. Ready? Let's go.
In the main event of Saturday's UFC 263 in Glendale, Arizona, UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya (20-1) faces an old foe in Marvin Vettori (17-4-1). In their original fight in 2018—only Adesanya's second bout under the UFC banner—Adesanya defeated Vettori, but not before the Italian gave the future champion fits with his wrestling and control grappling. Rightly or wrongly, one judge gave the decision to Vettori, the only split decision of Adesanya's MMA career.
This Saturday, the charismatic striking genius that is Adesanya looks to erase that split decision from existence, and he's a -275 favorite (bet $275 to win $100) to do so, according to DraftKings.
I got 10 minutes on the phone with Adesanya for an exclusive interview this week and asked him as many questions as I could.
B/R: I spent a day with you in NYC before the Brunson fight at UFC 230. That was two-and-a-half years ago. If you could go back in time to tell yourself something at that point, what would it be?
Adesanya: You're doing great, kid. Keep going.
B/R: That's it?
IA: Yep, that's it. You're doing great. Don't change a thing. Because I had my head screwed on, and I was doing my work, steady work.
B/R: You've said many times before: "F--k fame, but I like the perks."
IA: Yep. That's a quote.
B/R: Then more recently I saw in one of your videos that you said, "I learned how to be famous." Why the change?
IA: Like, I've seen so many people in my position before, whether it's athletes, actresses or actors, they get puffed up by the media, they've got all the fame, and then society just drags them down.
So I didn't want to be one of those statistics. Learning how to be famous, I guess, yeah, it's like learning how to deal with people, learning how to deal with fans, learning how to deal with the media, learning how to deal with tabloid stuff, learning about avoiding controversy, even though it follows me. Just everything that has to do with fame. It's f--king crazy.
B/R: You've taken some pretty public stances on sensitive political issues. You spoke at Black Lives Matter rallies, and you endorsed a cannabis reform initiative in New Zealand (it narrowly failed). Are you glad you did that stuff or not?
IA: The difference between me and someone like, say, Tyron Woodley, is that I don't react. I respond. I take my time. I look at the information, and I sit with my feelings first before I go out and f--king tweet or write a post or something. And sometimes I just keep my s--t to myself because it's no one's business. Sometimes my feelings on a matter are just my own feelings.
B/R: Vettori has said many times this week that he's a "whole different animal" than he was in your first fight. Do you see that in his game?
IA: It's like 10 percent different. That's it.
Plus look at the run of people I've gone through since we last fought. And look at the run of people he's gone through. He's been fighting jobbers because he's a jobber himself.
B/R: According to UFC stats, you have an 82 percent takedown defense rate, while Vettori has 53 percent takedown accuracy. Do you think these kinds of stats indicate that Vettori has the kind of wrestling people are saying he has?
IA: Well, they need something to sell the fights. And this is, I guess, marketable. They can't sell it as, "Israel whooped his ass and is going to whoop him again." They need some kind of devil's advocate. Smoke and mirrors. Wolf tickets.
He actually tried so many times to take me down in our first fight, and he failed. The takedowns he got me with in that fight, I corrected that with my wrestling coach straight away. Straight away.
B/R: You seem to understand that each fight needs stakes and has meaning over and above a title belt. Does that apply to you and Vettori?
IA: It's never really about the belt. The belt is like a trinket you collect along the way. For me, it is the stories of the fights.
But this one isn't really about vengeance for me. That's a story for him, because he lost the fight, clearly. So for me this is just to put a stamp on it, for him to wake up on Sunday and say: "Yeah, I got bested by this guy. I had nothing for him." And he's going to have to sit with that feeling.
B/R: If you're a fighter, fight day is a lot of hurry up and wait. What do you do to stay focused or manage your nerves?
IA: I nap a lot. I nap, watch some Netflix, sleep, eat. I nap again. And then I go to the venue. I might nap there [laughs], then I go out there and f--k s--t up.
B/R: I know you're a Netflix guy. What are you watching right now?
IA: Master of None, actually. I'd seen little bits and pieces of it but never the full flow. And Cupcake and Dino: General Services. It's just this weird cartoon. Yeah, it's pretty silly.
B/R: You're obviously a huge fan of The Last Airbender animated series. You have Toph as a tattoo instead of Aang, the actual last airbender. What's the significance behind that?
IA: When I get tattoos, the first thing is: Does it look cool? Second, when I get a tattoo, the meaning of the tattoo reveals itself to me like much later on. A year later, months later.
With Toph, I just liked her story. A blind, rich kid who wanted to get away from the f--king bourgie lifestyle and travel the world, meet the avatar and help him, you know, realize his destiny. And along the way, she invents metal bending.
B/R: Anything else you want to add?
IA: Yes. Be nice. It costs zero dollars. Be nice. That's my message to everyone reading your article.
Stone Cold Lead-Pipe Lock of the Week
Record to date: 10-4
Bit of an unusual week at the column, but that doesn't mean I can't pretend to know what I'm doing with betting. Let's travel over to Bellator, where super-prospect Aaron Pico (7-3) is trying to win his fourth straight. Aiden Lee (9-4) is not exactly elite competition.
Pico has fallen short against such opponents before, but he'll get it done this time as a -715 favorite. If you want some extra spice, pick the knockout.
Statistics via UFC Stats unless otherwise noted. Odds accurate as of Thursday.
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