UFC champion Adesanya out to prove middlewight dominance

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The motivation is three-fold for New Zealand mixed martial arts world champion Israel Adesanya heading into his latest title defence this weekend.

Israel Adesanya takes a break from training at City Kickboxing.
Photo: Photosport

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Adesanya defends his middleweight belt against Italian Marvin Vettori at UFC 263 in Arizona on Sunday (NZ time).

The Kiwi came into the bout fresh from his first loss in professional MMA, unsuccessfully moving up a division in an attempt to claim a second world title in March.

But that defeat to Polish light heavyweight champion Jan Blachowicz wasn’t the only reason for the added edge to Adesanya’s preparation.

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Just one of the 31-year-old Nigerian-born New Zealander’s nine UFC victories have come via split decision.

Since that 2018 win over Marvin Vettori, he had claimed the middleweight title, and twice defended it.

Vettori had rattled off five straight wins to set up a rematch in the same Arizona arena – not that Adesanya felt he deserved it.

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“You can look at both sides since we last fought.

“Honestly speaking, since we last fought, you can look at the stack of people he’s fought, and the stack of people I’ve fought and it’s a vast difference.”

Unsurprisingly, his opponent disagreed.

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Vettori was confident this was his moment to become the UFC’s first Italian champion, even if he wasn’t the fan favourite.

“I have the advantage because I’m the superior fighter. I can do everything. He doesn’t have all the answers to what I bring to the table.”

And it was no secret what Vettori would serve up.

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The number three ranked challenger was expected to come forward and attempt to get the fight to the ground, playing to his strengths and avoiding the New Zealander’s world class kickboxing.

Adesanya admitted Vettori has improved but told ESPN it wouldn’t be enough.

“He might have adapted a little better but guess what, so have I. I’ve adapted a lot better.

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“I just want to school him five-nil. Each round, bell to bell, so when it’s all said and done, he can look at me and know that I’m the better fighter.”

Israel Adesanya celebrates winning the UFC middleweight world title belt.

Israel Adesanya celebrates winning the UFC middleweight world title belt.
Photo: Photosport

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It’s an attitude – in part – fuelled by Vettori’s continuous claims of victory in that first fight.

But, as far as Adesanya’s head coach was concerned, the claims were more than phoney.

City Kickboxing’s Eugene Bareman said the Italian was plain wrong.

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“There’s only two people on this planet that think that Marvin won that fight, and that’s that one judge and Marvin.

“As far as I can get most people’s opinion, that opinion of Marvin is slightly deluded.”

Either way, it was fuelling an already motivated Adesanya.

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Bareman says both the middleweight champion and another CKB fighter in action on Sunday – Brad Riddell – were channelling their emotions after the death of team-mate Fau Vake last month following a violent attack in central Auckland.

“We’ve chosen to use it in a positive manner to help motivate us and energise us during trainings.

“Obviously the thing is just balancing out that motivation and expectation with not putting too much pressure on themselves to honour Fau by getting the win.

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“I’m just trying to keep that in balance and I think the boys are in a good place.”

A rare loss, coming in that challenge for the light heavyweight belt in March, had also honed Adesanya’s focus.

Add in the return of fans – after two fights in largely empty arenas – and his confidence couldn’t be higher.

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“Almost three years ago to the month, I remember the feeling and the magic that was in the air when I took this guy away.

“This time I’m gonna use that energy from you guys again. It’s exciting to see [the fans] out here.”

Israel Adesanya – promising nothing less than a repeat result over Vettori, and a return to the winner’s circle.

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