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UFC 281: Israel Adesanya says Alex Pereira had easy path to title shot, vows to expose him

Israel Adesanya goes 1-on-1 with Yahoo Sports' Kevin Iole to talk Alex Pereira ahead of their main event matchup at UFC 281 for Adesanya's middleweight title. After two losses to Pereira in kickboxing, Adesanya describes what went wrong and why the outcome will be different in their third fight.

Video transcript

KEVIN IOLE: What is up, everybody? I am Kevin Iole, and I am really looking forward to UFC 281. A number of great fights on the show, but the main event, of course, is the big one. Going to be a special night of fighting. The champ, Israel Adesanya, fighting the number one contender in the middleweight division right now, Alex Pereira.

You two have a history. It's going to be an unbelievable fight, I think. A lot of people hyped up for it. You're back in the United States now, getting ready early. How does it look as you go into this thing? Is it a different feel, given that it's MMA now, instead of kickboxing?

ISRAEL ADESANYA: The fight itself-- different feel? I'm gonna say so, but I haven't seen him yet. I haven't seen him yet, so yeah, but it feels different. It feels different for me because I'm not the same fighter. Neither is he, but I know who's devolved more, when it comes to fighting.

I know who's involved more, and he does as well. But he's got his history with me and his victories over me, so he can bank on that if he wants to.

KEVIN IOLE: Everybody's talked about his victories over you, even from the first time you came into the UFC, right? But I want to ask you this question because this is interesting. You come off a win over Jared Cannonier, which, to me, might have been a more difficult fight for you than Alex would be, from this standpoint-- Jared wasn't willing to engage with you. Jared stayed back and was more passive than I guess we would have thought, and so you being a counter-striker-- it doesn't create the openings for you.

You think, with Alex-- and now you're wearing 4-ounce gloves-- that may change the dynamic of how the fight goes, don't you?

ISRAEL ADESANYA: It will. It will change the dynamic. And Jared came prepared. He had a great team behind him, but unfortunately, when you're in there with me, it's lonely. It's lonely when you're in there with a guy like me, and then you do everything to try and survive, and, woo, at least I didn't get knocked out. Some of them consider that a win.

But yeah, for me, this is different. This guy-- he's gonna come aggressive. He's gonna throw strikes. He's not gonna lay back and try and counter. Even me-- I can attack. I counter-strike, but when you give me the opportunity, I can go forward. And I feel like this guy's gonna give me the opportunity to go forward because he can't fight going backwards.

KEVIN IOLE: The fact that you have such good footwork, in MMA-- and then, he has to be wary, I guess, of you trying to surprise him, maybe, with a takedown or something, or a knee, or who knows what. How does that change the fight, knowing that you can create different angles on him in a fight that, maybe in a kickboxing fight, would not be there.

ISRAEL ADESANYA: Even the arena is different. We're in the Octagon this time, not a ring. You can't pin someone to the ropes or to the corner and then try and tee off on 'em.

Surprise takedown-- it's not my forte. I don't get on my knees and try and-- it's not my forte. But he might try. He might decide he wants to take me down. And I welcome that because my grappling is not to be played with, and defensively grappling as well. I've been forced to defensively grapple since my UFC debut, and that's why I'm so good at it.

But yeah, we'll see. If the opportunity presents itself and he shoots for a takedown, I'll take his neck.

KEVIN IOLE: You said something in July after your win over Cannonier at UFC 276, and it was unlike you. And I was surprised that you said it, and I'm wondering if it had something to do with the Alex fight. And you talked right at the end. You said to the media there, I respect a lot of you, and I know you're doing your job, but remember, I can do your job, but you can't do my job.

That seems unlike you, and I didn't know what prompted that. And where did that come from, and what was the point you were trying to make when you said that?

ISRAEL ADESANYA: Just for the media to be mindful of how they speak to these fighters and speak of these fighters, 'cause sometimes-- this is why I don't do as much interviews as I used to. First of all, I've got freestyle banter on my YouTube. But for me, I see what they do. They'll get a 40-minute interview, even, and I know how YouTube works now.

So they get a 40-minute interview. That's the whole interview. Then they clip that into three different segments, and then two of those segments will have really clickbaity headlines that really doesn't represent what I said, just so they can get the clicks, you know what I mean? And for me, I know how they get paid. I'm like, wait, I'm doing this [MUTED] for free, and then you still disrespect me?

So that was what prompted that. I'm just like, just be mindful of how you speak on these fighters or how you use these opportunities to interview them, because yeah, without us, they wouldn't have a job. But also, I could do their job. I went to school. I went to uni. I know how to use a laptop. I know how to use a microphone. I know how to comprehend very well. I'm very well-spoken.

And yeah, I was just trying to make a point. And some people took offense to that and said, oh, well, I can hit a bag. I can do your job. I'd like to see you try.

[LAUGHS]

I don't remember who said that, but I read that somewhere. Someone sent me a screen shot, and I was just like, this idiot. So I'm like, oh. I think what I was trying to get across went over those people's heads who are really sensitive. And probably, if the shoe fits, wear it, you know what I mean? If they felt a way about the way I said, then it was probably them I was talking about.

KEVIN IOLE: Izzy, the only thing that I would ever say that I can hit is a pillow trying to get the dust out in the backyard. So you never hear me--

ISRAEL ADESANYA: [LAUGHING]

KEVIN IOLE: You never hear me saying that. So knock the dust out of the pillow and move on. Other than that, we're on.

ISRAEL ADESANYA: I mean, you always give me a fair shake. You always give me a fair shake.

KEVIN IOLE: How much do you think-- and this is gonna be a mental part of it, because this is my second part of that question, then. I think you're gonna see a lot of people that-- the knockout of you in your second fight-- they're gonna post that clip. You're gonna deal with that over and over. You're gonna deal with questions.

ISRAEL ADESANYA: I've been dealing with it.

KEVIN IOLE: You're a smart guy, and you're a thoughtful guy, right? So you have thought about that this is gonna happen. How do you think it affects you, and how do you deal with it? Because it's gonna get repetitive at some point.

ISRAEL ADESANYA: I've seen it. I don't even know how many times. I never shied away from it. For years, it never really showed up on my radar, but then, once I started to get popping in the UFC, it started to pop up again because he was posting it. And it's like, why are you trying to live off me? You already beat me, but yeah, you're still chasing me because I'm doing way better than you.

But yeah, I've already seen that so many times, it doesn't affect me. I've seen it. And that's also one thing that frees me. In this fight, if he goes out there and knocks me out, I'm like, OK. I remember what it was like.

A lot of people-- their worst fear is getting knocked out in a big fight. That happened to me, so I'm like, cool, it's already happened. That frees me. That frees me enough where it doesn't hold me, you know what I mean? It doesn't restrict me in a sense that I'm going to go out there and be like, this can't happen.

I'm like, no it can happen, and it has happened. But I also know what can happen and almost happened, and that's what I'm gonna make happen when it comes to November 12.

KEVIN IOLE: It's almost like you're heartened by-- Michael Bisping got knocked out by Dan Henderson in one of the most viral KOs in UFC history, and what did he do after that? He came back and became the UFC middleweight champion and then a UFC Hall of Famer. So a knockout doesn't define you unless you let it.

ISRAEL ADESANYA: Yes, exactly. And like I said, the worst has already happened. I woke up the next day and talked to my parents. My dogs still loved me when I went home. My people still loved me. I still made a lot of money from that fight, and I was just living my life.

So it wasn't something that I affected me in a sense that I went into a dark place or into a hole or anything. I think I knocked my next opponent out, my next two opponents out. So yeah, if you want to see me get knocked out, go on YouTube. Or you want to see him get knocked out, tune in this time.

KEVIN IOLE: MSG.

Hey, let me ask you this. Was there a frustration in that fight? Not so much the knockout, but you had him in trouble early in the fight, the rematch--

ISRAEL ADESANYA: Yeah, it was me.

KEVIN IOLE: --and you didn't finish him, right? And is that-- like, when you look at it, are you more annoyed the fact that you didn't take advantage of an opportunity when you had him hurt to finish him, or the fact that you made a mistake and got caught and got finished yourself?

ISRAEL ADESANYA: No, the knockout doesn't even bother me. I said this years ago, actually. I said this years ago. The knockout never bothered me. I remember clearly what bothered me was me not staying true to my style, me not staying true to who I am, me.

You watch my other fights in kickboxing, King of the Ring, the heavyweight one, when I had someone hurt. I wait, look for the shot, boom, look for the shot boom, and they're gone. I put 'em away. But this one, because I was coming off a loss that was controversial that I should have won, kickboxing world title-- I was younger then, so I got influenced by people's words, and I just threw spam right hands at him. Threw a couple of uppercuts, but right hands.

And then, for me, I'm like, why did you even-- I should have gone to the body. I should have taken away his legs and then go back to the head. Stay true to my style.

So that's what bothered me the most. Not the knockout. The knockout never really bothered me. But for me, what bothered me was me not staying true to my style.

KEVIN IOLE: Two other things. He got the fight by virtue of a really devastating finish of Sean Strickland. Sean Strickland had been on a roll, but it seemed to me like Sean was still a developing, growing fighter in the division, not an established top-of-the-level guy yet. He was on his way up. And do you think that was favorable matchmaker, or do you give Alex credit for, hey, beating a really good, high-level opponent?

ISRAEL ADESANYA: Come on. [LAUGHS]

[INTERPOSING VOICES]

ISRAEL ADESANYA: I know. But I'm saying, Sean Strickland is the only top-- put it this way. He's only here 'cause of me. He's only fighting for the title because of me, because it's me. If it was someone else, if Rob were still champion, he would have had a tougher road to get to the belt, and I bet you he would have got exposed way quicker.

But I'll expose him. I'll expose him, yeah. But he's only here 'cause of me, and it was favorable. Everything was set up for him because it made sense, and I agree it made sense. We don't want him to lose before he gets to fight me. You don't want to give him the hard fights before he fights me. So I think he got favorable matchups.

And yeah, he's here now, and I asked for it. I was like, right. Also, 'cause I cleared out the [MUTED] way for him. I cleared out the division, the pathway, so he had a clear line to the title. Only fought a few guys and then one top guy, and then I was like, yeah, you know what? Bring him.

I'd rather take him out now, because he's actually easy. I'll say he's a good athlete. I think he's the kind of guy that learns quickly, so I'd rather take him out now. And then, that way, I'll cause a blemish on his career.

KEVIN IOLE: Last question. You are a big guy with a great reach, and you use that distance really well. But he's a big guy, too, right? And, I mean, this way, he's massive, right? How does the fact that you're not gonna have this big reach and size advantage that you have over a lot of your opponents affect the way you perform and the way you go about training, I guess?

ISRAEL ADESANYA: I just do what I do. I actually just remembered the other time. Shout-outs to my guy Filip Verlinden. He's a guy that I fought in my debut in some kickboxing company, and then he beat me then. And then, we had a rematch in China, and I was a big boy then. I wasn't a skinny. I started to put on some size, and then we had a rematch.

And yeah, he was a guy that was able to bully me back then because he had the size advantage, reach advantage on me. Maybe not reach, but size advantage. But this time, I put on some size, and then I whooped his ass, too, even more than he did me. But yeah, shout-out to Filip.

But in regards to that, this is another time where it's like different game. I'm a big boy now, too. I'm not as scrawny as I am back then. And you ask anyone that's fought me, they say the same thing every time-- he's a lot stronger than he looks. And since then, I've even gotten stronger because I've been training with Abiola, base benefit, and we've put the building blocks in this camp, built the foundation, because I wanted to make sure that I'm not built for show. I'm built for go.

I went on tour. I think, after my last fight, I went to Canada. I brought him along. Went to Dallas to watch Kai fight. I brought him along just so we can get working. And yeah, they'll soon find out. They'll soon find out, Kevin.

KEVIN IOLE: I will see you at ringside, UFC 281 in New York on November 12. This man, Israel Adesanya, against Alex Pereira. It is going to be a fantastic night of fighting. Izzy, good luck. I look forward to seeing you in New York. Thanks a lot.

ISRAEL ADESANYA: Bless you, and thank you so much.