The countdown is on to what is Australia’s biggest UFC event since 2015 when Holly Holm handed global superstar Ronda Rousey her first defeat in front of more than 55,000 fans at the then Etihad Stadium.
Sunday’s [AEDT] 12-fight card will instead be staged across town at Rod Laver Arena, the scene of the Australian Open tennis finals merely two weeks ago, and while the crowd will come in some 30,000 fewer than the record-breaking UFC 193, the atmosphere promises to be just as electric given Whittaker’s status as a world champion.
The Australian’s showdown with American Kelvin Gastelum is the main event, just don’t tell that to Adesanya.
“I’m just going to do me, and Whittaker, that’s his Christmas gift for the next five years; [it’s] me being on this card with Anderson that made the show sell out in 15 minutes,” Adesanya told ESPN.
“This show wouldn’t have sold out the way it did without me and Anderson, so he’s [Whittaker] welcome. He gets the pay-per-view points, he gets the accolades and what not. And yeah, good for him, he knows what’s up, even he knows it. So he can enjoy it for the next 10 years.”
Adesanya’s claims have added an extra element of spice to UFC 234, even if the trans-Tasman duo won’t be staring each other down inside the Octagon.
All things going well, Adesanya, 29, hopes that will be the case later in the year.
The Nigerian-born Kiwi’s immediate focus is maintaining an unbeaten run that stands at 15 fights, one that meets its toughest challenge yet in former middleweight title holder and bona-fide UFC legend, Silva.
After two years out of the sport, partly due to a drug suspension, Silva, 43, makes his return against a man whom he helped inspire, setting up an inter-generational battle between two MMA artists.
“I think UFC 90, maybe around that time, I think it was Silva versus Patrick Cote, I watched that on pay-per-view live and I felt like that if he [Silva] can do it, I can do it,” Adesanya said.
“But before that I’d watched a lot of his DVDs of him fighting in the UFC and some of the highlights on YouTube. And yeah I definitely thought that if he can do it, I can do it. And now here we are.”
Hours at study on Silva’s illustrious career have Adesanya supremely confident of victory at UFC 234.
“I know him better than he knows himself,” he said. “My team’s been studying him as well and I’ve been studying him for years. So I just know; I feel I can mimic him; some of his fights I can actually mimic the sequences that he’s used to finish the guys off, or to get the guys started before he finishes them off.
“I just know too much, and the difference is the way that I’m playing the game: the mind. My mind is different, I’m Player 1.”
A perfect four wins from four fights in 2018 saw Adesanya climb up the middleweight rankings, putting him firmly on the radar of UFC president Dana White. The two met late last year to discuss a variety of future opportunities, but it’s clear which one “The Last Stylebender” has at the top of his list.
“You don’t know that,” Adesanya quipped when it was suggested a title shot could be just one or two more wins away.
“I’ll just tell you one thing, when I had my meeting with Dana — I was supposed to have one last weekend with the ESPN [Brooklyn] card as well — but I sat with Dana two months ago, hashed it out with him and told him what the go [was] , and now everything is falling into place exactly as I planned it.
“Let’s just say I want Robert to win this fight [against Gastelum] , I really want Robert to win this fight and I feel like I’m going to win this fight [against Silva] . So I’ll just leave it at that.”
Catch UFC 234 on ESPN, and in Australia and New Zealand on ESPN and Main Event