Heavy is the head that wears the crown, and apparently Israel Adesanya’s head has been feeling extra heavy over this recent streak of less-than-exciting UFC performances.
Adesanya sits at the No. 2 position in the pound-for-pound rankings and is set to make his sixth Middleweight title defense against Alex Pereira at UFC 281 this weekend (Sat., Nov. 12, 2022) in New York City. And he’ll freely admit that the pressure is getting to be a bit much, even if it’s pressure he puts on himself and not pressure from the outside world.
“I don’t hold on to things — I let myself feel them, you know?” Adesanya said. “People try to deny things and block them. If you fight your emotions, they’ll get you later on. So, I feel it. I cried backstage. Me and Eugene hugged it out and he told me, ‘Don’t worry, you’ll be fine.’ I was like, ‘Just give me a bourbon, I’ll be fine.’ So, I express it, feel it, and I let it go. It’s a good way to release emotions. It relaxes you.
“Just emotional ... it’s a good way to release some emotions,” he later added. “What is it? Cortisol? Is it cortisol, or whatever, releases through tears as well. So, it relaxes you. It’s just a normal human function, I don’t know why we shame it.
“[I was] upset at myself for what I wanted to do,” Adesanya continued. “People mistake it. This is not about other people. This is about me. I did the Undertaker walkout and I had this Miyamoto Musashi mentality like I’m going to make him wait, because I don’t think it’s going to last long. Then I get there, and I’m a little bit frustrated during the fight trying to figure out how to take this guy.
“I’ve said it many times, his corner, wow, MMA Lab, beautiful, because they saved him,” Adesanya continued. “They’d see things I was setting up and call it and I’m just like, ‘F–k, OK, they can see that coming.’ So, they saved him a lot and he’s a good student for listening to them as well.
“For me, it was just the pressure I put on myself because it was International Fight Week,” he concluded. “I’m like ‘Damn, I want to f—-ing take this to the next level after I smoke this guy.’ And I felt like I didn’t smoke this guy, but I beat him quite easily. Easily. So for me ... it’s the expectations I put on myself, that’s what.”
Adesanya has clearly thought about his position a lot, and how fans won’t always be appreciative of the work he puts into a fight unless it ends with a highlight reel knockout. He referenced Anderson Silva’s win over Thales Leites at UFC 97 back in 2009 as an example of a masterclass that was misunderstood as a “boring” fight.
He’s also gotten advice from some very knowledgable people on how to deal with all the pressure. Recently, video of Adesanya and former Welterweight G.O.A.T., Georges St-Pierre, featured GSP giving “The Last Stylebender” a talk about the toll the sport takes on an athlete’s head and how not to get lost in the insanity of combat sports.
How all of this will affect Adesanya’s performance against Pereira — who holds two wins over Izzy in kickboxing — remains to be seen. That’s what makes this UFC 281 title defense at Madison Square Garden so intriguing.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 281 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard (on ESPNEWS/ESPN+) at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV.
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