A diamond stud glittered in Israel Adesanya’s left ear, whereas the proper sleeve on his beige suede jacket rode as much as expose a gleaming gold watch. The timepiece matched the shiny plates on the entrance of the black leather-based title belt that Adesanya had positioned on the dais for the struggle week information convention.
“I haven’t misplaced that step. I’m nonetheless hungry,” mentioned Adesanya, 32, who will attempt to efficiently defend his middleweight title within the Final Combating Championship for the fourth time since 2019 on Saturday night time in Houston. His opponent will likely be Robert Whittaker, the 31-year-old former champion from Australia. It is going to be a rematch of their final assembly, in October 2019, when Adesanya snapped Whittaker’s nine-fight profitable streak by knocking him out within the second spherical.
On Wednesday, Adesanya, a local of Nigeria who grew up in New Zealand, wore a smile befitting somebody who had simply attained the struggle trade’s equal of job safety. Earlier that day, his administration staff at Paradigm Sports activities had introduced he had signed a brand new contract with the U.F.C. Particulars stay sparse — the principle adjectives Paradigm utilized in its information launch have been “profitable” and “multi-fight” — however there was little doubt that it was substantial.
The deal, which, in keeping with the information launch, may make Adesanya the U.F.C.’s second-highest-paid performer, is well timed for Paradigm. Whereas the heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou has signaled that he can be willing to sit out for a year to develop into a free agent, Adesanya’s new contract secures the long-term presence of one of many U.F.C.’s different marquee athletes.
Adesanya, who’s 21-1 as knowledgeable blended martial arts fighter, mentioned the contract is worthy of his expertise and his standing as a crossover star.
“The factor I need to know: What’s my worth to the corporate?” Adesanya mentioned. “Should you undersell me, you’re kidding your self.”
Supplied Adesanya, a striker with highlight-reel expertise, defeats Whittaker, a rugged, well-rounded fighter with a 24-5 file, the brand new contract ought to give the U.F.C. some sorely wanted stability on the prime of its roster.
The U.F.C.’s largest draw, the previous featherweight and light-weight champion Conor McGregor, has misplaced his final two bouts, each knockouts in opposition to Dustin Poirier, an American identified for his energy pictures. The second bout, in July 2021, left McGregor with a damaged leg. Although McGregor is broadly understood to be the U.F.C.’s best-paid fighter, it’s unclear when he’ll compete once more.
Adesanya is wholesome sufficient to carry out on Saturday, eight months after a dominant unanimous-decision victory over Marvin Vettori of Italy in June. He has now logged three defenses of the title he first gained from Whittaker in 2019.
“It’s virtually like he will get higher each time,” mentioned Dana White, the U.F.C.’s president, after Adesanya defeated Vettori.
After defeating each viable middleweight contender, Adesanya jumped to the 205-pound light-heavyweight division, the place Jan Blachowicz, who was then the champion, overpowered him en path to a win by choice in March 2021. After that loss, Adesanya returned to 185 kilos — and commenced indulging previous opponents in rematches.
The win over Vettori was their second assembly, with Adesanya profitable each. That bout attracted 17,208 spectators to Gila River Area in Glendale, Ariz., and the $4.2 million in ticket gross sales set a file for the power.
Adesanya’s first bout with Whittaker in 2019 was additionally a pure ticket-seller in Australia. Adesanya moved to Auckland, New Zealand’s largest metropolis, when he was 10, whereas Whittaker was born in New Zealand, however raised in Sydney. The U.F.C. pitched the struggle as the most recent installment in an Australia-New Zealand rivalry that has captivated fans in both countries.
Greater than 57,000 spectators confirmed as much as Marvel Stadium in Melbourne to see Adesanya rating a knockout after pummeling Whittaker for 2 bruising rounds. Whittaker mentioned just lately that the high-pressure atmosphere main as much as the bout negatively impacted his efficiency.
“I feel our talent ranges are a lot nearer than the primary struggle dictated,” Whittaker mentioned. “I misplaced, so I can’t actually remark an excessive amount of on it.”
Whittaker talked about on the information convention that the loss drained him of his motivation to coach, saying that he needed to rebound from a “very darkish place” to fine-tune his expertise forward of Saturday’s rematch.
When Adesanya was advised of Whittaker’s remark, he counseled his opponent for resurrecting his profession, however he didn’t supply Whittaker a lot hope for a victory.
“Take him to the darkish place once more,” Adesanya mentioned.