UFC middleweight champ Israel Adesanya likes to study things. From fighting styles to showmanship to fashion and even social media skills, Adesanya is quick with analysis and quips.
His ongoing Twitter feud with Jon Jones is one of the more entertaining spats in the UFC and has lit a fuse for a fight that could be almost two years away.
Adesanya visited ESPN’s Bristol campus recently, and we asked him about Jones, the art of talking trash on social media, ways to improve the UFC and more.
ESPN: It seems you and Jon have fun on Twitter. It seems like he looks at you like a little brother.
Israel Adesanya: “I knew you were going to say that.”
The UFC’s light heavyweight division could have another title contender emerge on Saturday.
In the UFC Fight Night main event, Jan Blachowicz, who has won five of his past six fights, will take on Jacare Souza, the veteran star who is making his debut in the division.
UFC Fight Night: Blachowicz vs. Jacare
• Saturday, Sao Paulo, Brazil
• Prelims: ESPN+, 5 p.m. ET
• Main card: ESPN+, 8 p.m. ET
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You don’t like that, do you?
“I wouldn’t say little brother, though sometimes big brother has to get his ass whupped eventually. That’s it: 2021 Raiders Stadium. I already said if he wants to fight me now, he has to come to 185, come see the champ. I don’t really need him for my career to be great. He needs me because he has no one else to fight. What’s the big fight for him now?”
You don’t expect him to come down, do you?
“If he wants to, he can. But like I said, I have a lot of work to do at 185 first, some tough guys I have to defend my belt against. There are, like, four guys I feel I have to get through. And then I’m going to jump in weight class and then take care of him.”
Why is that important to you? Why not start saying right now, ‘I want the biggest money fight,’ as opposed to reigning in the division for a while?
“That would be disrespectful to the division, because a lot of guys have been doing their work. You kind of hold the division up, and a lot of people have done that. Robert [Whittaker has] done that. [Anderson] Silva never did that. Silva just ran through the whole division and cleaned the division out, so I want to do something like that. Demetrious Johnson did that as well — cleaned the division out. I want to be a guy, when it’s all said and done, they say, ‘Man, he cleaned out the division, and he stepped up and beat the baddest m—–f—– in the game.'”
You tweeted a gif of Napoleon Dynamite when Jon called you a nerd. What do you think of Jon’s social media game?
— Israel Adesanya (@stylebender) October 9, 2019
“Average. To be honest, average. He called me a f—ing nerd. Oh, no! He hurt my feelings! I didn’t really respond to a lot of things, but there was one day when I had time, and I just went at him, and I flamed his ass up. And I hit him with some s— that I don’t think he was ready for. And he kind of went quiet for a while after that. But he can’t come back from that.”
Is there an art to it?
How would you describe it?
“You have to understand the internet. You have to understand how it works. You have to understand the lingo. You have to understand the culture of the internet. And he doesn’t. He’s young  — he’s only, like, a year older than me — but he’s old. Like, he’s like an old man. He’s like a suburban dad, which he is actually. So he doesn’t get it. He’s not hip with it, so that’s why when a kid like me, a fresh kid, the new kid on the block, I take all the shine away from him. He’s going to get some type of way. He’s going to feel jealous. That’s why he’s coming at me. He realizes I’m the guy to fight for him to make another big, blockbuster fight. And he has one method of doing it, and that’s creating rivals, but hey, you don’t want to make me your enemy — or you do.”
How would you would improve the UFC?
“Definitely give fighters control of the uniform. I understand you want to have the fight kit — yeah, cool story, bro — but let fighters have creative control of the design of their shorts, of their attire. At least let the certain marquee guys, the guys in the top 10 maybe, have control of their attire.
“Definitely pay some of the lower-tier fighters a little bit more. Because sometimes they’re losing money. They fly extra cornermen in. They have to survive camp. I’m not saying pay them hundreds of thousands, just saying a little bit more, so they can take care of those costs.
“Raise the bonus. It’s time. It’s been that way for a long time, $50K. It’s nice — don’t get me wrong — especially when you convert it to New Zealand dollars, but I think it’s time to bump it up to, like, $80K. And then for, like, special events, like the one I just had, the stadium show [for UFC 243 before a record live crowd in Australia], bump it to like $120K U.S.”
As a champion, how do you feel about big fights such as the BMF fight not being a championship fight?
“It’s cool. I don’t mind. Nate Diaz vs. Conor [McGregor] 1 was the main event, and the co-main was Miesha Tate vs. Holly Holm, which was a title fight. It’s OK. They didn’t even have to have a belt. They didn’t have to create this belt. The company didn’t have to get involved because once they got involved, it became weird. It became this corporate thing. So what’s going to happen to the belt now?”
What would you do with it?
“As a fighter?”
As a promoter.
“Keep it on your shelf. That’s one for the history books, I guess. But I wouldn’t defend it. If you want to, sure, but [welterweight champ Kamaru] Usman is the real baddest m—–f—– in the division because he’s the real champ. The ego in me is like, ‘Man, I want the belt now. I want to take that.’ But we’ll see.”
If you were going to come up with a gimmicky belt, what would it be?
“I’ll do like John Cena and put some spinners in my belt. And give it a different name.”
What would the name be?
“Best Freestyler belt.”
Who’s an up-and-coming fighter who impresses you?
With both fighters on their knees in the final seconds, Brad Riddell hammers Jamie Mullarkey with a right hand. For more UFC, sign up here for ESPN+ http://plus.espn.com/ufc.
“Brad Riddell, that’s my teammate, and I say that not biasedly because I see the work he puts in. I see his style of fighting. I love it. He’s one of my favorite fighters in the world, and the world will find out soon enough why. I like Sodiq Yusuff. Not just his skill, but rarely have I seen someone at that weight class [featherweight] hit that hard. I’m liking this kid Sean Woodson from the Contender Series. I watched him and was really impressed. He just had this similar blueprint but different pathway from my style. I liked his boxing. I liked his looks. Yeah, he was really fun to watch. I even hit him up, and I followed him after that and became a fan instantly. I’m not one of these guys who feels I’m too big to hit up the young up-and-comers. I just let him know, ‘Hey, man, I’m watching you fight again because I was really impressed by what you did.’ I even took some things away from it, and some things he was doing was similar to me. Mixed martial arts, it’s artistry, and it’s subjective, and it was cool to just watch him do that.”
Who’s an overrated fighter?
“I wouldn’t say overrated, but [Yoel] Romero and [Paulo] Costa. I think people are still fooled. The casuals, even a lot of experts who are supposed to be experts with a casual brain, they see the impressive things they do. But they miss a lot of the mistakes they make. As a fighter, as a hunter, I see a lot of the mistakes they make. I wouldn’t say they’re overrated but very vulnerable. And I’m like, don’t bring that s— to me because I will take advantage. I will jump on them real quickly. I look forward to fighting both of them at their respective times.”