Israel Adesanya is rapidly cleaning out the UFC‘s middleweight division and took the scalp of Paulo Costa with incredible ease on Saturday night.
To understand just how big Adesanya is getting, Dana White‘s revelation that the stare down alone was the most viewed in UFC history – 1.5 million more than Conor McGregor vs Khabib Nurmagomedov – says it all.
After seeing the champion pick apart his powerful Brazilian opponent with poise and deadly accuracy, everyone wants to know who is next for ‘Stylebender’ and the man himself has a clear picture.
Israel Adesanya underlined his status as dominant champion by beating Paulo Costa
Adesanya wants to fight the winner of Robert Whittaker (left) and Jared Cannonier (right)
In the immediate aftermath of his victory on Fight Island, Adesanya said: ‘I told you guys, Anderson Silva lived a great legacy and I said I wanted to do service to the middleweight division and that is a hard act to follow but we’re doing the work, 100 per cent.’
Silva defended the middleweight title a staggering 10 times and there is still some way to go before Adesanya can match the Brazilian’s achievements.
He continued: ‘So I already DM’d Cannonier, he’s a hell of a dude, I love his energy. He’s a beautiful, beautiful man. And I said “You destroy Robert Whittaker and you’re next”. He’s the one I want to fight next. He deserves it if he beats Robert Whittaker handily and dominates him, he’s next.
‘I think Jared is going to dust Whittaker and I look forward to fighting him, what we said in the DMs, he said he wants to get it done and I look forward to that. But if Whittaker wins and he wants to get knocked out a third time, I can make that happen too.’
The middleweight king put on a clinic to defeat Costa in the main event of UFC 253
Dana White agreed, saying: ‘That is the fight if Cannonier wins. And I love that about Israel. He’s ready for who’s next, who else thinks they can beat me.’
Cannonier has looked superb since moving down from light-heavyweight to middleweight.
The powerful 36-year-old American still has an almighty challenge ahead of him in the shape of former champion Whittaker but it now seems inevitable that Adesanya’s next opponent will be the winner of that fight on October 24.
More broadly speaking however, Adesanya has not ruled out future moves up in weight and desperately wants to come up against Jon Jones.
In the post fight press conference he said: ‘Maybe I’m still interested in fighting at light-heavyweight but like what I said about Anderson Silva, he defended this belt so many times, so many times in the middleweight division and then he went up to light-heavyweight for little shows, I just wanted to f*** up Jon Jones and I still will but I just have to talk to my coach because even he talked about Stipe Miocic and other things so yeah, everything is open. Cheddar makes it better.
Adesanya wants to string together a number of title defences like Anderson Silva did
Cannonier has looked sensational since moving down to middleweight from light-heavyweight
Anderson Silva is the greatest UFC middleweight of all time and set the benchmark
He then added: ‘There’s still Jack Hermansson, I liked his win over Kelvin Gastelum, I want to showcase my grappling a little bit, I was hoping Costa would try tonight so I can show him what the white belt can do because I’m a white belt for life.
‘But yeah, Cannonier next if he gets past Robert. There’s a lot left to do in this game and I’m just steadily working my way day by day, fight by fight. Six guys in the top 15 I’ve fought, Paulo only fought two and everyone was like “Israel is all hype”.
‘To be the greatest middleweight of all time I just have to keep doing what I’m doing. Keep listening to my coaches. That is what got me to the dance. The belt doesn’t mean anything, gold looks good on black skin but it doesn’t really mean anything, for me it is about the victories.
‘It is about the names you collect, the scalps you take along the way. If I had lost against Costa, I wouldn’t have cared I lost the belt, I’d have been sad I lost the fight, that’s all I care about, fighting.’
Hermansson is lined up to Britain’s Darren Till on December 5 and the Liverpool native has also spoken of his desire to lock horns with fellow striking supremo Adesanya.
Robert Whittaker (pictured) beat Darren Till and both men are desperate to fight for the title
On Saturday night he tweeted: ‘What a Fight by the Champ, he’s some striker. I have got to come back, beat Jack. Beat maybe one more, Or if I beat jack badly… jump straight in & fight the champ!
‘I do believe I can out-strike him if I’m faster… I have to work extremely hard now though. More than ever before!’
Tactically and technically that would be a brilliant fight but it seems Till may have to wait a while.
Having already collected the scalp of Whittaker with a second-round TKO in October last year, there would be greater interest in the Cannonier match-up.
But the No 3-ranked contender still has plenty to prove against the cream of the crop.
Whittaker is incredibly dangerous and technical, as he showed in his comeback win over Darren Till, so Cannonier will have to be at his very best.
Adesanya still has longer term ambitions about stepping up in weight for big fights
Given the masterclass Adesanya put on against Costa, he would start as heavy favourite against either man.
Cannonier has defeats on his record against Shawn Jordan, Glover Teixeira, Jan Blachowicz and Dominick Reyes, although all of those were up at light-heavyweight.
He is the underdog with bookmakers ahead of the Whittaker fight and in terms of technical striking ability is not on the same level as the champion.
Cannonier is arguably physically stronger than Adesanya and possesses fearsome ground-and-pound but the champion is accustomed to being matched-up against naturally bigger men.
Yoel Romero and Costa both found themselves on the outside, struggling to get foothold in the fight and were unable to drag Adesanya into the kind of fight they wanted.
The champion is beginning to look almost unbeatable at the top of the division
Whittaker had his moments against the champion and said after his defeat he’d string a couple of wins together before earning a rematch.
Few would begrudge him of that and another antipodean showdown would be well worth a watch, particularly if the ‘Reaper’ has learned from their first encounter.
For now though, Adesanya can bask in the glow of his flawless performance in Abu Dhabi before turning his attention to the next scalp he wants for the collection.