Ever since beating Robert Whittaker in late 2019 and taking the UFC middleweight belt off him, Israel Adesanya has made no secret about the fact that he believes he owns the Australian from a psychological point of view.
And on Friday (AEDT), Adesanya attempted to ramp up the mind games another notch by wearing an extremely unique necklace at the UFC 271 press conference, ahead of their highly-anticipated rematch on Sunday.
Hanging from a gold chain was a pendant, seemingly encrusted in diamonds, with a mini display screen that has the moment Adesanya knocked out Whittaker at UFC 243 on loop.
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“This is a moment from the UFC NFT Strike collection,” Adesanya said.
“This is a moment from the UFC 243 when I took out Rob Whittaker – it’s on replay and it just shows the moment over and over and over and over and over again.
“But this weekend I’m looking to create another moment so, yeah, this is fun.
“After beating them, you’re in their head. I was there already anyway, but you’re already in their head.
“Once you beat them, the way I did it last time, you can’t get over that … I still have properties in there rent free.”
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And as opposed to the way Whittaker handled the pressure of being the defending champion heading into their last meeting, Adesanya said he loved that pressure now that the roles are reversed.
“Pressure makes diamonds and I’m used to that. You see me, I’m shining right now,” said Adesanya who was adorned in jewellery and a glossy puffer-type jacket.
“I said it before we fought last time because I could feel it … you could see the moment weighing on him, and he was denying it the whole time, obviously he had to, he couldn’t tell me, ‘Yeah, I’m feeling the pressure, bro. F—king hell this is crazy’.
“Pressure is a really acquired taste.”
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But Whittaker, sitting two spaces down from Adesanya at Houston’s Toyota Center, took all the jibes in his stride.
“He beat me the first time, he’s got bragging rights. What do I do? If I won the first time I’d be stomping around as well. It’s a cool necklace,” he said.
While conceding he “can’t reinvent the wheel”, Whittaker said he has made a lot of changes to his fighting style since his second-round KO defeat to Adesanya in Melbourne.
“I’m trying to get better, trying to be more diverse,” he said.
“I’m excited to get in there again with him and to test myself. I guess the rematch is a good way for me to gauge how far I’ve come or how far I’ve got to go.”
Whittaker said the difference between the lead-up to their first fight and their rematch has been “night and day” for him.
“I think I was just venting on him to be honest,” Whittaker said of the first lead-up.
“I was feeling the pressure from a lot of different avenues and I wasn’t happy with a lot of different things and I was just angling it towards him to be honest.
“But I’ve let all that go, I’m pretty cool now, I’m quite happy with everything.
“I’m enjoying this one … it’s nice and relaxed. It’s chilled.”
After being beaten by Adesanya convincingly the first time around, Whittaker said he was taking their second meeting with “a lot more gravity and respect”.
“It’s a dynamic fight and honestly my team has done the best job of equipping me with the skillsets that I need to obtain this victory and it’s up to me to execute,” he said.
Middleweight contenders Jared Cannonier and Derek Brunson are also fighting each other on the main card, but while UFC boss Dana White stopped short of guaranteeing the winner of that match-up getting the next shot at the belt, he suggested the winner of Australian cult hero Tai Tuivasa and Derrick Lewis would become a heavyweight contender.
Neither Tuivasa or Lewis saw their co-main event going beyond the first round.
“I’m coming to knock his ass out,” Lewis said.
Tuivasa responded: “I’m coming to do the same thing, bruh.”
To which Lewis, reacted: “Let’s swing and bang, then.”
Tuivasa couldn’t contain his excitement for the fight.
“It’s either going to be my head or his head, we entertain the fans so we’re coming here to take heads off,” he said.
Meanwhile, Tuivasa has a new contraption coming out on the market called the ‘Shuivasa’, specially designed for people to drink ‘shoeys’ with, and he handed one each to Whittaker, White, Adesanya and Lewis on stage.
“I’m still not putting my mouth on this sh-t,” Lewis said.
Adesanya wasn’t keen on performing a ‘shoey’ either, saying: “My mum is here, she’s a nurse, she already warned me about the dangers of putting someone else’s bacteria in your mouth so with my mum being here that’s a big no-no.”