UFC middleweight Israel Adesanya has the opportunity of a lifetime this weekend to turn into a legitimate title contender on the big stage when he takes on Derek Brunson on the main PPV card of UFC 230, which takes place this Saturday night at Madison Square Garden in New York City. It’s the highest-profile fight of the Nigerian-born, New Zealand-based kickboxer’s career, and what better place to break into global superstar status than in the mecca of the sporting world, NYC.
The UFC has so far built Adesanya up slowly, but now the promotion is ready to give him the sternest test of his career on the biggest stage possible. Just 29 years of age, Adesanya is already 14-0 as a professional mixed martial artist. He signed with the UFC earlier this year and made his Octagon debut against Rob Wilkinson, knocking him out on the preliminary card at UFC 221. He returned a few months later when he fought Marvin Vettori to a split decision at UFC on FOX 29, and then headlined the TUF 27 Finale this past summer, defeating Brad Tavares via unanimous decision in arguably his most complete performance to date. Now, the UFC wants to see him sink or swim when he takes on perennial top-10 middleweight Derek Brunson, with a title shot potentially on the line.
UFC middleweight champion Robert Whittaker is expected to fight Kelvin Gastelum in early 2019, but after that, the next title contender is up for grabs. The front runner would be whoever wins the co-main event of UFC 230 between former champ Chris Weidman and long-time contender Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza. But if that fight is a grind and no one is impressive, a guy like Adesanya will have the chance to step up and get a title shot. Just say Weidman grinds out a split decision against Souza, but Adesanya goes out there and destroys Brunson. At that point, the UFC might opt to give Adesanya the title shot. The fact four middleweight bouts line the UFC 230 pay-per-view card shows that the UFC wants to get the division on a roll again after a down year for it in 2018. What better time to do that than this weekend at UFC 230 with a guy like Adesanya becoming the breakthrough star.
Armed with some of the most technical, precise, and devastating striking skills in the sport today, Adesanya has all the skills necessary to become a champion in the sport. But not only is he a great fighter, he also talks a big game. Adesanya is terrific on the mic and great on social media, and so it’s no wonder the UFC caught on and gave him that TUF Finale main event against Tavares back in the summer and now this main card slot on a huge PPV against Brunson in a fight that’s stylistically favorable to him. As offensively gifted as Brunson is — his last six wins in the Octagon have come by knockout — he’s also a bit of a glass cannon who can suffer a KO loss himself, having been knocked out in brutal fashion three times in the UFC alone. Brunson is dangerous and he certainly won’t be a cakewalk for Adesanya, but stylistically this is a fight that favors “The Last Stylebender” and the fact the betting line has him pegged as a huge favorite shows the oddsmakers know what the UFC is up to here.
The UFC has done everything it can to give Adesanya a great opportunity to emerge as a superstar this weekend. He’s fighting on a massive card against an opponent who he should beat on a card that features many of the top fighters in his division. All he has to do is put together all the pieces and go in there and do his job, and he will be rewarded handsomely. Adesanya is a tremendous talent who has all the makings of a future star in this sport, and he’s not far away now from fighting for gold. A win over Brunson will certainly will get Adesanya very close to a title shot on paper, and we know in MMA timing and injuries play as much of a part in who fights for the title than anything else. Adesanya can’t control what Weidman and Souza do, but he can control what he does, and if he beats Brunson in devastating fashion, the calls for him to get a title shot will be heard loud and clear.
Do you think Israel Adesanya gets the job done tomorrow night?