Over hyped, overrated, trying too hard and undeserving. Mixed martial arts fans have never shied away from letting Israel Adesanya know what they think about him.

And as the Kiwi middleweight has soared into the upper echelon of active mixed martial artists, so too has the number of naysayers.

The critiques from armchair critics have followed Adesanya throughout his career, from his days fighting on New Zealand cards and with promotions in Australia and China to his rise to become UFC interim middleweight champion.

But when he meets middleweight champion Robert Whittaker for the undisputed title at UFC 243 in Melbourne in October, many commenters have stuck him with the unfamiliar tag of underdog.


In every fight he's had in the UFC since his debut in February last year, Adesanya has always been the favoured fighter and delivered every time. Against Auckland-born Whittaker, however, he finds himself on the other side of the ledger.

"This is what happens and the name of the game. People are very wishy-washy," Adesanya said.

"It's not really about him (Whittaker). It could be anyone I fight. They'll never give me a chance because they don't want to see me win. Some do, definitely, and I appreciate you, but some don't – and I appreciate you too because I keep proving you wrong and I'll keep proving myself right."

Robert Whittaker and Israel Adesanya will fight for the undisputed UFC middleweight championship. Photos / Getty Images
Robert Whittaker and Israel Adesanya will fight for the undisputed UFC middleweight championship. Photos / Getty Images

The 30-year-old will meet Whittaker at Marvel Stadium in Melbourne, which has a capacity of just over 53,000 people. It's a meeting that has been a long time coming for Adesanya, who said it was a fight he wanted long before he made it into the UFC.

Now he doesn't just get the world title fight, but gets to headline what shapes up as the biggest event in Australasian combat sports to date.

"As soon as I got in the UFC I planted the seed, so it's been a long time coming. Even now, unfortunately because he's been injured and stuff, it's just been building…a lot of buildup, but now here we are.

"It's coming up slowly. I pretty much came off the couch for this camp so my body's been loving it and getting into training with no niggling injuries."

With the fight being booked so far in advance, Adesanya has taken advantage of the extra time to train with his team at City Kickboxing. With eight weeks to go before the bout, Adesanya has already been in camp for about a month, working alongside Kai Kara-France, who fights on the UFC card in China at the end of the month, and Dan Hooker who has demanded to be booked on the Melbourne card.


"The extra four weeks… it's different," Adesanya said. "We did some things early on to change the whole name of this game, this whole camp. We've put everything in the right place, let's put it that way."

The fight will be the third time Australian-based Whittaker has had a title defence in his home country. In both previous bookings he was forced to withdraw through injury or illness.

Whittaker has been very vocal about feeling healthy and assuring he'll be ready to on fight night. He's expected to have the home crowd on his side, and Adesanya said he was hopeful Whittaker could draw on that energy to make it into the cage on the day.

"He's a tough guy and this is a tough game. Let him do what he needs to do… any sort of superstitions he needs to get him across the line and make it to the fight – please get it done."