UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya can't wait for his next chance to defeat his closest rival, who he says he "doesn't like as a person".
The Nigerian-born New Zealander will take on Robert Whittaker at UFC 271 on Sunday February 13 in a battle of the two best fighters in the middleweight division.
Adesanya has been untouchable since he claimed the middleweight belt from Whittaker in 2019. He got the better of the Australian when they first faced off, knocking him down then knocking him out in a dominant unification bout.
The 32-year-old will go in as the favourite to defend his title when they go head-to-head again, and he believes he has a mental edge over Whittaker after that convincing victory.
"I do have the upper hand because I've already beaten him," Adesanya said.
"That gives me motivation enough to make it an even better showing for the next one because I've already beaten this guy twice in one fight."
It's no secret Adesanya and Whittaker aren't the best of friends. The rift between the two rivals goes back to before their first clash, which Adesanya won comprehensively in front of a packed crowd at Melbourne's Marvel Stadium.
Months before that fight, Whittaker posted a meme to Instagram featuring the Grim Reaper next to the character Bender from the TV show Futurama — referencing the fighters' nicknames, The Reaper (Whittaker) and The Last Stylebender (Adesanya).
It was a harmless move but one that didn't sit well with Adesanya, who admits he is eager to "commit some ill" on Whittaker in the octagon.
"It started with a meme he made, I just thought that was out of character," he said of his dislike of Whittaker.
"I don't really have any ill feels towards the guy, I just don't like him as a person. I don't wish ill on him but I get to commit some ill on him.
"Why don't I like him? Because I have to fight him. I don't have to like him."
Adesanya's last fight was in June last year, where he defeated Marvin Vettori to defend his middleweight championship.
While it was has been some time between fights, the Kiwi said he has been training continuously over the past few months and is excited to show off some "new tricks" in the cage.
"It's been fun," Adesanya said.
"This has been a refreshing camp, one that I got to just learn some new tricks and revise some old tricks. I've been having fun.
"It's given me more time to learn and upgrade and take time off. I've just stayed in shape the whole time. I haven't really gotten out of shape. This is the best I've ever come into a camp, put it that way. I've just stayed training.
"This is art, this is fun for me. So I'll go in there and enjoy myself. I feel like. It'll just be another classic performance."
It had been hoped the fight between the two Oceania fighters would be held in New Zealand, but Covid-related difficulties mean it will be held in Houston, Texas instead.
"I wanted the fight to be in New Zealand because last time was in his backyard, this time it (would be) in my backyard," Adesanya said.
"But unfortunately, the world we live in right now a lot is restricted so Texas is a good substitute."
Ranked the third best pound-for-pound UFC fighter, Adesanya's next goal is to "lap" the middleweight division by defeating every fighter in his path.
In 2021, he moved up a weight class to light heavyweight but suffered the first loss of his MMA career to Jan Błachowicz. Adesanya said his dream of being a champion of two divisions is on the back burner for now.
"It's just a side mission," he said.
"I'm going to lap my division (middleweight) again and it's just a side mission. That's the immediate future plan."