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Israel Adesanya envisions win over Yoel Romero at UFC 248

Updated March 4, 2020 - 6:30 pm

Rising UFC star Israel Adesanya will headline his first Las Vegas pay-per-view card when he defends the middleweight title against Yoel Romero in the main event of UFC 248 on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena.

Adesanya said he doesn’t expect anything to be different. The undefeated former pro kickboxing champion believes in the power of visualization and has put it into practice as his career progressed.

There was a time when he was struggling to make it as a fighter early in his career when he was borrowing a friend’s old beat-up car, but Adesanya envisioned and mimed hitting the paddle shifters on his future Lamborghini as he drove.

“I built myself for this,” Adesanya said. “Even this right here, I’ve done a few hundred times in my mind. I’ve done the postfight interview with Joe Rogan in the cage, visualized sequences in the fight of how I finish him so many times and in so many different ways. Obsessive visualization. It kind of just becomes a habit. You don’t understand the level of crazy we get to sometimes.”

The pace at which Adesanya has reached the peak of the middleweight division is fairly insane in its own right. He debuted in February 2018, quickly answering questions about how his flashy striking would hold up against takedowns with four straight wins before the calendar year was over.

That earned him a fight against legendary former middleweight champ Anderson Silva in February 2019. After beating Silva, one of his idols, Adesanya won the interim title with a unanimous decision over Kelvin Gasterlum in April, then took the undisputed belt by knocking out Robert Whittaker in October.

Adesanya admits he’s about a year ahead of schedule, but the 30-year-old says he knew after four pro fights that he would be the best in the world and a global superstar.

UFC president Dana White said Adesanya has the “it” factor.

“He’s a good-looking kid,” White said. “He speaks really well. He can dance. He’s got a lot of personality, but at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is if you can fight. And he can fight.

“He could be sitting around waiting for (injured top contender Paulo) Costa to get back, and that’s the fight that should happen. But he wants to fight Romero. Nobody wants to fight Romero. That says a lot about him.”

Adesanya believes the reasons for his success are far more tangible. He has worked tirelessly on his craft, but there are plenty of stories of tremendous athletes who have wilted under the bright lights of stardom, and the Nigerian-born, New Zealand-raised fighter was determined to not let that happen.

He spent countless hours watching tape of Silva, Conor McGregor and Ronda Rousey to prepare for what life would be like as a UFC star. Most of that was focused on doing interviews and making public appearances.

“Pressure makes diamonds,” he said. “You just have to be able to adapt because people aren’t ready for this. This is not something I would wish on most people because they couldn’t handle what I’m doing. A lot of people would crumble. … Pressure is an acquired taste.”

And about that Lamborghini? “I bought a McLaren instead,” Adesanya said with a laugh.

The bout headlines a pay-per-view card that includes a women’s strawweight title bout between former champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk and current champ Zhang Weili. The card will stream at 7 p.m. on ESPN Plus.

Contact Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AdamHillLVRJ on Twitter.

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