Israel Adesanya cried backstage after heavily criticized UFC 276 win: ‘It’s the expectations I put on myself’


Israel Adesanya can relate to some of the disappointment that was felt with his most recent championship performance.

“The Last Stylebender” recorded his fifth straight defense of the undisputed UFC middleweight title at UFC 276 this past July, winning a unanimous decision over Jared Cannonier that drew criticism from fighters and fans for a lack of thrills. Overall, Adesanya was pleased with the victory, but knows that he could have done more and allowed himself to acknowledge that he could have done more in the immediate aftermath.

“I don’t hold onto things,” Adesanya said on The MMA Hour ahead of his headlining bout with Alex Pereira at UFC 281 this Saturday in New York. I let them feel. People try to deny things and block it, if you fight your emotions they’ll get you later on. So I feel it.

“I cried backstage. Me and [coach] Eugene [Bareman] hugged it out and he told me, ‘Don’t worry, you’ll be fine.’ I was like, ‘Just give me a bourbon, I’ll be fine.’ So I expressed it, feel it, and I let it go. You can release your emotions and it helps you relax. It’s just a normal human function, I don’t know why we shame it.”

Adesanya was coming off of a pair of lopsided title defenses against Robert Whittaker and Marvin Vettori that were similarly criticized for not being entertaining, even as they cemented his spot as one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world.

For his UFC 276 walkout, Adesanya made an elaborate entrance in homage to WWE legend The Undertaker, the grandiosity of which only contrasted further with the relatively uneventful fight itself.

“[I was] angry at myself because of what I wanted,” Adesanya stated. “People mistake it. This is not about other people. This is about me. I did the Undertaker walkout and I had this Miyamoto Musashi mentality like I’m going to make him wait, because I don’t think it’s going to last long. Then, I realize that I have to fight this man. I’ve said it many times, his corner, wow, MMA Lab beautiful, because they saved him. They would see what I was setting up, and they’d call it. I was just like F ***, OK. He’s an excellent student who listens to them.

“For me, it was just the pressure I put on myself because it was International Fight Week, I’m like, ‘Damn, I want to f****** take this to the next level after I smoke this guy.’ And I felt like I didn’t smoke this guy, but I beat him quite easily. Easily. It’s easy.

A lot of Adesanya’s criticisms of his title fights were directed at him rather than his opponents. This aspect of the business is something that Adesanya understands, even though he disagrees with some of it.

“I think so,” Adesanya said when asked if the criticism is unfair. It takes two people to tango so you can’t blame me if the criticism is unfair. You can see the 5th round and how it ended. I was pushing the action. I was trying to fight. I touched him .”

“[I was criticized] because I’m the champ, I’m the great one,” he continued. He continued, “I’m that one-and we’ve spoken to everybody about it, even Georges … We talked in-depth and this happened to Silva. Jon Jones also had it happen to him. It’s happened in boxing to many greats. When you are so good and keep winning, people just want to throw s*** at each other .”


Adesanya used St-Pierre and Anderson Silva — a pair of MMA legends who authored two of the most memorable title runs in UFC history — as an example of great fighters who occasionally came under fire from fans for playing it safe. “GSP” was known for employing a wrestling-heavy style that kept him out of danger as he racked up championship win after championship win while serving as one of the UFC’s most proven pay-per-view draws.

Silva was also criticised for his willingness to go the extra mile with inferior opponents. However, he did create some of MMA’s most memorable finishers.

“[St-Pierre is] a guy that–not many people in this life has ever been in my position and would understand,” Adesanya said. You might be able to see it. It has been. I was there, I was a fan when people were like, ‘He’s so boring. He just takes people down.” I’m like, ‘Bro, this guy’s messing people up.’

“Same with Silva, I was there as a fan when people were talking s*** about the Thales Leites fight, UFC 97. “Did the three first rounds of this fight? What styles did he use? You are not paying attention to what I am watching. Yeah, the last two rounds, maybe he coasted, but did you not enjoy the show?’ People who were there live should be blessed that they watched an artist like that perform live, but we’re in the Tik Tok generation now. That’s .”


On paper, Adesanya has an ideal style matchup to create fireworks this Saturday when he fights Pereira at Madison Square Garden. Pereira has two wins in kickboxing against Adesanya. He looks forward to engaging Pereira for a “bloody” fight.

Adesanya knows he has the chance to win the hearts of fans back with an exciting win and that they could just as quickly move on.

“This is the generation we’re in,” Adesanya said. Adesanya said, “This is the generation we’re in.” Therefore, I don’t really care about other peoples’ opinions. Like I said, I’m human, I listen to them, but I don’t hold onto them. I just hear them and I’m like, ‘Hm, OK, cool.'”