Two title bouts headline this Saturday’s UFC 276 pay-per-view, but there is only one main event.
Defending his title in that spot will be middleweight champion Israel Adesanya, who looks to extend his undefeated streak as a middleweight against the explosive, powerful Jared Cannonier.
“I’m going to bring something different to this fight,” Adesanya says. “I’ve been recycling the whole division, but I’m happy for some new blood. You’ll see again that no one rises to the occasion like me.”
The co-main is Max Holloway seeking to dethrone featherweight champ Alexander Volkanovski, a familiar face for Adesanya (22–1). Volkanovski and Adesanya have history dating back to their work together on City Kickboxing, and they share an immense amount of respect for each other.
“Alex is a great fighter, a great teammate and a great champion,” Adesanya says. “He’s the best featherweight champ of all time, but I’m doing GOAT things as well in my lane, too. And this is International Fight Week, so I want to show off.”
Adesanya enters Saturday’s fight as a massive favorite. Though Cannonier (15–5) has won five of six bouts since his move to middleweight, that lone loss—suffered against Robert Whittaker in October 2020—is alarming. Whittaker is an elite talent, yet he fell short in two different attempts against Adesanya. Though it is true that styles make fights, Adesanya is confident he will be able to impose his will against Cannonier. And as he enters his fifth title defense, the champ is quite comfortable with a new challenger coming after his belt.
“Being the one everyone chases, it’s normal for me,” Adesanya says. “That’s life now. I’m used to having a target on my back. Now, as a person, I respect Cannonier. But now the time is here, and with all due respect, I have no respect anymore.”
There is no denying Cannonier’s elite striking, but Adesanya is the more complete mixed martial artist. Following back-to-back victories—against Marvin Vettori last June and Whittaker in February—Adesanya believes he is now starting to hit his peak in the cage.
“I’m a student of the game,” says Adesanya, who will turn 33 in July. “My team is very honest with me, and I’m very self-critical. Don’t get me wrong, I’m my own biggest fan. I sip my Kool-Aid, but I don’t get drunk off it. At the same time, I’m my own biggest critic. I tell myself I ain’t s--- when I ain’t s---. I am hard on myself when I need to be better. That’s not just in fighting about being a better fighter, that’s in life about being a better person.
“There is a lot more I can do. People haven’t seen me grapple enough. When the opportunity presents itself, they will. My standup is getting even better and better. I keep studying and improving my sparring. Right now, momentum is on my side.”
If Adesanya is successful against Cannonier, a new contender may emerge earlier in the 276 card. Fourth-ranked Sean Strickland (25–3) is matched up against Alex Pereira, an unranked fighter with only six fights in his MMA career. But Pereira (5–1) holds two victories against Adesanya from his decorated kickboxing career, which adds an entirely new element if they were to meet in the Octagon.
“I’m looking at what happens in the Strickland-Pereira fight,” Adesanya says. “Pereira has a lot to prove. I’m looking forward to seeing how that fight plays out.”
An integral piece of Adesanya’s success has been his ability to push himself beyond nearly every opponent. Outside of his solitary loss, which took place in a light heavyweight title bout where Jan Blachowicz used his size to pin Adesanya down, there has been no stopping him in the cage.
Adesanya welcomes the spotlight of the 276 main event, the centerpiece of UFC’s International Fight Week, where he knows all eyes will be directly on him in the top-billed fight of the night.
“I’m going to f--- Cannonier up,” Adesanya says. “So stay tuned.”
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