Israel Adesanya accepted death was a possibility during his first UFC title bout.
‘The Last Stylebender’ became the interim middleweight champion by outpointing Kelvin Gastelum in a brutal 25-minute brawl at UFC 236 in April 2019.
The Fight of the Year winner, which proved to be one of the toughest nights of his career, was hanging the balance heading into the final round.
Just before the final frame got underway, a battered and bruised Adesanya was seen mumbling away to himself, he said: “You’re not going to beat me. I’m prepared to die.”
The 34-year-old was clearly buoyed by the high-stakes nature of the next five minutes as he proceeded to drop Gastelum several times and almost find finish.
All three judges awarded him a 10-8 round and it proved to be the difference as he walked away with a unanimous decision victory courtesy of 48-46, 48-46, and 48-46 scorecards.
Adesanya later explained his mindset in that moment during an interview with UFC commentator and popular podcast host, Joe Rogan.
“I call it ese diablo (that devil),” he said.
“He was looking at me and he just had this look and was swinging his hands. I said, ‘You’re not going to beat me. I’m prepared to die.’ And I meant that, man.
“I swear to God on my life, I meant that. I signed my death warrant right there. I was like, ‘If this is how I die, this is how I die.’ But you see me. I was trying to get him. I was trying to kill him.
“For me, If I’m ready to die, I’m ready to kill. You have to be willing to give something up as well. If he had done that to me and I didn’t wake up, so be it.”
Since then, Adesanya has established himself as one of the greatest middleweight fighters of all time by beating Robert Whittaker, Yoel Romero, Paulo Costa, and Jared Cannonier.
The only man to get the better of him at 185lbs, Alex Pereira, was knocked out by the Nigerian-born New Zealander when they rematched at UFC 287 in April.
Now, he’ll defend his belt against Sean Strickland at UFC 293.
Adesanya is a massive favourite to beat Strickland who is on a two-fight win streak but lost back-to-back fights against Pereira and Cannonier in 2022.
The brash American, who is known for his wacky personality as much as his fighting skills, has already been causing trouble during his brief time in Sydney.
UFC president Dana White has been forced to place a minder with Strickland after he punched a fan who told him ‘Izzy is gunna f*** you up’.
Adesanya will be hoping he can make that prediction come true – without going to war as he did against Gastelum – at the Qudos Bank Arena on Saturday night.