MMA

Israel Adesanya is making the right choice by stepping away from competition ‘for a long time’

Israel Adesanya is making the right choice by stepping away from competition 'for a long time'

Israel Adesanya, the former UFC middleweight champion, said on “The Rock” podcast that he won’t fight again for a long while. (Mike Roach/Getty Images)

Israel Adesanya is an inherently private man in the most public of businesses. His job essentially requires him to strip down to his underwear and fight another man in front of the whole world. And to make it worse for someone who places great value on privacy, that job also requires speaking publicly about himself and his life.

It's a testament to the man he is that he has handled it brilliantly and become one of the UFC's most popular figures while at the same time becoming one of its greatest fighters.

He didn't look close to great in his last fight, when he lost the UFC middleweight title by one-sided unanimous decision to Sean Strickland in the main event of UFC 293 on Sept. 10 in Sydney, Australia. He looked a step off, without the laser focus that has marked his reign.

Strickland probably deserves a lot of the credit for that, but he'd never been that good in his previous fights. Clearly, there was something not correct with Adesanya.

News broke after the fight that he had a DUI three weeks before the bout, and that was telling. Adesanya drinking during camp was a major warning sign that things weren't going smoothly.

In a fascinating and wide-ranging interview on "The Rock" podcast that was released Thursday, Adesanya gave a glimpse behind the curtain. And the most heartening news to come out of it if you care about Adesanya the person and not just Adesanya the athlete is that he said he plans to step away from fighting for a while.

Adesanya had been too active, fighting four times in 14 months and 16 times in the UFC in five-plus years, and he essentially admitted that it caught up to him.

A young fighter coming up needs to fight often to develop and learn the professional game. There isn't a lot of pressure on him. The expectations aren't sky high. The weight of the hopes of a country, a region and a continent aren't on his back. He can push a cart through a grocery store unnoticed and unbothered. He can take the dog for a walk in the park and not be stopped 100 times for photographs, autographs and chit chat.

But if you succeed at the level that Adesanya did, things change. He became one of the most recognizable faces in combat sports. Everyone wanted a piece of him. Fans wanted autographs and photographs and the opportunity to tell their friends that they "know" the champ. Media wanted his take on everything from his next opponent's vulnerabilities to the world's political situation. Sponsors wanted his face and name associated with their products.

It was life in a fish bowl, all while the best fighters in the world were devising ways to take his belt and deliver him punishment.

Israel Adesanya has become one of the most popular fighters in the world with both his skill and his ability to entertain the crowd during interviews. (Jeff Bottari/Getty Images)

On the podcast, Adesanya said it had finally become too much, and he won't be fighting anytime soon.

"Before this fight I was very, like, ‘I know I’m on the back end of my career, so I want to do as many as I can because I know when I’m done with this I’m going to miss it,'"Adesanya said. "I’m trying to do as much as I can. But after this fight, and again, after 14 months and four fights, it’s not just the fights. It’s the training and everything. I had injuries going into the [Alex] Pereira fight. You’ve seen that. I don’t make any excuses. Strickland got me on that night because he was the better fighter on the night. He did his work well. He had a good team behind him.

“Now, I’m going to take time to look after myself, and I’m not going to fight for a long time. I’m definitely not going to retire because I know me — I’m not leaving like that. I know me."

It's what he needs. Everyone reacts differently to fame and pressure. Adesanya has never been all that comfortable with being recognized.

He released a documentary about his life earlier this year that was remarkably open, particularly for him. One of the interviewers said of the documentary, "You led us right in and let us see everything." Adesanya beamed and interjected, "Some things, but not everything," as a testament to his love of his privacy.

There was speculation earlier in the week that he'd step in to fight Khamzat Chimaev on Oct. 21 at UFC 294, given that Paulo Costa was forced out by a staph infection in his right elbow. A UFC employee privately nixed that with Yahoo Sports, saying, "He'd probably do it if we asked him, but we need him to rest."

Clearly, Adesanya agrees. He needs time to be Israel Adesanya, family man and private citizen, much more now than he does to be Israel Adesanya, middleweight champion and UFC superstar.

It would be no shock if the Strickland fight is the last time we see him. He has made his money, he has proven he's one of the greats in the sport's history, and he still has his health. Combat sports take that away from everyone if they stay too long, and Adesanya is hyper aware of that.

If he retires, that decision should be celebrated, not reviled.

"If I did [retire], I’m fine," Adesanya said. "I don’t need to prove anything else. But I know what I can do and what I can change in my lifestyle to make my body adapt to where I need to be. I’m going to heal myself up. You won’t see me fight for a long time.”

And if it's never again, that's OK, too. It was a great run, and Adesanya will live in history no matter what he chooses as his fighting future.

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