Should Israel Adesanya take a break from UFC till 2027?
To say that 2023 has been a mixed year for UFC superstar Israel Adesanya would be a major understatement.
After losing his middleweight crown to longtime rival Alex Pereira in late 2022, ‘The Last Stylebender’ kicked off the year in incredible fashion. He finally defeated ‘Poatan’ in April to regain his title, scoring one of the best knockouts of his career in the process.
Back on top of the 185-pound division, Adesanya was then expected to defend his title against top contender Dricus Du Plessis. The South African fighter knocked out Robert Whittaker in July, becoming the second middleweight fighter to do so after Adesanya himself, and the two quickly built a personal and semi-controversial rivalry, too.
Despite this, the timing for Du Plessis’ title shot simply didn’t work. ‘Stillknocks’ was banged up by the time the UFC were scheduled to visit Australia in September, and rather than wait around, the promotion simply bypassed him in favor of Sean Strickland.
Given how easily Pereira had dealt with Strickland in their 2022 clash, it seemed like an easy fight for Israel Adesanya, on paper at least.
Remarkably, though, ‘Tarzan’ stunned everyone by outstriking Adesanya over five rounds to claim the gold, pulling off one of the biggest upsets in UFC history in the process.
In the months that have followed, a number of observers have tried to explain Adesanya’s loss. Some pointed to the knockdown he suffered in the first round while for others, burnout was the biggest issue. After all, the bout was Adesanya’s 16th since his octagon debut in 2018.
Either way, since the loss, Israel Adesanya has gone relatively quiet. The next middleweight title bout, which will see Strickland defend against Du Plessis, is officially set for early 2024 and will be the first 185-pound title bout to not involve ‘The Last Stylebender’ since 2019.
It’s been widely assumed that Adesanya would be back in 2024 regardless, but recently, the former champion was instead coy about his future. In a brief interview that appeared on Instagram, ‘The Last Stylebender’ suggested that his return may not come next year, but could happen in 2027 instead.
If that’s the case, Israel Adesanya would essentially be spending three years on the shelf. So is this a good idea, or a bad one? Naturally, there are pros and cons either way.
The case for Israel Adesanya taking a lengthy leave of absence
While sitting out until 2027 is extreme however you look at it, an extended leave of absence for Israel Adesanya might not be the worst idea.
With 16 octagon bouts to his name since his February 2018 debut, ‘The Last Stylebender’ has averaged 2.6 fights per year. When you consider that of those bouts, all but three were scheduled to take place over five rounds, it’s definitely fair to say that Adesanya’s schedule has been as heavy as any other UFC fighter.
To add to this, it’s hard to dispute the idea that Adesanya looked jaded, if not outright burned out, in his fight with Strickland.
‘Tarzan’ is an excellent fighter, no doubt, but even a casual fan could see that he isn’t the most technically gifted striker. Despite this, he consistently beat Adesanya to the punch in all five rounds of their clash, and became one of the few fighters to score a knockdown on him in the first round.
Outside of the octagon, meanwhile, things haven’t been rosy for the former champion either. September saw Adesanya appear in a New Zealand court to plead guilty to a charge of drink-driving.
While ‘The Last Stylebender’ apologised for his behavior, it’s fair to say that this crime is a serious one, and according to reports, he could have faced up to three months in jail for it.
When everything is added up, then, a picture is painted of a fighter who has probably had the weight of the world on his shoulders for years. Sure, Adesanya portrays himself as a confident individual, but so did former welterweight champ Georges St-Pierre.
Famously, ‘GSP’ only revealed the extent of the mental and physical burnout that he’d been suffering once he vacated his crown in late 2013. He then took a four-year leave of absence, and retired after one more fight.
Interestingly, Israel Adesanya is currently 34 years old – two years older than St-Pierre was when he stepped away. Therefore, to see him follow in the Canadian’s footsteps would not be overly surprising – and could be the best thing for him.
The case for Israel Adesanya returning sooner
Despite the potential burnout he may have felt prior to and during his fight with Sean Strickland, the idea of Israel Adesanya sitting out for the next three years is a crazy one.
Sure, three years doesn’t seem like a long time on the surface of things, but in the world of the UFC, it’s an absolute age.
Three years ago, in 2020, for instance, Alex Pereira hadn’t arrived in the UFC, Strickland was still fighting as a 170lber, and the likes of Darren Till and Uriah Hall, both of whom are no longer on the roster, were seen as potential challengers to Adesanya’s crown.
With that considered, who even knows what kind of landscape Adesanya might end up returning to in 2027 if he were to sit out for that long?
To add to this, it’s a well-known fact that fighters become rusty if they don’t see action for a lengthy period. Realistically, the only fighters who came back from lengthy layoffs and looked like their old selves were Jon Jones, Georges St-Pierre, and Dominick Cruz.
When you consider that Adesanya would also be returning at the age of 37 or 38 if he were to wait until 2027, it’s hard to imagine the layoff working for him.
What of the burnout issue, though? In all honesty, it could be the case that observers are simply making too much of a big deal of it. After all, nobody tried to claim ‘The Last Stylebender’ looked burned out when he knocked Pereira out in April.
Is there a case to suggest Adesanya took the fight with Strickland too quickly after that Pereira win? That’s definitely possible, as is another explanation for his performance that night.
Anyone can get caught in the octagon, and while Adesanya survived the first round knockdown scored by Strickland, he was definitely hurt badly. In the past, there have been numerous examples of fighters who performed badly after their bell was rung early on. Israel Adesanya could simply be another addition to that list.
In conclusion, when should Israel Adesanya return?
It’s perhaps fair to argue that nobody could begrudge Israel Adesanya spending 2024 away from the octagon. Sure, the UFC wouldn’t like it – ‘The Last Stylebender’ is one of their biggest draws – but in order for him to reset, it could be the best thing for him.
To risk sitting out any longer, though, would be tantamount to risking his entire career, and in turn, his legacy too. Burnout could quickly become a major case of ring rust, particularly at his relatively advanced age.
To add to this, if Du Plessis were to beat Strickland, as many observers believe he will, it’s likely that the potential of a clash with the South African would easily give Adesanya his mojo back.
The UFC, undoubtedly, would still love to book that fight too, perhaps even as the headliner of their first trip to Africa.
Overall, then, there’s simply too much for Israel Adesanya to leave behind, both in terms of legacy and money, to make the idea of sitting out until 2027 be a good one.