There are a few UFC champions who command such a legacy that fighters will always want to fight them, even after their gold belts have been passed on.
Anderson Silva, even throughout his twilight years, was still revered as one of the most dangerous men in the sport and stooped no lower than a co-main event. Conor McGregor, despite not holding a title in six years, remains the hottest name in the business to this day.
Overall though, the list is short. Of current champions, it probably includes Israel Adesanya. The UFC’s current middleweight champion believes his position on that list is already cemented, as he shared in a recent interview.
“Regardless of whoever I fight, they’re getting the chance to fight me,” Adesanya said in an interview with Jeff Sainlar for The AllStar. “Fuck the belt, they’re getting a chance to fight me.”
‘The Last Stylebender’ likens that to when Silva lost his belt.
“When people signed to fight Silva, that was still Anderson Silva,” Adesanya said. “That was still in its own category in a way. Same thing is happening with McGregor, people who sign to fight McGregor – some people take that over the fucking belt because they know what comes with that.”
What comes with ‘that’ is, not only a potentially massive payday, but the chance to best one of the most renowned talents the sport has ever seen. It’s an opportunity few true martial artists would let pass by, whether or not there’s a strap on the line.
And that’s in keeping with Adesanya’s view that the title belt is nothing more than a “fancy tiara.” It’s the substance and talent behind the belt that matters.
“I don’t attach myself to this thing,” he said. “Because it doesn’t make me. I make the belt. The belt never made me. “
As a result of such an attitude, Adesanya claims he’s never experienced the often-discussed pressure that accompanies the privilege of being the title holder. As recently as UFC 278, former welterweight champion Kamaru Usman described feeling as if a weight had been lifted from his shoulders after Leon Edwards relieved him of his crown.
“I can understand where they’re coming from,” Adesanya said. “I guess the pressure of like the target on your back or whatever.”
As far as `The Last Stylebender’ is concerned, the heat is always on.
“God forbid, even if I lost the belt at some point, without retiring, I don’t think it’s gonna take the pressure off me because I’m still me,” he said. “I’m still me.”
“Even without the belt, I’m still gonna have a target on my back,” he added. “I don’t think it’s gonna change much.”