Israel Adesanya says Derek Brunson ‘panicked,’ grabbed shorts on purpose

Israel Adesanya (blue gloves) shows his displeasure at Derek Brunson’s actions during their fight at UFC 230 at Madison Square Garden on Saturday

Israel Adesanya was one of UFC 230’s brightest stars, but not everything went smoothly for him.

The main card opener of Saturday’s event at Madison Square Garden in New York saw “The Last Stylebender” put his 14-0 MMA record on the line against middleweight contender Derek Brunson, and Adesanya had to deal with a few hiccups en route to a Performance of the Night-winning first-round finish.

Most egregious in his mind was what he perceived to be Brunson cutting corners in an attempt to take Adesanya down to the mat. Adesanya felt Brunson twice grab his shorts, and at one point he had to shout at referee Herb Dean to address the problem. As the two were broken up, Adesanya gave Brunson the middle finger.

Reflecting on the bout at the UFC 230 post-fight press conference, Adesanya noted that he saw Brunson’s tactics as a sign of weakness.

“If you, on your first exchange, when you come at me and the first thing he does is grab my shorts blatantly, and I kind of side-looked, or felt like, ‘Did Herb see that? Alright,’” Adesanya said. “And the second time was so blatant, I was like, ‘What the f*ck, dude? Come on.’ If he’s doing that so early on, you know he wasn’t ready. You know he wasn’t prepared. He was just clutching at straws, if you will. He’s just like, ‘Oh, shit.’ He’s panicking from the get-go, I already knew.

“Any time he saw me outside of the cameras and stuff, he started talking shit. I was like, dude, just save your energy. I’ll see you tomorrow. But he was already panicking, so I knew he was going to come at me.”

Brunson is known for being one of the fastest finishers at 185 pounds, with his last six wins all coming by way of first-round knockout. Sure enough, he refused to back down from the highly vaunted Adesanya and he secured a body lock on more than one occasion only to be foiled by Adesanya’s takedown defense.

Adesanya credits his wrestling coach with preparing him for Brunson’s attack, explaining that it was like Brunson was moving at a slower “frame rate” than what he’s used to dealing with in training. That preparation made Adesanya so confident that he was ready to outwork Brunson on the ground should the short grabbing yield dividends.

“He’s cheating. That’s cheating. And he said to the ref, ‘I only did it once,’” Adesanya said of the illegal tactic. “He did it twice. Watch the tape. Literally, watch the tape. He did it the first thing he did, when he shot, he grabbed it on my right side and I just felt that. Herb didn’t see that. And then the second time was just so blatant because he’s panicking, he was scared, ‘I need to take this guy down,’ and the thing is, I kind of half-hoped he did. I wanted him to just half-hope so I could show him what was up.

“And then when I sweep him, show him what my top game’s like. Because of a lot of these guys keep thinking. ‘Oh, he’s just a kickboxer.’ The smart ones, only the smartest coaches would have been watching for a long time, they would have been seeing what I’m doing, and been like, ‘Okay, this guy’s getting better.’ And he said on something, ‘I seen him beat Brad (Tavares). I thought he could fight okay.’ Who’s okay now?”

If anything, Adesanya feels like Brunson was thrown off of his game before their fight even started. Adesanya says he was grooving to both his own and Brunson’s walkout music, a state that left him in sync with whatever his opponent was doing inside the Octagon.

“Even in the cage, he was trying to look at me,” Adesanya said. “I could read what he was doing. He came in, ran past me, kind of glanced a little bit, and then when he got to his side, he’s like, ‘Okay, I’m gonna look at him now, I’m gonna stare at him, whoever looks away first.’

“And I lulled him into a little soft thing, like ‘smize.’ I just made him look into my eyes and just hypnotized him a little bit, and then just hypnotized him and then he just kind of got shook. Then Bruce Buffer came in and I just did my thing.”

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