The UFC kicks off its schedule on October 5 with UFC 243 from Melbourne, Australia, where north of 50,000 fans are expected to pack the Marvel Stadium for a middleweight championship showdown between Robert Whittaker and interim champ Israel Adesanya.
However, before the crucial encounter, Nigeria-born Adesanya has scolded his opponent for disowning his heritage.
Born as a New Zealander but grew up in Australia, Whittaker also said: “I’m an Australian New Zealander, whether they like it or not,” Whittaker told Sporting News. “I don’t have to prove my New Zealand heritage. I don’t owe you anything. I am who I am.”
But Adesanya, who is the interim middleweight champion, has resolutely rejected those claims.
“He’s completely Australian,” Adesanya said on the UFC’s Countdown preview show this week.
“He’s on the record in the past saying ‘I’m not a New Zealander, I’m an Australian.’
“He wanted to be represented as Australian in the UFC when he started, and that was his identity – Australian.
“He disowned New Zealand in a way.”
Born and grew up in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial nerve centre, Adesanya has lived the vast majority of his life in New Zealand, but says he has always represented both countries. “I’ve never disowned my heritage. I’ve got Africa stamped on my chest and my skin is black,” he said.
“You’ll always know where I’m from. But, I love this place. I live in Auckland and New Zealand’s my home. Australia’s his home and now he’s trying to come over here and get likes – like a politician.
“It’s not really from the heart and I don’t vibe with that.
“There’s a line in the sand and you’re on that side. I’m on this side.
“You’re either with us, or you’re against us. So if you’re on the other side, f**k the other side.”
Whittaker rubbishes claims he ever turned his back on New Zealand.
“You can go back and look at my interviews,” he told Sporting News.
“I am so proud of my New Zealand heritage and the strength that I draw from my Maori side.”
Whittaker and Adesanya fight will unify the middleweight division at Marvel Stadium in Melbourne.