Former UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya has announced a sabbatical ‘for a long time’, a month after losing his belt – but has promised to return to the sport, despite facing the possibility of three months in jail for drunk driving.
The Kiwi fighter lost his middleweight championship to Sean Strickland by unanimous decision in Sydney in September, in one of the biggest upsets MMA has ever seen – something which he described as feeling like ‘a bad dream’.
Now the 34-year-old Lagos-born fighter has revealed plans for an extended exit from UFC to regroup, change his lifestyle and prepare himself for the future, following his third competitive defeat against Strickland.
Adesanya told The Rock FM in his native New Zealand: ‘I’m not making any excuses. Strickland got me on the night because he was the better fighter on the night, and he did his work well. He had a good team behind him.
‘Now I’m going to take time to look after myself. I’m not going to fight for a long time. I’m definitely not going to retire, because that’s not me.
‘But if I did, I’m fine. I don’t need to prove anything else. But I know what I can do, and I know 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.’
He noted that there was the possibility of him taking on Khamzat Chimaev at UFC 294, but that his sabbatical means his team turned it down. Instead, Kamaru Usman will be the opponent for the undefeated Chimaev on Saturday October 21.
Adesanya added: ‘I’m sure they called my team up, and my team were like, “He’s not fighting right now”. If I wanted to, I could. That would be cool.’
Instead he admitted that taking on a number of fights over the past year and a bit – to get the most out of MMA during his career – meant that it had caught up to him.
‘Four fights in the last 14 months, it takes a toll on your body,’ he said, noting that he had seen the doctors and done specialist tests to get himself back ready for fighting.
He said: ‘I’m just going to take my time to heal, and then when I come back, f****** run for the hills.’
Adesanya also faces the potential of three months in prison, or a fine of up to $2,680 (£2,210), after pleading guilty to drunk-driving charges in New Zealand.
The incident took place on August 19, when Adesanya was pulled over and found with 87 milligrams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood in his system. The legal limit in New Zealand is 50 milligrams.
In a statement provided to ESPN, Adesanya said: ‘I want to apologise to the community, my family and my team for the decision I made to get behind the wheel after drinking at a dinner.
‘I am disappointed with my decision to drive, it was wrong. I know that people might follow me and I want them to know I do not think this behavior is acceptable.’
He will return to court for sentencing on January 10.