LOS ANGELES (AFP) - Israel Adesanya has believed all along that becoming the greatest mixed martial artist (MMA) of all time is his destiny.
On Saturday (March 6), at the UFC 259 event in Las Vegas, the Nigerian-born New Zealander gets the opportunity to take another step towards that goal when he challenges Poland's Jan Blachowicz for the Ultimate Fighting Championship's light heavyweight title.
"What I have always predicted to do in this game is change the game, change history," Adesanya said on Friday. "I came in here just over three years ago and look what I have done so far. And I have a long way to go."
Adesanya's rise to the top has captured the imagination of a sport looking for a new generation of heroes, with the careers of stars such as Ireland's former featherweight and lightweight champion Conor McGregor seemingly on the wane.
"When it's all said and done, they'll say that guy Issy, he's the one. He's the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time)," he said in the build-up to Saturday's fight.
Adesanya arrived in New Zealand from Nigeria with his family as a 10-year-old, turned to martial arts to protect himself against schoolyard bullies and took off - alone - to China in his early 20s to further his combat sport career.
He was quick to reply when asked on Friday if he saw himself taking up McGregor's role as the sport's standard-bearer.
"It's inevitable," said Adesanya. "I just have to get used to it. I just have to accept it and not hide from the role that I am in, not hide from the platform that I'm on."
The 31-year-old Adesanya has only been with the UFC since February 2018, after almost a decade spent fighting his way up through regional kickboxing and then MMA leagues.
His overall record in MMA now stands at 20-0, boosted by a 9-0 run in the UFC that has already seen him claim the middleweight crown.
That belt came with a TKO of Australian Robert Whittaker in October 2019 and Adesanya has defended his crown twice since, showcasing a unique, often dazzling, skill set built on piercing combinations with both fists and feet.
On Friday, Adesanya promised plenty more of the same against the 38-year-old Blachowicz (27-8), known mostly for his power-punching.
Win this bout and Adesyana will become just the fifth double champion the UFC has seen.
UFC 259 will be a no-fan event inside the promotion's Apex facility and it will feature two other world title bouts on its 15-fight card.
Brazilian Amanda Nunes (20-4) - considered the greatest female fighter the sport has seen - defends her featherweight title against a massive underdog in Megan Anderson (11-4) of Australia.
The 32-year-old Nunes also holds the UFC's bantamweight belt and brings an 11-0 run to Las Vegas, stretching back to 2014, against the 31-year-old Anderson.
Before that comes the 28-year-old Russian brawler Petr Yan (15-1) defending his bantamweight title against American Aljamain Sterling (19-3), 31 years old and ranked No. 1 behind the champion.