Earlier this week, Israel Adesanya had an epiphany.
Pro wrestling theme songs are a constant part of his workout soundtrack. He enjoys the music, particularly from the vaunted era of the late 90's that featured "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, The Rock, D-Generation X and The Undertaker. Remembering those awe-inspiring entrances from The Undertaker, Adesanya decided he would make his own iconic entrance – one where he would pay tribute to an all-time great and set the stage to bury Jared Cannonier in the main event of UFC 276.
"That came to me last Tuesday," Adesanya said. "During my workouts with my team, I normally have WWE ‘Attitude Era' theme music playing. So this made sense for me. The whole UFC production helped bring my vision to life."
As Adesanya made his long walk to the cage, he wore The Undertaker's signature hat and carried the urn made famous by Paul Bearer. Close attention was paid to every detail, including engraving Cannonier's name on the urn.
"I wanted to put him in the dirt," Adesanya said. "Jared is a tough opponent, a zombie you can't put away. Funny enough, Vince McMahon and Triple H from WWE were in the front row."
No different than The Undertaker's famed streak at WrestleMania, Adesanya also kept his winning streak alive, notching victory no. 23 as a middleweight – the same number of victories The Undertaker totaled over the years at WrestleMania.
Adesanya (23-1 MMA, 12-1 UFC) defeated Cannonier by unanimous decision in the main event of Saturday's 276, successfully defending the middleweight championship for his fifth title defense. This was competitive, but Adesanya ultimately controlled four of the five rounds. He dictated the pace and held the advantage in significant strikes, 116–90, in a fight that was ruled in his favor by the judges, 49-46, 49-46 and 50-45. This was a high-level fight, with Adesanya constantly one step ahead of Cannonier (15-6 MMA, 8-6 UFC).
"Cannonier is tough, and he's very smart," Adesanya said. "I was looking forward to the battle of the minds, a battle of the gameplans. He's a formidable opponent. I've called him the dark horse of the division for a long time, and he proved that again in this fight."
Adesanya remained elusive through elite footwork, making sure Cannonier never unleashed his full array of power shots. But he also had a difficult time unloading, never quite finding the right shot to rattle Cannonier. Despite the surgical approach from Adesanya, the crowd voiced its displeasure regarding the lack of action.
"I knew I couldn't get touched, and I only got touched maybe three times," Adesanya said. "My jab was touching him. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get my right hand or my power kicks on him, but I couldn't show my frustration. I didn't want to let frustration make me lose sight of the mission.
"I had an off-night. That's me being honest. Even on my off-night, I'm still the best in the world. And still."
The next challenger for Adesanya also emerged at 276. In only his third UFC fight, Alex Pereira knocked out Sean Strickland (25-4 MMA, 12-4 UFC) with a vicious left hook, making a loud statement that he is a real threat in the octagon.
"That Pereira win was beautiful," Adesanya said. "That's my next fight. It could be a quick turnaround, we'll see. Alex is next. I'd rather get him right now before he gets even better."
Pereira (6-1 MMA, 3-0 UFC) has already defeated Adesanya twice in kickboxing, including once by knockout – which he did with the same left hook that knocked out Strickland. Yet Adesanya feels an entirely new confidence in the octagon, a forum where he has been nearly unstoppable. He looks forward to the fight against Pereira, a chance to show how much he has evolved since they last met five years ago.
"This is MMA, it's a whole new world," Adesanya said. "The people who want me to lose are going to be in for a rude awakening."
This story first published at SI.com/MMA.