Demetrious Johnson: Israel Adesanya needs to develop clinch, grappling game to beat Dricus du Plessis

Many MMA observers believe UFC 300’s headliner is Dricus du Plessis vs. Israel Adesanya, and any rumblings to the contrary are the usual head-fakes that accompany a group of people trying to keep big news secret.

The middleweights have built-in beef and would have fought this past year had Sean Strickland not thrown a wrench into plans. But there’s at least one person who thinks it’s a bad idea, and that’s former UFC flyweight champ and current ONE champ Demetrious Johnson.

“I don’t like that fight for Izzy, because I feel Izzy hasn’t taken enough time,” Johnson said Wednesday on The MMA Hour.

After Strickland’s upset win, time off was the order of the day for Adesanya. “The Last Stylebender” announced a hiatus from the sport to make changes to his lifestyle and heal from lingering injuries.

When du Plessis snatched the belt from Strickland, and UFC 300 remained without a headliner, Adesanya saw an opportunity and teased an early comeback.

Du Plessis has since backtracked on the possibility of fighting Adesanya at UFC 300, though he expects the ex-champ to be his next fight. Johnson believes for Adesanya to be successful, he’ll need to change things about his style.

“My question to Izzy would be, ‘Izzy, have you taken the time to add more tools to your toolset,’ because if I was looking at that fight right now, strategically, one of the things Izzy likes to do, he likes to back up,” Johnson said. “He likes to counter a punch. So if he likes to counter a punch, DDP does a good job of not overextending. He doesn’t back up. He usually takes the center of the cage and he moves forward, and goes to the center and he goes either southpaw or orthodox.

“Now, Izzy, he likes to kick, he likes to poke – poke, poke and then hit somebody. That’s what he likes to do. He does it all the time. … You look at his past fights: Alex Pereira, he did overextend, but he also got in a gunfight; Yoel Romero, he didn’t overextend; Sean Strickland, he doesn’t overextend.

“So for me, if I was in Izzy’s camp, I’d be like, ‘Hey Izzy, we’re working on your clinch game, we’re working on your wrestling game, we’re working those two things, because if somebody doesn’t overextend, or come toward you, then I want you to feel comfortable enough to come forward, and if you go back and watch Izzy’s kickboxing – and woo, somebody posted a clip, and damn, that s*** looked beautiful – if I can take that kickboxing of Izzy, the pressure fighter going forward and give him a nasty clinch and a double-leg, he would be the middleweight champion. He would defeat my 11 consecutive title defenses, because his countering, his athletic ability, his strengths of countering people are phenomenal. But if somebody doesn’t overextend, is he comfortable enough to go in there and force the clinch, force the wrestling, force those things, and then when he beats him up there, he goes back to his countering, and the countering becomes a lot easier.”

During his title run, Adesanya was plagued by criticism that he didn’t engage enough, resulting in lackluster fights that more closely resembled sparring sessions than title bouts. The way Johnson sees it, adding or sharpening grappling skills is the bridge not only to beating du Plessis, but keeping an iron grip on the title.

“Has Izzy taken the time off to develop that skill set? That’s my question to him,” Johnson said. “If says, ‘No I haven’t,’ I’m like, then don’t take the fight. If he has, if he’s ready to go out there and force the fight, get in the clinch, force the wrestling, take him down, pass his guard, then I’m like, ‘Let’s f****** do it.’

“But if you haven’t, then I wouldn’t do it, because DDP, he’s got a style where he doesn’t back up, he doesn’t overextend. He’s very good at his shell. He’s very clunky on the feet, but I just don’t like that matchup stylistically. But I’m always going to root for Izzy, because I’m a big fan of his. But as a martial artist, I’m like, no, you need time to develop those things in your game that I see you’re missing.”

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