A former pro kickboxer, Adesanya (13-0) has garnered a lot of interest in just two UFC fights. He scored a knockout victory in his promotional debut in February, and followed that with a split decision two months later on a televised main card.
The UFC clearly thinks highly of him, as he'll headline The Ultimate Fighter 27 Finale against Tavares on July 6. It's a main event slot in just Adesanya's third UFC appearance; Tavares is also headlining for the first time in his UFC career, but he'll be making his 17th appearance for the company.
It's a chance for Tavares to derail a hype train and remind viewers of his status in the division. But Tavares had his eyes on bigger things than Adesanya.
"Everybody knows I wanted to fight Michael Bisping," Tavares told ESPN. "A win over someone like that would have really done a lot for my career.
"Honestly, I wasn't really excited about this fight at first. The only thing this fight gets me is a win. I don't think it will push me up the rankings. This is not a ranked opponent, and it's not someone with a household name. But that being said, I'm stoked to get this main event. And I get to do it right here in my hometown."
No one can blame Tavares, who is originally from Hawaii but has lived in Las Vegas since 2009, for targeting the names above him.
Tavares, 30, has 12 career UFC wins, which is actually more than any middleweight currently ranked above him. It's no wonder he preferred a name like Bisping, who retired on May 28.
Tavares is convinced Adesanya has never faced an opponent of his caliber. "I do respect him as far as his striking and kickboxing pedigree goes," Tavares said. "I'm not overlooking him, but I'm not really worried about it, either. I think I'm the better fighter, as far as the MMA fighter goes. I believe I can outstrike him if I want. Outwrestle him. I can do whatever it is I want to do. I'm just the superior fighter."
Both Tavares and his longtime coach, Ray Sefo, believe one of the reasons the UFC made this matchup is that if Adesanya were to win, it would immediately legitimize him as a budding title contender based on Tavares' track record.
It's a high-risk, high-reward proposition for Adesanya. Tavares and Sefo have another way to describe it: a mistake.
"This guy hasn't fought anyone ranked in the top 50 yet," Sefo said. "He's going to find out really fast how deep of water he's in. The UFC is great at hyping people, but it's different when you get to experience. Adesanya has a big mouth and he's confident, and they want to see what he's capable of.
"If, for some reason, he were to come out with the win, that's a huge jump. But he's definitely not getting that win."