There’s a new middleweight champion in the UFC
UFC 243 was a classic. Aside from the much-anticipated title bout between Israel Adesanya and Robert Whittaker – in which the reigning champion was emphatically dethroned, Dan Hooker’s accomplished annihilation of Al Iaquinta was also sublime to behold and, overall, this installment of UFC didn’t fail to deliver the moments of pure magic and sheer drama that makes MMA such a special sport that fascinates fight fans worldwide.
UFC’s continuing domination of the global sports market shows no signs of slowing down, with the UFC Instagram account recently gaining more followers than the NFL’s account and online gaming companies launching UFC themed promotions to capitalize on MMA’s growing global popularity. As the UFC’s popularity has reached such dizzying heights, fighters like Connor McGregor, Nate Diaz, and Khabib Nurmagomedov have become household names with fans of the sport and these fighters have been projected into genuine sports stardom. But at UFC 243, a relative unknown got a chance at the united middleweight championship and showed the world what a top-class fighter he was: Israel Adesanya. But who is he and how has he managed to become middleweight champion while still being a relative newcomer to UFC?
Adesanya didn’t make his UFC debut until UFC 221 in February 2018 at the age of 28, but there was nothing green about the already experienced professional fighter. The Nigerian-born Adesanya fell in love with martial arts at age 18 after relocating to New Zealand. At this stage of his development as a fighter, kickboxing was his first love and he boasts an undefeated record of 32-0 as an amateur kickboxer.
On demonstrating such immense potential, Adesanya relocated to Auckland to train with New Zealand martial arts icon, Eugene Bareman at City Kickboxing. He first competed professionally as a kickboxer in the notoriously tough fight circuit in China and lived up to the promise he had shown in the amateurs – at the time of his signing by UFC, Adesanya’s kickboxing record was an awe-inspiring 52-2, with 27 KOs.
Adesanya’s prodigious talents have been on display for all to see during his time with the UFC. His victory over Whittaker to claim the championship belt on Saturday was the culmination of a string of truly historic performances that saw him destroy his opposition with such ruthless proficiency that anyone would think he had been born fighting in that Octagon. So how does he do it?
A True Innovator
“The Last Stylebender,” as Adesanya has been dubbed, has a striking prowess and intelligent fighting style that make him a genuine threat to anyone who steps in the Octagon with him. A long, lanky middleweight (Adesanya stands at 6’ 4” with a reach of 80’), Adesanya expertly utilizes his height and reach advantage to control the pace of the fight and is an alpha when it comes to connecting with his opponent while staying smartly out of harm’s way.
But Adesanya isn’t just one of those guys who uses his height and reach to make up for a lack of real fighting I.Q. and ability. Adesanya is a master at fight psychology and has a keen understanding of how to lure fighters into traps from which they often do not return. A very savvy operator, Adesanya knows how to mix up the tempo of the fight, slowing down the pace in order to recharge his batteries before catching his opponent off guard in a flurry of explosive and acrobatic blows. For a tall guy, he pulls off some truly spectacular feats of original striking, at his best reminiscent of the great Muay Thai champion, Saenchi. His unpredictable and evasive movements also evoke Muhammed Ali’s unorthodox style, which made the former Cassius Clay one of the true innovators of boxing and a truly iconic champion.
Where to now?
Adesanya has more than risen to the challenge since touching down in the UFC, the question is: what’s next? The middleweight division is not a particularly dynamic weight class right now, and many fighters are trying to bulk up to 205 lbs. to get a chance at glory in the heavyweight division. Perhaps the only serious competition Adesanya faces at his current weight class is in the form of Paulo Costa. Given Costa’s BJJ background, this stylistic mash-up could certainly make for a great spectacle. Let’s hope it happens.
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