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Who is Israel Idesanya and where did he come from?

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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.

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?

Beginnings

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.

 

 Israel and Femi Adesanya


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.

MMA

Was Max Holloway Robbed at UFC 251?

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Last weekend, Max Holloway earned his featherweight title rematch against Alexander Volkanovski – but was he robbed in the decision? Many fighters and fans think so.

Here’s what legendary MMA fight manager Ali Abdelaziz had to say after the fight:

Nate Diaz was quick to chime in with his thoughts on Holloway’s loss at the hands of the judges as well:

The bottom line is this was a back and forth fight that could have gone either way. Yes, we would have scored it for Holloway too, but this is what happens when fighters leave bouts to the judges to decide.

Professional fighter Joe Schilling mentioned on a recent Joe Rogan podcast that he thought the UFC should add additional measures to keep judges more accountable. Some sort of tracking system that helps identify and remove judges who consistently score fights against the grain would be a great way to keep both fighters and fans appeased during tough decisions like this one.

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UFC 249 has a long and adventurous story

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UFC 249 was originally planned to take place on April 18th in New York but, due to the ongoing pandemic, governor Cuomo restricted mass gatherings and sports events, confining everyone to their homes, leaving them with little more to watch than reruns of old fights and perhaps Game Changers. UFC president Dana White then announced that the event was still on but the location will change. Later, it was announced that it will take place at the Tachi Palace Hotel & Casino in Lemoore, California. ESPN and its parent company Disney didn’t like this, though, pressuring White to suspend the event for the time being – which he did. Finally, the event was rescheduled for May 9

Meanwhile, interesting news started circulating about a potential location for future UFC fight nights that, if it becomes a reality, might put an interesting spin on the world of mixed martial arts.

UFC Fight Island

Even before the issues with the event, White planned to arrange a brand new location where fight nights could be organized: a private island where athletes could train and fight.

“All the infrastructure is being built right now and getting put in place,” he told the press back in April. “As we get closer to that, then I’ll start figuring out booking fights, getting guys ready. Plus, I can ship guys over there earlier, and they can start training over there, on the island. So, once that’s all in place – we’re looking at like a month – I’ll have that all put together, and guys can start training and can go there.”

The UFC is serious about it: it has already registered several trademarks around the “UFC Fight Island” brand, covering several types of goods, services, even jewelry. 

When, and Where?

The “where” is still a mystery. Although he spoke repeatedly about the arrangements being made for athletes to be able to train and stay on the island, White has not revealed its location yet. Some theorize that it may be somewhere in international waters so it could serve as a place where international athletes could stay without restrictions, perhaps off the coast of California. But this is just a theory – all will probably be revealed in due time.

The “when” is a bit less vague: White told the press that UFC Fight Island will be operational by June. It will have amenities like an Octagon on the beach, and hotels for the fighters to be lodged at. And most importantly, it will allow international fighters to participate in fights, even with the pandemic-related travel restrictions still in place.

The idea of an island dedicated to fighting may sound familiar – it was the topic of the 2006 martial arts movie “DOA – Dead or Alive” and 2007’s “The Condemned”, among others. Let’s hope this one will have a happier ending.

As for UFC 249 ‘Ferguson vs. Gaethje’, that event will now take place at Vystar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida. 

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What Justin Gaethje’s past fights tell us about his chances at UFC 249

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It’s fair to say that Justin Gaethje has firmly taken up the role of underdog ahead of his clash with Tony Ferguson at UFC 249 on May 9th. The latest Tony Ferguson v Justin Gaethje betting offers present Ferguson as the clear favourite, after his opponent was drafted in at the last minute to replace Khabib Nurmagomedov, who is on lockdown in his home country of Russia. 

Gaethje is relatively inexperienced in the world of UFC, having fought just six times in the competition in the past. But his calibre from prior ventures in MMA, notably the World Series of Fighting, means that he is a fighter not to be trifled with, and while he won’t represent as formidable a challenge for Ferguson as Khabib would have, there is much to admire about the 31-year-old.

To understand fully Gaethje’s chances ahead of UFC 249, it’s important to analyse his performances in recent fights. Indeed, his past three bouts have resulted in impressive victories, with Gaethje winning Performance of the Night awards in two of those fights — against James Vick and Donald Cerrone respectively. 

But his UFC started off in disappointing fashion, with just one win from his first three fights. That victory came against Michael Johnson in the reality show The Ultimate Fighter: Redemption Finale, but from there he failed to gain a strong foothold in the championship. He suffered back-to-back defeats against Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier, including a knockout at the hands of the former, as he struggled to adapt to the competitive nature of the UFC.

Those defeats obviously shook Gaethje into life, because he has come roaring back in his last three fights, mustering up a trio of impressive performances to bring him to the level he finds himself at today, where UFC chief Dana White is drafting him to replace someone of the calibre of Khabib. 

The first of this trio of victories was a win over James Vick in August 2018, where Gaethje produced a fine display which silenced some of the doubters who had perhaps questioned his ability at the highest level. He won Performance of the Night for that one, and was then involved in the Fight of the Night the following March as he defeated Edson Barboza by knockout in Philadelphia. His most recent victory was a TKO triumph over UFC veteran Donald Cerrone in October last year, where Gaethje once again walked away with the Performance of the Night accolade. 

All three of his most recent wins have come via first round knockout or technical knockout, proof that Gaethje has the ability to overpower opponents in the opening stages of a fight. Of course, to do this against Ferguson will be a whole different ball game, as he is the most high-profile fighter Gaethje has faced so far, but perhaps the key lies in ensuring he comes out all guns blazing early on.

Gaethje’s Performance of the Night wins indicate that he is capable of producing a show-stopping performance on any given night. He is undoubtedly the underdog going into the fight against Ferguson, but with a few good wins now under his belt, who’s to say he can’t spring a surprise on May 9th and truly announce himself in the UFC. 

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