Israel Adesanya is the UFC champion inspired by anime, who rivals Conor McGregor for superstardom and believes it’s his destiny to fight Jon Jones

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Israel Adesanya is the UFC champion inspired by anime, who rivals Conor McGregor for superstardom and believes it's his destiny to fight Jon Jones

It doesn’t take long to figure out Israel Adesanya is a unique character.

His is a perfect mix of personality, showmanship, look and skill to underpin all of it is seldom seen in one person with such abundance.

2019 Carmen Mandato

Adesanya is the middleweight champion and faces another unbeaten fighter in Paulo Costa at UFC 253

Conor McGregor spoke with such entertaining intent, but then secured a host of first round finishes and won the featherweight title by knocking out Jose Aldo – a man who had reigned supreme in the division for five years – in 13 seconds to instantly make him a global superstar beyond UFC’s confines.

They’d had stars before. Chuck Liddell threatened to break through to the main stream. Anderson Silva and Georges St-Pierre were wildly respected for their skills. Ronda Rousey was a game changer for women in the sport and beyond. But, none of them transcended like McGregor.

Israel Adesanya is the man making those waves now. He’s even on the front cover of UFC 4, the video game and faces another huge test for his middleweight crown in Paulo Costa.

Adesanya and Costa don’t like each other and fans will be eager to see whose unbeaten record will go

Getty Images – Getty

Adesanya and Costa don’t like each other and fans will be eager to see whose unbeaten record will go

Born in Nigeria, the current UFC middleweight king was lucky enough to be born to a fairly wealthy family in Lagos, the nations capital.

At the age of 11, his family decided to move to New Zealand to help Adesanya’s educational prospects in the west, but school wasn’t easy for him.

Adesanya says he was bullied in school and often felt like the odd one out. He wasn’t into sport at all during high school and his primary interest was Japanese anime.

‘Broken Native’ was the name of the dance crew Adesanya was part of when he was young. However, after finding a striking resemblance with the term, he had it tattooed onto his chest.

Despite an apparent skinny frame, Adesanya is one of the hardest hitters – just ask Kelvin Gastelum

Getty Images – Getty

Despite an apparent skinny frame, Adesanya is one of the hardest hitters – just ask Kelvin Gastelum

“Over the years I just realised that will be my whole life story. I have always been like the odd one out. The bat among the dogs. The pebble among the stones. As a native, I am broken.”

A lot of Adesanya’s mannerisms and character are sourced from anime and comics. His self-appointed nickname The last Stylebender derives from Nickelodeon’s  TV show, The Last Airbender. The main character, Aang, has to master all four elements – earth, wind, fire, and air – in order to become the most powerful human on earth, defeat the bad guy, and bring peace to the world.

Adesanya likens himself to Aang in that he has to master all the elements of martial arts in order to become the greatest ever.

It’s been working for him so far.

Anderson Silva was a certified legend when Adesanya fought him – and was confident enough to show off his unique character in the octagon against him (he won)

Getty Images – Getty

Anderson Silva was a certified legend when Adesanya fought him – and was confident enough to show off his unique character in the octagon against him (he won)

Adesanya left the legend battered and bruised, with Silva embracing the rising star at the end of their three-round fight

Getty Images – Getty

Adesanya left the legend battered and bruised, with Silva embracing the rising star at the end of their three-round fight

Adesanya is 19-0 in MMA and has 14 knockouts along the way. Despite all the flamboyance, dancing entrances like UFC 243 and bravado, Adesanya has every reason to emit the confidence he does. Many fighters have cited the power the 31-year-old has in his hands, with Kelvin Gastelum saying he is one of the hardest hitters he has faced.

Many consider Jon Jones the greatest mixed martial artist in the world today and Adesanya has never been shy about targeting the great.

He thinks they’re destined to fight at some point.

“It was something that wasn’t there till he uttered my name and I was like, ‘Hmm – I see what this is about,’” Adesanya told MMA Junkie. “I see where destiny is placing certain characters in my movie. So yeah, that fight is really important. I don’t need it, to be honest. My coach doesn’t think I need it.”

It’s not outlandish to think it could happen given Adesanya has operated at light-heavyweight and heavyweight during his kickboxing days. He matches Bones’ 6ft 4in frame and would simply need to pack on muscle again to meet him at heavyweight.

He has an impressive kickboxing record of 75-5-1 and won New Zealand’s national kickboxing tournament, King in the Ring, three times, which is the most in the tournament’s history.

Adesanya has always been a phenom whatever discipline he is fighting in.

Many people forget, his UFC debut only came in February 2018. He was the interim middleweight title 14 months later and was the world champion by defeating Robert Whittaker on his own turf six months after that at UFC 243 in Australia.

Israel Adesanya burst into tears after winning on his UFC debut in 2018

Ariel Helwani (Twitter)

Israel Adesanya burst into tears after winning on his UFC debut in 2018

And before embarking on a mixed martial arts career, Adesanya also had a fleeting boxing career that ended with a record of 5-1. Naturally, he’s gone on record saying he could have been one of the greatest boxers in history had he applied himself to the sport.

Though every UFC fighter would say the same, Adensaya is truly a guy who marches to the beat of his own drum. The tattoos that dominate his body are often just his favourite TV characters or shows, with the exception of his dog that passed away.

“A lot of my tattoos don’t really have meaning. They just look cool. But the meaning kind of makes itself known to me later on after I get them.” he explained.

However, Nigeria is near and dear to his heart. Close friend Kamaru Usman, the current UFC welterweight champion, also hails from Nigeria and both have become passionate about making the African country a proud MMA hotbed in the same vein as places like Brazil and the UK have.

Adesanya and Usman have put Nigeria on the MMA map with their respective UFC careers

Getty Images – Getty

Adesanya and Usman have put Nigeria on the MMA map with their respective UFC careers

“Every so often there’s always a legion of a certain part of the world that starts making a come-up in MMA,” said Adesanya.

“I’m telling you, once the Nigerians pull up, once we start to pull up with numbers, it’s gonna be over for a lot of years in the MMA world.”

A month after first winning the interim title, Adesanya went back to his roots in Lagos.

“Just to breathe the air, touch the soil, eat the food, I never went hungry when I was there,” he recalled. “It was a cultural thing for me – you always have to remember to go back to your roots and touch down with your roots.”

Adesanya’s story is one of being an individual and embracing what you love. Yes, he’s an immensely talented athlete who could lived many different lives at the highest level, but originally seen as a divisive character who rubbed many the wrong way, slowly but surely, people have started to see the simple, relatable man behind the warrior.




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