From Rob Wilkinson to Rob Whittaker, Adesanya’s 7-0 run in the UFC has pushed the Nigerian-born New Zealander to incredible heights
(Photo Credit: UFC Twitter)

When “The Last Stylebender” Israel Adesanya (18-0) joined the UFC, expectations where high. The Nigerian-born New Zealander was 11-0 in his young pro MMA career with regional title wins over the likes of Stu Dare and notable pioneer Melvin Guillard, as well as an extensive kickboxing record (75-4, 27 KO) with time spent in the Glory organization. As with most rising stars, the promotion chose to send the young striker into a trial by fire scenario, but no one could have predicted the meteoric rise that would soon follow.

UFC 221 afforded Adesanya a unique debut and a perfect storm of an opportunity to perform in front of a familiar crowd in Perth, Western Australia. Tasked with facing dangerous Aussie finisher Rob Wilkinson (11-2), Adesanya put on a clinic, landing 70/94 total strikes, 67% of which landed to the head, en route to a vicious TKO finish at 3:37 of the second round and a $50,000 Performance of the Night bonus. Post-fight, when speaking with announcer Jon Anik, Adesanya grabbed the microphone and offered a telling take.

“First of all, I just want to say something to the UFC fighters, the personnel backstage that are downwards and upwards,” said Adesanya. “I see you guys creeping on my Instagram. Don’t think I don’t see you. You’ve been watching me and I’ve been watching you, but then when you roll up on me, you act like you don’t know me.  Boy, you know who I am now!”

A close split-decision win against Italian Marvin Vettori (13-4-1) in April 2018 then afforded Adesanya a chance to take on Brad Tavares (17-5) in the main event of The Ultimate Fighter Season 27 where the former kickboxer shone, earning a decision win and yet another Performance of the Night bonus. The fight also highlighted Adesanya’s ability to neutralize a Tavares’ upper tier wrestling and grappling skills while accentuating his distance management and offensive output abilities.

Israel Adesanya stacks up among the best in the sport as voted by the fans on Tapology

Kicking off the main card portion of UFC 230, a first round TKO of heavy-hitting Derek Brunson (20-7) thrust City Kickboxing’s finest into a co-main event slated for UFC 234 in Melbourne against former pound-for-pound great Anderson Silva (34-10). Opportunity arose out of necessity as the incumbent champion Robert Whittaker (20-5) was forced out of his scheduled title defence in the night’s main event with Kelvin Gastelum (15-4, 1 NC) due to a last minute hernia emergency. With the lights shining, Adesanya delivered yet again, delivering a Fight of the Night performance in a balanced unanimous decision.

With the champion Whittaker sidelined for the foreseeable future, Adesanya and Gastelum were paired up in the co-main event of UFC 236 for a shot at an interim championship, with the winner guaranteeing his shot at the true belt. The meeting is currently listed as Tapology’s #1 Fight of the Year, a war for the ages.

Which bring us to today, October 6, 2019. Yesterday evening Israel Adesanya was able to thwart Robert Whittaker’s blitzing attacks and unify the belts with the resounding thud of a cracking left hook. With two titles earned and the dismantling of an all-time great in 2019, New Zealand, Nigeria, and the world have witnessed the rise of a new middleweight MMA superstar.

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