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!”
There are walkouts and then there are Israel Adesanya walkouts 😎 pic.twitter.com/0BmknUIH7Z— ESPN UK (@ESPNUK) October 6, 2019
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.
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.
Experience the unforgettable 5⃣th round that earned @stylebender his title shot this Saturday at #UFC243! 🔥— UFC FIGHT PASS (@UFCFightPass) September 30, 2019
UFC Main Event: Gastelum vs Adesanya | On #UFCFIGHTPASS
Full Episode ▶️ https://t.co/hy47dLbvFJ pic.twitter.com/PaucjAmAEa
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.