Taiwo Alimi captures the inspiring story of Israel Adesanya and how a freckled-faced Lagos lad refused to give up his fighting ambition from Nigeria to Kiwi country New Zealand.
Nigerian-born UFC middleweight champion, Israel Adesanya loves to talk tough. Like Jackie Chan, one of his boyhood icons, he knows how to entertain his audience. He is not only fast with his hands but also with his tongue sometimes calling time on his fights. Still undefeated after 20 fights WITH 15 KO, Adesanya often rambles out in his native Yoruba dialect while eulogising his awesome hand and leg strikes that have been describes as one of the fastest in the trade.
Adesanya knew what he wanted from teenager and if he had not make it as a fighter, perhaps he would have been in big trouble fighting.
Recalling his humble background from backstreet Lagos; Nigeria’s most populous metropolitan. “I was born in Lagos and really a handful for my parents because all I wanted to do is to fight. I enrolled into karate classes at the Surulere National Stadium as soon as I could get there on my own but my mum wasn’t happy. In fact she made me stop going when I began to kick things around the house.”
His younger brother, David, corroborated his words; “He was always the most rebellious. My parents could not get him to do what they wanted him to do, and even if they did, he really didn’t like it.”
When Adesanya did not show enough attention to school, his parents who lived from hand to mouth decided to enrol him as a mechanic apprentice, but he wouldn’t hear of it.
“I was not afraid to tell them (his parents) that I won’t do it,” said Adesanya who said of his parents “My mother was a nurse, my father an entrepreneur—a hustler, working in everything from dries cleaning to real estate.”
“At a point he found something he’s really interested in; dancing and he became a member of a group always going out to dance. He’s always been obsessed with performing,” David said.
Adesanya and his family left the country when he was 11. The original plan was to move to the United States, but it was 2001, and 9/11 put an end to that idea. Instead, they pulled up stakes for New Zealand, where his family believed the schools would be better.
Upon arrival in New Zealand, Adesanya resumed his passion for karate sparked by his great mentors Ong-Bak, Jackie Chan and Anderson Silva, whom he must have seen more than a hundred times on television and internet.
“Everybody hails Bruce Lee, but Jackie Chan is who put me on [to martial arts],” he said. “I liked the way he fought, it was more comical. Bruce Lee mesmerized, but Jackie Chan was lit. He enrolled at another gym and kept going back until he was accepted.
Now that he has found what he wanted to do, he quickly move ahead to make his amateur kickboxing debut in 2008. The opponent was far larger than the untested Adesanya.
“My first fight was nerve-wracking,” he admitted. “I was scared. As soon as I got to the ring, I saw why the guy wasn’t at weigh-ins. Do you remember David Tua? He had that same high-top fade, and he was almost as big. He was supposed to be 80 kilograms (176 pounds), but he was about 93 kilograms (205 pounds). My coach took the fight anyway without asking because he knew I’d get worried.”
No algorithmic shortcut can tell you how you’ll perform in those kinds of situations, with real bodily harm staring you squarely in the face. That data is purely experiential. Adesanya got in there.
“I was clean and cold,” he said. “No one could tell anything from my face. I hit him with a teep [kick] within the first 10 seconds, and it gave me the confidence to keep going and get the win.”
By 2016 Adesanya had become a household name in kickboxing amassing a 32-0 record as an amateur, then achieving 75-5 while a professional, with 48 KO’s.
He had tried out his hands in boxing with a record 5-1 knockout before switching.
His impressive and entertaining fighting skill attracted Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) where you can freely exhibit boxing, karate, and muaythai skills.
He joined UFC in 2018 and within two years has done 20 fights winning all with 15 KO’s.
Last Saturday Adesanya got the whole world taking after knocking out Paulo Costa in his second-round victory at UFC 253.
The fight in Abu Dhabi became the largest ever PPV (pay-per-view) event of the UFC in New Zealand.
A record number of fans purchased the event on Sky Arena, Sky Sports, while the second-highest number of commercial venues around the country broadcasted the PPV event to its patrons. It wa also the third-highest performing PPV event overall in new Zealand, behind the all Kiwi heavyweight boxing showdown between David Tua and Shane Cameron in 2009, and Joseph Parker world heavyweight unification title bout against Anthony Joshua in 2018.
Adesanya is not only famous but has also made a fortune fighting. Multiple reports suggest Adesanya worth at $2million US Dollars based on money won in his 19 career fights.
In his stunning UFC middleweight title defence against Costa, he received just above $1.053million.
PRIDE OF NAIJA
Adesanya, however, attributed his loquacious and winning culture to his home country; Nigeria. “I think, being Nigerian, that culture, we’re not a shy bunch,” If I’m generalizing, when a Nigerian walks into a room, you’ll know. We don’t dim our shine or talk ourselves down for anyone. In Nigeria, we’re very comfortable expressing our confidence and being passionate people.”
“We have a lot of values,” he said. “Some things are as simple as manners. I meet people sometimes and they walk past you without saying ‘Hello’ what do you say to your parents when you wake up in the morning? You acknowledge them. In the Western world, it’s not always something everyone does.
“But,” he added, “With a fight, you’re trying to fight me, so it’s a different situation. If I’m fighting, f–k your manners.”
Paul Egonu, President of Nigeria Muaythai Federation, acknowledging Adesanya skill, called on Nigerian government and promoters to make his next fight happen in Nigeria.
“I don’t know him one on one. There are people that know him but I became one of his followers when I noticed his style that is very much in touch with muaythai. Most of his techniques are muaythai techniques and I’m delighted that he’s doing well.
PROFILE: FROM GRASS TO GRACE
Israel Adesanya started training in kickboxing when he was 18 years old. His inspiration for kickboxing arose after seeing a Thai film named Ong-Bak based on Muaythai sport. After taking up Muaythai in Whanganui under Derek Broughton, at the age of 21 in 2001 Israel moved to Auckland, New Zealand with his family. Adesanya then began his professional kickboxing career at City Kickboxing in New Zealand. There he trained himself under Eugene Bareman with other established MMA fighters such as Dan Hooker, Kai Kara-France and Alexander Volkanovski. He went on to stockpile a terrific amateur kickboxing record. He went unbeaten over 32 fights before moving to China to reside and fight.
In the year 2016, the Nigerian boxer won the Glory 34 middleweight contender tournament in Denver. Though he could not win the championship, this match made people see him as one of the best strikers in the world. In the year 2017, Israel defeated veteran Melvin Guillard and marked his 10th victory. He won the Australian Fighting Championship middleweight belt for that. He also won the King of the Ring 86 Cruiserweights Tournament twice and the heavyweight tournament once in his career.
The 30-year-old Nigerian striker ended his kickboxing career with two losses in it. Brazilian Alex Pereira defeated Adesanya at Glory of Heroes 7 in 2017. This loss broke the winning streak of Israel. In his entire career, this was Israel’s only defeat through knockout. His second loss was against Jason Wilnis at Glory 37. His last bout was against Stuart Dare before entering the UFC.
The professional combat fighter made his debut in UFC in February 2018 with proper experience of almost six years as a combat sports fighter. UFC spotted the Nigerian seeing his flamboyant style and athletic kicks. His strikes, moves, and attacks are something that makes him stand out amongst all other boxers. He is considered to be an entertainment package and a threat at the same time in the field of boxing.