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11th Jul 2018

Israel Adesanya’s rise should serve as a lesson to every young fighter

He's doing it right

Ben Kiely

Israel Adesanya

Israel Adesanya has all the requisite tools to become the next UFC superstar.

Less than six months into his UFC career, Israel Adesanya (14-0, 3-0 UFC) is already a top 10 middleweight. ‘The Last Stylebender’ has the confidence, the swagger, the mic skills, the experience, the mindset and, perhaps most importantly. the skillset required to become the next big MMA star. The fact that he headlined the Fight Night card of International Fight week in just his third Octagon appearance shows that the promotion recognises his potential.

Adesanya’s ascent wasn’t quick by any means. He had 79 pro kickboxing fights, fought for the Glory middleweight world title and went 6-1 as a professional boxer before putting on the 4 oz gloves. While specialising in that striking discipline is certainly an advantage when transitioning to MMA, it isn’t guaranteed to bring success. We saw what happened to Gokhan Saki at UFC 226.

Saki is a far more decorated kickboxer than Adesanya. The Turkish-Dutch is a legend of that game. He’s kickboxing and Muay Thai royalty. Yet, he’s a 1-2 MMA fighter and was most recently knocked out by Khalil Rountree, a man who only started training in combat sports eight years ago as a means of losing weight.

Slow build

The reason why Adesanya’s UFC debut against Rob Wilkinson in Perth was so hyped was that the hardcore fans already knew about him. They had seen his highlight knockouts on the Australian and Chinese circuit. A lot of people watched him fold UFC veteran Melvin Guillard like a lawn chair. He had 11 professional fights before he finally joined the world’s largest MMA promotion.

As he explained on The Joe Rogan MMA Show, taking his time on the journey to the top was a very calculated decision. He wanted to make sure he was ready. Considering how many promising prospects we’ve seen stumble after getting pushed too quickly in the UFC (Sage Northcutt and Paige VanZant are prime examples and Mackenzie Dern could prove to be another cautionary tale), this move appears to be a very clever one.

“My coach, he’s the mastermind behind all of this – Eugene Bareman. Without him, my career would be in the shitter. He kind of let (us) take our time and there’s no rush. You see (Dana White’s) Looking For A Fight, guys like Sage Northcutt. He’s been up and down in the UFC fighting… but you can’t just come in here with maybe three fights unless you’re maybe a Mickey Gall who also has an extensive background in something else like jiu-jitsu.”

“Yeah, I took my time, fought around the world, fought different body types, different styles and eventually I think the UFC were like, ‘Ok, what do you want? Come on, let’s go.'”

Where Adesanya picked up this knowledge really shows how dedicated he is at learning about all facets of this game. He was able to rattle off the names of YouTube analysts to Joe Rogan. At his scrums in Las Vegas, he was recounting headlines featuring his name by certain outlets. The man is clued in.

“You know where I got it from? One of the UFC talk shows Kenny Florian just said, ‘Get your experience outside the UFC before you go in the UFC. Get like nine fights, 10 fights and just fight a lot of good guys.'”

After taking three fights in six months, Adesanya’s planned some time off. The next time we see him inside the Octagon, he will have improved his game even more. That must be a terrifying thought for any of his fellow 185 lb contenders.