Undoubtedly one of the biggest promoters of MMA in Africa, the second UFC champion in the history of the continent has already defended his title five times. Flamboyant, uninhibited and, above all, dreaming of bringing the UFC back to Africa, Nigerian fighter Israel Adesanya is an icon.
He participates in dance competitions, but he is also a kickboxing and English boxing champion, titled many times. Israel Adesanya, “the last stylebender” – understand, “the last stylish fighter” – is also an inveterate fan of Japanese cartoons, of which he imitates, even when he is in France, one of his favorite characters.
Since April 13, 2019, Israel Adesanya has been the middleweight champion of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), Dana White's prestigious mixed martial arts (MMA) league. He defended his title five times and remains, almost three years later, one of the longest-serving champions in UFC history.
In March 2021, Israel Adesanya attempted to enter a new weight class. He had then lost his light heavyweight fight against the Polish Jan Blachowicz. He had to return to his category and defend his title against the Italian Marvin Vettori, then against the New Zealander Robert Whittaker. Results: two victories.
The African Dreams of Israel Adesanya
The Nigerian was living in New Zealand until he and teammate Dan Hooker were barred from fighting due to health measures in 2020. Israel Adesanya turned his back on Wellington at the time. "If they had threatened me with arrest, the excuse would have been that I'm too brash or too loud or whatever. But when they did that to Dan, I realized it wasn't even about me anymore, it's about our sport,” Israel Adesanya said at the time.
Since then, Israel Adesanya's goal has been to take the UFC to Africa. Dana White, the president of the organization, and big fan of Adesanya, said last April: “Right now we have three African champions: Francis Ngannou, Usman and Israel Adesanya. Going to Africa will be a monumental event in my career.”
Despite the delay in fulfilling this promise, Israel Adesanya is not giving up. “Fighting in Africa is a dream we have and it will come true. One way or another, willingly or unwillingly, we will make it happen,” he admits to BBC.
And the Nigerian champion to continue: “Last night, I saw a graffiti of me painted on a wall in a village in Nigeria. The fact that someone took their time to paint me in their village is just amazing to me”.
A fighter like no other
While Cameroon's undisputed UFC heavyweight champion, Francis "the predator" Ngannou, had made an impression during his showdown with the organization, and welterweight champion Kamaru “the Nigerian nightmare” Usman keeping a low profile, Israel Adesanya is certainly different from other African MMA champions.
Israel Adesanya is a striker, which is quite common in his category. But he has mastered so many martial arts that one might wonder the secret behind his dedication to MMA. Taekwondo, English boxing, muay-thai… Israel Adesanya is certainly full of talent. Her passion for dance is inexplicable. When entering the ring or the hexagon, he performs certain choreographies worthy of a professional dancer. Nothing that could alter his image as a fierce fighter, however.
“I like the fans to smile. I want to be contemplated. I want people to have good memories when they hear my name,” says Adesanya.
The champ also says his love for fighting and for cartoons kept him away from the trappings of fame. "I've watched the traps that a lot of famous athletes, actors and musicians have fallen into, and seen how they got into it, so I avoided being just a tabloid story “, he says.