Warning: the above video contains profanity
Contrary to cliché, sports stars aren’t born. They rise, drifting above the horizon and into public view after years of painstaking, subterranean toil.
Kiwi-Nigerian Israel Adesanya’s star rose in the west over the weekend, the future middleweight champion of the UFC finally making his long-anticipated debut in the glitzy, cheesy global cage fighting promotion on the undercard of UFC 221 in Perth.
Adesanya did what everyone who has followed his career to this point knew he would do, dazzling grizzly submission specialist Rob Wilkinson with an array of precision strikes to claim a second round K.O., then pretending to piss in the octagon to mark his territory in the UFC.
Having awarded himself a C or C- for an effort that won him a $US50,000 fight-of-the-night bonus, Adesanya promptly pitched up to the event after-party in a T-shirt bearing a slogan that hasn’t been printed in any reputable publication, and certainly won’t be today.
Anyone wanting to know exactly what it was can check out Adesanya’s twitter account.
Those of a more sensitive nature should make do with the knowledge that Adesanya was paying himself a compliment by referencing a female body part for which he claims to have a particular affinity. And, not by accident in a sport that rewards self-promotion like no other, drawing attention to himself in the process.
Born in Nigeria, raised in Rotorua (where he moved when he was 11) and Whanganui, and currently training in Auckland under City Kickboxing guru Eugene Bareman, Adesanya appeared to fight under the Nigerian flag in his UFC debut. Given Nigeria’s population of 186 million, that’s a shrewd commercial move. Adesanya’s T-shirt, though, was certainly more Whanganui than Lagos.
“I wouldn’t say I’m born for this. I’m made for this. My crew made me for this.”
– Israel Adesanya
Although he claimed simply pre-fight to “represent those who represent me”, there’s no doubt his attire was a message of solidarity to his Kiwi base. Unless he was just having a laugh.
“I’m the new big dog in the middleweight division and I just p*ssed all over the cage,” he said of his urination simulation.
“I didn’t plan it, it just happened. When a dominant dog walks into the dog park – head high, tail high – and just pees all over the place just to mark his territory, he lets them know – this is my spot.”
Adesanya’s emergence in the UFC comes just over a year after he was cruelly denied the Glory kickboxing world championship by some controversial judging. That defeat to strapping Dutchman Jason Wilnis is just one of four on Adesanya’s kickboxing record, to go with 75 victories.
Before his fight with Wilnis, Adesanya sat down with Sportsroom and explained where he had come from and where he was going.
“It’s a short window of time,” he said of his career. “I’m going to get as famous as I can, make a shitload of money – millions and millions and millions of dollars – meet the right people, make the right connections along the way and then post-fighting I’ll have other avenues.”
He was going to whup Wilnis then parlay the Glory title into a decent offer from the UFC. Or he’d go back to China, where he fights under the name Black Dragon, and wait out Dana White, the UFC supremo.. He was so good, he reckoned, that the UFC would come crawling to him with an acceptable offer soon enough.
“People look at me the way I fight, the way I portray myself leading up to a fight and think ‘fuck he is cocky, he is up himself, he thinks he is the man’. I’m like: ‘Of course’.
“Coming up people never told me I was the man. People always shat on me. They were like ‘fuck this guy, this little nigger, blackie, ra ra ra. So I had to teach myself to talk positive to myself, uplift myself. No one else was going to do that for me.”
And now the contender who drew inspiration from Avatar: The Last Airbender in creating his ‘The Last Stylebender’ alter-ego, has arrived. A black star has risen. If he lives up to his own hype, the rise will be sustained and meteoric.
“Pretty sure I had more hype than Conor [McGregor] before he jumped in UFC,” Adesanya noted on Sunday.
“Now people know who I am and it’s time to work.
“I’m the UFC now, I’ve felt the buzz – same thing, different day.
“I’ve been watching the UFC for a long time… I know how this works. I’ve prepped, visualised all this, and it’s happening now. I just need to roll with it. I ran toward this fight.
“I wouldn’t say I’m born for this. I’m made for this. My crew made me for this,” he said.