This past Saturday at UFC 243 in Melbourne, Australia, Interim Middleweight champion Israel Adesanya fought the reigning Middleweight champion Robert Whittaker in a unification title fight. This was supposed to be the fight that halted the momentum of Adesanya, the newest UFC star.
For those that don’t know, Robert Whittaker has gone through hell and back these last few years as the Middleweight champion of the world, winning two hellacious bouts against Yoel Romero, a Grecian god of a fighter capable of putting mortal men to sleep with one strike. However, it was Whittaker who was able to withstand Yoel’s patented assault of flying knees, overhand rights and elbows and leave both bouts as the champion. The question was then asked: if Yoel Romero cannot knock out Robert Whittaker, then who can?
Enter Israel Adesanya. I do not think there has been a fighter with as much fanfare entering his UFC debut as ‘The Last Stylebender” since perhaps Conor McGregor. Prior to his UFC debut at UFC 221, Israel Adesanya was known amongst the hardcore fight fans as perhaps the second coming of Anderson Silva. Sure, there were clips of kickboxing matches online and his initial 11 MMA bouts circling the internet, but until you step in the Octagon, that’s a whole different animal and many fans were curious to see how he would look.
He won his first bout versus an over-matched Rob Wilkinson in February 2018 and had a quick turnaround in April against a very tough guy in Marvin Vettori who he defeated by split decision. That fight, combined with his personality, propelled him to a main event match in July 2018 against Brad Tavares, After dominating Tavares for the full duration of the bout, people were put on notice at the quality and skill Israel possessed.
This led him to a showcase bout against Derek Brunson at New York’s Madison Square Garden. A round 1 stoppage victory settled it. Israel was a bonafide star in the UFC.
He followed that up by defeating his idol and closest stylistic comparison, Anderson Silva, in February with a victory by unanimous decision.
April 13, 2019 may go down as his crowning achievement as Adesanya withstood a barrage of punches and punishment from Kelvin Gastelum. In a fight that was tied 2 rounds a piece going in to the 5th and final round, Adesanya showed the true warrior spirit and knocked Gastelum down twice to secure the victory which led to the biggest fight of his career against Robert Whittaker.
On October 5th, 2019 Israel Adesanya put on a masterclass performance knocking out Robert Whittaker in the second round off a clean counter left hook to become the undisputed Middleweight champion. While watching the fight, I likened it to Jon Jones’ rise through the ranks back in 2009-2011 when he was tearing through everyone and won his title in a virtuoso performace against Shogun Rua. That’s the type of skill we may be seeing from Israel Adesanya and at 30 years old he still has a lot of huge fights on the horizon. You never know, perhaps we get another passing of the torch fight between him and Jon Jones next year. This guy is now appointment viewing. If he continues on this upwards trajectory, it may only be a matter of time before the UFC belongs to him. It’s only been 20 months since he first entered the octagon, but in those 20 months, “The Last Stylebender” has made his impact felt.