Israel Adesanya striking a pose during his fight with Anderson Silva.

Israel Adesanya: An Overview of His Life and Career as a Mixed Martial Artist

Israel Mobalaji Temitayo Odunayo Oluwafemi Owalabi Adesanya is one of the most renowned mixed martial artists on the planet. A former boxer and kickboxer who is Nigerian-born but currently resides in New Zealand. Nicknamed The Last Stylebender, he is one of the many Nigerians in mixed martial arts who make the country proud.

A picture of Israel Adesanya ringside before one of his fights.
Credits: FanBuzz

Childhood

On 22nd July 1989, Israel was born to his parents, Femi Adesanya, an accountant (father), and Taiwo Adesanya, a nurse (mother). He was the first child of five children born to the couple. Being the first child of a relatively wealthy family, he lacked little in terms of education and welfare.

As a young child growing up in Lagos, Nigeria, Adesanya swiftly picked up Taekwondo. However, his training was cut short due to an arm fracture which led his mother to withdraw him from training. He had his elementary education at Chrisland School in Opebi, Lagos. After that, he attended Bells Elementary School.

A picture of a young Israel Adesanya cutting a cake on his birthday
Credits: Bleacher Report

Early Life

While in high school, Israel dabbled with dancing. A key element of his fighting style today. However, following the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks in the US, his parents’ plans to move to the US were brought to a halt. They first moved to Ghana, where they spent 10 months deciding whether to immigrate to the US or New Zealand. The family eventually opted for New Zealand and settled in Rotorua.

In New Zealand, Adesanya enrolled in Rotorua High School where he completed his secondary education. He was frequently bullied in high school, which informed his decision to take martial arts seriously later on in life.

After completing his secondary education, he enrolled in the Universal College of Learning in Whanganui. He enrolled for a Bachelor of Science in Computer Design. While in college, he began kickboxing after watching the 2003 Thai martial arts movie Ong Bak.

A picture of a young Israel Adesanya practicing his kickboxing moves.
Credits: Beyond the Single Story

Kickboxing Career

Two years after he started kickboxing, Adesanya decided to discontinue his secular education and face his kickboxing career head on. He fought around 32 amateur fights and won them all. After that, he turned pro and moved to China to continue his journey.

Adesanya won his debut fight, and recorded an impressive winning streak. This led him to the 2014 Kunlun Fight 80 kg tournament. Unfortunately, he was eliminated in the semi-final. In his Glory 15 debut, he faced Belgian kickboxer Filip Verlinden and lost. However, in a rematch three months later, he evened the score.

Israel went on to win the King in the Ring Cruiserweights II, 5 Cruiserweights III, and the Heavyweight tournament. He also participated in the Glory Middleweight Championship, where he won the belt.

A picture of Israel Adesanya landing a left high kick on an opponent in Glory Kickboxing
Credits: Glory Kickboxing

Boxing Career

Israel made a swift transition to boxing after a successful kickboxing career. He faced Daniel Amman, a two-time Australian champion, at the inaugural cruiserweight Super 8 boxing tournament. He lost his boxing debut due to a controversial unanimous decision.

Adesanya then re-entered the tournament and defeated an American professional boxer, Brian Minto. Winning the tournament. Subsequently, he defended his cruiserweight title at the 2015 Super 8 Cruiserweight tournament.

A picture of Israel Adsanya knocking down an opponent in the boxing ring.
Credits: GiveMeSport

Mixed Martial Arts Career

In 2012, he made his mixed martial arts debut against James Griffith and won via TKO. After that, he won another bout and proceeded to take a 2 year hiatus to focus on boxing. However, in August 2015, he returned to the octagon and recorded an 8 fight winning streak. He claimed the Hex Fight Series Middleweight Championship and AFC Middleweight Championship.

Finally, in December 2017, Adesanya joined the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). On his mixed martial arts debut, he fought Australian mixed martial artist Rob Wilkinson, who he beat via TKO. In addition, he earned a performance bonus that night. He then won his next three fights while earning Performance of The Night in his third and fourth fights.

A picture of Israel Adesanya fighting Jarod Cannonier at UFC 276.
Credits: New York Post

UFC Career

In February 2019, Adesanya faced off against Anderson Silva. He was the former UFC Middleweight Champion. The fight took place at UFC 234 and Adesanya was victorious over his competitor. Winning the fight via unanimous decision.

Shortly after, Adesanya fought for the interim UFC Middleweight Championship against Kelvin Gastelum. He’s an American mixed martial artist with an iron chin. After a brutal back and forth, Israel came out victorious and overcame what was probably his most difficult fight. He earned a Fight of the Night bonus for his performance. Moreover, the fight is regarded as one of the best in 2019 and earned nominations for fight of the year.

He ended the year with a title unification fight against Robert Whittaker. Whittaker was one of the longest reigning UFC champions who effectively controlled the middleweight division for decades. However, despite this, Adesanya won the fight in the second round via TKO.

Israel knocking out Robert Whittaker to win the UFC Middleweight Championship
Credits: Sherdog Forums

Defending the Belt

Adesanya began his reign as undisputed UFC Middleweight champion after defeating Robert Whittaker. He first faced Yoel Romero, an accomplished Cuban wrestler and Olympian. It was a dull affair, but nonetheless, Adesanya clinched the victory via unanimous decision.

Next up was Brazilian powerhouse, Paulo Costa. This bout was highly anticipated. Like Israel, Paulo Costa was also undefeated in the UFC. It was the first time that the two fighters faced off in the Octagon since 2009. After a stellar performance, Israel vanquished Costa, earning his fifth Performance of the Night award.

Israel retaining his championship belt against Paolo Costa.
Credits: Forbes

Move To Light Heavyweight Division

After an extended period of success in the Middleweight Division, Israel decided to make the move to Light Heavyweight. This was uncharted territory for the Middleweight, but his height and size made it easier for him to adjust.

Adesanya fought Polish mixed martial artist Jan Blachowiz for the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship at UFC 259. Blachowiz won the fight via a unanimous decision after a stellar performance. His relentless grappling made it a difficult fight for Adesanya. This was his first and only defeat in the UFC.

A picture of Israel Adesanya wrestling with Jan Blachowiz, Jan has the upper hand in this photo.
Credits: MMA Mania

Personal Life

Israel keeps his personal life far from the spotlight. As such, it’s quite difficult to determine who he surrounds himself with and whether he’s in a relationship. In interviews, he’s mentioned that he has a girlfriend on multiple occasions. But her identity still remains a mystery.

Adesanya is also the eldest of five children. His siblings Deborah and Samuel are both nurses. Whereas his brother David is an accountant and his other brother Bolu is currently a student.

A group picture of Israel posing with his family.
Credits: Beyond the Single Story

Roots and Ancestry

Adesanya traces his roots to Odogbolu, in Ogun state, through his father’s ancestry. He has a tattoo of Africa on his body with Nigeria outlined. Moreover, he tattoed the words “broken native” on his chest as well. This is meant to symbolize how singular and unique he is.

He can speak his native Yoruba language, English and pidgin English. Furthermore, he was raised as a Christian at birth but currently does not practice any religion. His renowned nickname “The Last Stylebender” paid homage to the animated TV series “Avatar: The Last Airbender”. In the series, the Avatar Aang is supposed to be the master of all the elements. Like Aang, Adesanya uses this to convey that he is the master of all the elements in mixed martial arts.

A picture of Israel Adesanya in the gym.
Credits: MMA NYTT

Controversy

In 2019, Adesanya jumped into the cage to celebrate Sodiq Yusuf’s win. Sodiq is a fellow Nigerian mixed martial artist and Israel felt obliged to celebrate with his countrymen. However, Sodiq defeated Adelaide native Suman Mokhtarian. The celebration angered Mokhtarian’s coaches, who thought that it was in bad taste as Adesanya is also from New Zealand. Regardless, Adesanya stood his ground and celebrated with Sodiq.

In September 2020, after his highly anticipated bout with Paulo Costa, he had a visible lump on his chest which resulted from gynecomastia. This generated a lot of reactions because people suspected it to be an outcome of steroid use. However, Adesanya came out and said that increased consumption of cannabis caused the lump.

A picture with Israel's gynocomastia condition highlighted prior to his bout with Paulo Costa.
Credits: SportBible

Adesanya’s Coaches

Derek Broughton was one of Adesanya’s first coaches. He helped him with his transition to MMA. He was also at odds with him because he wanted to fight Neroni Savaiinaea in 2009. An experienced MMA fighter who Israel wasn’t ready to face yet. The fight went ahead and, unfortunately, he lost the fight.

He describes the fight as a learning experience for him. He stated, “In hindsight, I’m glad that the first fight happened the way it did. If I’d won that fight, I would have been like, “I’m the man, I’m the greatest, no one can touch me.”

He added, “It showed me I had a lot to learn in MMA, but at the same time, I didn’t get hurt or submitted badly. It has in no way deterred me from a career in the sport”. He was unfazed by his first loss and wanted to continue down this path. When he moved to Auckland, he enlisted the help of Eugene Bareman. However, this wasn’t the first interaction between the two.

Eugene was actually in Adesanya’s corner during his first defeat. However, after the fight, Eugene vowed to never train Adesanya because of his stubbornness. When he was at Eugene’s doorstep, Adesanya begged and pleaded his case, and after a long back and forth, Eugene finally took him under his wing.

A picture of Israel hugging his trainer Eugene affectionately.
Credits: The COCONET.TV

The City Kickboxing Style

City Kickboxing represents combat sports in Aotearoa. Stylistically, not many gyms come close to City Kickboxing. They boosted to the top of the UFC world through their work on striking specifically. When a gym offers something so fresh to the UFC at a high level, success is only around the corner.

The likes of Israel Adesanya and Kai Kara France honed their talents in various kickboxing and MMA competitions. CKB coaches have experience in the lower ranks and the upper echelon of the fighting circuit. They gather experience and information on how to best develop their fighters for the big stage. The path is clear and focused, and their development has a positive influence on the fighters’ style and mindset.

They ensure that fighters are well rounded. Striking is their main weapon, but creativity and ingenuity is something that differentiates CKB fighters from the rest. CKB employs a long-term mentality in their fights. Strikes aren’t thrown to simply cause damage, usually they’re thrown to elicit a reaction and are then stored away for later use. CKB’s usage of feints through a simple twist of the hips, raising of the legs and shimmy of the shoulder are common tools.

A group photo of the City Kickboxing fighters and their coaches.
Credits: First Sportz

The CKB Team

As mentioned earlier, Eugene Bareman is one of the main coaches at CKB. However, in recent times, he has been assisted by Frank Hickman. He is the wrestling coach at Tiger Muay Thai, where he works alongside his brother George. The Hickman brothers had extensive wrestling and mixed martial arts experience in the United States before forming their own practice called Hickman Brothers Wrestling.

CKB fighters have worked with the Hickman brothers for many years. As a result, UFC lightweight champion Alexander Volkanovski spent a lot of time with CKB during his championship run. CKB now has the wrestling duo of Paulet and Hickman running their wrestling. CKB has enjoyed immense success in the UFC because of their striking, but the development of their grappling division has been unbelievable. The combination of slick striking and takedown defense saw CKB fighters rise to the top of the UFC.

A group photo of members of the Hickman brothers' gym
Credits: THE BODY LOCK

Conclusion

It’s fair to say that Israel Adesanya is a true athlete in every sense. His style and persona is unique to him, he doesn’t try to mimic other fighters that came before him. He’s one of one, and we won’t see another like him for some time to come.

His unique fighting style always makes for an exciting watch. You never know when the big KO moment will come. Despite this, Adesanya does receive a lot of criticism. People refer to his fighting style as ‘boring’ or ‘too safe’. People are always entitled to their opinions, but this is absolutely untrue. Israel is one of the most calculated and methodical fighters in all of mixed martial arts.

He is an expert at controlling distance and forcing a reaction out of his opponents. As such, he takes his time, uncovers his opponent’s weakness and strikes when the time is right. Like a predator on the hunt. Yes, it’s always entertaining to watch two brawlers throw everything at each other. But fighting is more than brute violence, it’s a sweet science that requires intelligence and careful planning. Something Adesanya possesses in spades. It’s an absolute pleasure watching him fight, he undoubtedly deserves a place in the UFC hall of fame. He continues to be an inspiration to thousands of aspiring fighters around the world.

A photo of Israel Adesanya at the weigh ins.
Credits: DraftKings Nation

 

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