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Israel Adesanya… Nigeria’s martial arts commander marches on

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UFC World Middleweight Champion, Israel Adesanya. PHOTO: GETTYIMAGES.

In the past three years, Nigerian-born New Zealand-based Israel Adesanya has maintained his commanding acuity in the Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), amassing great records. The guy is almost the sole reason why many Nigerians and indeed African sports lovers care about the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).

Since he made his UFC debut against Rob Wilkinson in February 2018, which he won via Technical Knock Out (TKO) in the second round, Adesanya has been an inspiration for many Nigerians, both young and old; even traditional rulers are in love with his style of operation.

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“I am always happy watching Adesanya dominate his opponents in the UFC fights,” the traditional ruler of Odogbolu kingdom in Ogun State, Oba Adedeji Olusegun Onagoruwa, said after Adesanya’s brilliant performance against Paulo Costa of Brazil in their UFC middleweight title fight last weekend.

Adesanya hails from Odogbolu kingdom but relocated with his family to Auckland, New Zealand when he was 11 years old.

“He is now a great motivator for the youths of Odogbolu, Ogun State and Nigeria in general,” Oba Onagoruwa continued in a chat with The Guardian. “I will continue to pray for his success. I also pray that one day, Adesanya will bring his fight to Nigeria for our people to watch him live. I am looking forward to a day when I will join other members of his family on the ringside to cheer our son (Israel Adesanya) to victory.”

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An elated Oba Onagoruwa, the Elesi 1, Alaye of Odogbolu Kingdom, urged Nigerian youths to emulate the great work of Adesanya, saying, “You can achieve your dream if you believe in yourself. Israel has demonstrated that with self-determination, everything is possible in life. My message to Nigerian youths now is to shun the negative act that is capable of damaging the name of our great country, Nigeria, and follow the footsteps of Israel Adesanya. We are proud of him.”

Fluent in Yoruba, Nigerian Pidgin, and English, Adesanya is the eldest of five children. While his father, Oluwafemi, is an accountant, his mother, Taiwo, is a nurse.

Perhaps, the foundation of Adesanya’s sports career was laid at Chrisland School, Opebi, where he enrolled in Taekwondo, an after-school club. His mother later removed him due to injury.

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When he commenced his high school education in New Zealand, Adesanya was not interested in sports. Instead, he was interested in Japanese anime such as Death Note and Naruto. The young lad decided to pursue martial arts for self-defense later to avoid being constantly bullied by some bad elements during his high school years.

At the age of 18, he started training in kickboxing and went on to amass an amateur kickboxing record of 32–0. He began his MMA training a few years later and made his debut against Rob Wilkinson on February 11, 2018, at UFC 221, which he won via TKO in the second round. The win earned him the Performance of the Night bonus.

Since then, Adesanya has not looked back. One after the other, the Nigerian has overpowered his opponents. Among other fights, Adesanya floored Kelvin Gastelum for the interim UFC Middleweight Championship in April 2019, at UFC 236 in Atlanta, United States of America. Apart from winning the fight via unanimous decision, the Nigerian earned the Fight of the Night award.

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Next on the card for Adesanya was Robert Whittaker. It was a title unification bout held in October 2019 at UFC 243 in Melbourne, Australia. Adesanya won via knockout in the second round to become the undisputed UFC middleweight champion. The win earned him his fourth Performance of the Night award.

In March this year, Adesanya floored a boastful Yoel Romero at UFC 248, winning via unanimous decision. He defended the UFC middleweight championship successfully for the first time.

His next title defence at Fight Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, last weekend, Adesanya, 31, connected multiple leg kicks and head kicks to floor the hitherto undefeated Brazilian, Paulo Costa, at UFC 253. He won the fight via technical knockout in the second round. The win earned him his fifth Performance of the Night award.

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Adesanya has won all of his 20 matches in professional Mixed Martial Arts.

Apart from Adesanya, some other Nigerians are dominating the UFC. They include Sodiq Yusuff, who defeated Suman Mokhtarian, a native of Adelaide to win his featherweight title in December last year during his UFC debut in Australia.

Adesanya travelled from his base in Auckland to Adelaide to cheer Yusuff to victory. They spoke their native Yoruba language at the end of the fight.

On the other side, Kamaru Usman ‘The Nigerian Nightmare’ commands the UFC welterweight division.

Usman, a native of Auchi, Edo State became the first African-born UFC champion to win the welterweight title when he defeated Tyron Woodley in March this year. And as of July 14, 2020, Usman is ranked No 5 in the UFC men’s pound-for-pound rating.

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