Given the close relationship Australia and Aotearoa share in the UFC through Robert Whittaker and Mark Hunt doing both countries proud, it seems only right that we are not witnessing the rise of Australian or kiwi fighting on to the biggest stage, but the combined rise of Oceania in the UFC. It also only seems right that the next level from Hunt and Whittaker, is for Aotearoa especially to move from celebrating fighters with ties to Aotearoa and celebrating legit monsters who fight out of Aotearoa.
Whittaker is of Maori heritage, was born in Aotearoa and has always been lovely enough to recognise this. Hunt was born and raised in Aotearoa, but owes much of his fighting career to Australia and even a guy like James Te Huna is based out of Australia; we've done a fair bit of sharing and will continue to do so in the future given how many kiwis move to Australia etc.
I like it and feel as though it brings me closer to the Australian fighters in the process. I always feel like I'm grasping in laying some pride in Whittaker as he's effectively an Aussie and I'm always offering a chur to Australia for helping Hunt reach his current status as a figthing legend. Australia and Aotearoa's presence in the UFC is a combined effort, yet now with the emergence of Israel Adesanya in the UFC's middleweight division, Aotearoa has someone who we don't have to share with Australia.
Adesanya defeated Rob Wilkinson (an Aussie) last weekend at UFC 221 in Perth and The Last Stylebender stole the show with his fighting, as well as his shenanigans. Shenanigans are important here because we are in the fight-business after all and Adesanya impressed with his shit-talking on the mic after the fight in the octagon and in post-fight interviews, as well as generating buzz for acting like a dog pissing all over the cage.
I was gob-smacked, not because of what he did but because Aotearoa has a fighter who has fans around the world salivating at his skill as a fighter and he's got the promotional aspect on lock. Given that Tai Tuivasa did a shoe-y after his fight and Tyson Pedro kept it real in his post-fight speech, Australia and Aotearoa have impressive up and comers who combine their skill with being 'characters'.
Whittaker is the opposite and that works too. He's a fantastic human in all aspects and is a true martial artist, representing the humble, quiet, grafting side of kiwis and Aussies. Both sides to this coin are beneficial as long as they are genuine and I was gob-smacked because Aotearoa has a fighter who genuinely doesn't give a fuck.
The shenanigans are second fiddle to fighting skills though and in picking apart Wilkinson with a variety of strikes, Adesanya showed the UFC world what kickboxing fans have known for a long time. Watch this sequence of strikes from Adesanya and note the minor pause between every shot, the precision of every shot and know that this was a guy making his UFC debut:
Adesanya was making his UFC debut, yet he's been on the scene since 2011 and the fact that his first kickboxing fight was in Malaysia when he was in his early-20s, tells you all you need to know about his experience. He's already had fights in China, Brazil, USA and Turkey, he defeated an old Jospeh Parker opponent Brian Minto in a boxing bout (and spars with Junior Fa who had an amateur win over Parker) and is currently 12-0 in MMA since making his debut in 2012; he's juggled kickboxing, MMA and boxing in that time and maintained a healthy winning record overall.
This puts Adesanya in an intriguing spot where he's not fresh into professional fighting and we can now ride through this journey of how the UFC develops Adesanya in a fairly hectic middleweight division. Tuivasa is already 2-0 in the UFC at 24-years-old, yet he's only had 16 kickboxing fights and 7 MMA fights which is likely to result in a slower, more measured development process through the UFC's heavyweight division. Adesanya has 57 kickboxing fights and 12 MMA fights at 28-years-old and this could see him slide into a top-10 fight within a year.
I reckon Adesanya will fight two more times in 2018 and if he wins those two fights, then he'll be sniffing a top-10 contest. Lyoto Machida is lurking around the top-10 and I mean, the sheer fact that I'm pondering Adesanya vs Machida is bonkers, let alone allowing myself to drift off into the future and ponder Adesanya vs Chris Weidman/Yoel Romero/Jacare Souza/Luke Rockhold ... I won't even get into Whittaker vs Adesanya territory.
The UFC still need to ease Adesanya in with logical match ups against middleweights who are in a similar position to Adesanya; trying to rack up wins and climb the division. This is why I'm all-in on the Adesanya journey and I'd encourage youz to leave the hype in the background and enjoy each step of this journey for what it is. We've got a fighter who could, possibly become a top-tier middleweight and this is the 'come up' stage, this is where you can hop on the wagon and get knee deep in The Last Stylebender fandom, pledging yourself to this journey, before the hype goes mainstream.
We won't have to wait too long to see Adesanya again. He barely took any damage against Wilkinson and is likely to get booked to fight before July, ideally on the same card as comrade Dan Hooker. Hooker and Adesanya on the same UFC card? Shit the bed.
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Peace and love 27.