When kiwis are on the global sporting stage, representing the greatest sporting nation in the world, all we can ask as folks from Aotearoa is for athletes to go hundies in being their best kiwi selves. UFC 243 in Melbourne, gave us exactly that in glorious fashion as Brad Riddell, Dan Hooker and Israel Adesanya snatched impressive wins to catapult Aotearoa into the upper echelon of the MMA world.
Aotearoa is the best sporting nation in the world. No other country routinely competes at a high level across such a wide variety of sports like Aotearoa. For those within the combat sports community in Aotearoa, they will know of the immense ability of all types of fighters from Aotearoa and for me personally, Sunday the 6th of October, 2019 took me back in time to when Aotearoa and Samoa stopped to watch David Tua fight Lennox Lewis on November 11th, 2000. Same vibe, same fascination, same captivation and completely different feeling coming out the other side.
Such deep fighting history, now lends itself to creating the revolution. Hamilton's Luke Jumeau suffered an unfortunate loss Dhiego Lima, in his corner was coach Lolo Heimuli who is entrenched in the Aotearoa fighting landscape. Heimuli once coached Mark Hunt, as well as Doug Viney; Viney is now a coach at Auckland City Kickboxing. Heimuli is the definition of matua fighting and was present for the show, which takes on a whole new level of history considering that Viney, Eugene Bareman and fellow CKB coach Tristram Apikotoa spent time at Balmoral Lee Gar earlier in their fighting careers under Heimuli.
Adding to that, another veteran of the fighting scene Mike Angove is part of the CKB and often seen as part of the EMG Access vlogs or Combat TV interviews. Angove is probably best known as a commentator for Joseph Parker's bouts in Aotearoa and having Aotearoa's elders with immense mana in Melbourne, as part of the #KiwiUFC antics can not be under-stated. Aotearoa's rich combat sport history led us to this point, where a a whole new world has been unlocked.
Riddell got things underway in mauling Jamie Mullarky, with devestating efficiency of striking. Riddell's combinations were eye-catching, to the point where every box was ticked for CKB as they revealed their up and coming prospect who looks just as dangerous as anyone else on the CKB roster (Kai Kara France and Shane Young included).
This lightweight fight went the distance, largely thanks to Mullarky being excessively tough. Riddell landed 91 significant strikes to Mullarky's 36, snuffing most of Mullarky's 15 takedown attempts via typically efficient CKB takedown defence; slide the feet back, get the hands down and maybe slip them into under-hookers (under armpits), dip those hips all the way down to the mat. Riddell consistently executed this under pressure, before unloading punching combinations on Mullarky and slowly turning the screws on the Aussie with 13 (of 35) significant strikes in round one, 17 (of 31) in round two before sealing the win with 61 (of 87).
It's easy to view Riddell's win as setting the tone, however the performance of Riddell set the tone in what to expect from CKB's fighters. CKB have a formula, a system that is implemented through years of training and while I don't know specifics (omg I'd love to nerd-out and spend time there), the basic premises of precision striking, supreme body control and more than good enough takedown defence were all on display. Riddell showcased the striking that made him a force in the kick-boxing world and it's funky to think that Riddell is following Adesanya's route of racking up kick-boxing experience, then entering the UFC when divine timing allows.
Neither Riddell nor Adesanya were rushed through their journey and along with how talented these CKB fighters are thanks to their coaching staff, the meticulous planning is noteworthy. Under coach Bareman, CKB fighters are put in the best position to succeed, no stepping stones are missed and whether it's Adesanya's rise to the top within two years in the UFC or how smooth Riddell transitioned; the proof is in the pudding with how CKB move through career phases.
Hooker's win over Al Iaquinta was the most telling with regards to the CKB influence. After lighting up Jams Vick in his previous outing thanks to the CKB fakes, faints and timing scheme, Hooker picked Iaquinta apart. The significant striking disparity was again blatantly clear with Hooker landing 98 of 207 to Iaquinta's 37 off 116, Iaquinta didn't land any of his three takedown attempts and Hooker simply controlled a higher ranked, more fancied opponent.
There is a certain level of composure that permeates from Hooker in such a fight as yesterday's win, the type that we haven't quite seen. Sure, Hooker always looked reasonably calm and composed - which was most evident when he was being smoked by Edson Barboza - although against a rugged, high-energy fighter such as Iaquinta, it was taken to a new level.
With a wrestling background and giving up size/reach to Hooker, it felt like Iaquinta's best chance was getting inside Hooker's range and ideally taking him down. Hooker kept Iaquinta at range by targeting Iaquinta's lead leg with kicks, along with his punches, the thing is though that when this fight did end up on the mat, Hooker did all the damage on the ground. Landing 22 of 25 strikes on the ground, Hooker shut down most, if not all of Iaquinta's winning routes and Hooker was able to land such strikes on the ground thanks to his own skill in jiu-jitsu which allowed him to find dominant positions quickly.
This led to a moment when these two were on the ground, in what seemed to be a rather steady position as both fighters tried to find better positioning. That was until Hooker started to rain shots down on Iaquinta's head and snatched the vibe, taking momentum his direction and showing Iaquinta that he was out-matched in every department. For Hooker to do that against a highly-ranked opponent, was massive and the comfort shown by UFC debutant Riddell in his win, flowed over to the comfort shown by Hooker; Riddell's on the rise, Adesanya's the headliner while Hooker is creeping under the radar.
Hooker was so comfortable, he called his shot after the win. Hooker called out Dustin Poirer, who immediately rejected the offer as he'd rather pursue the ghost of Conor McGregor. Who knows what happens next in the cluttered lightweight division, as there is incredible depth there, but Hooker's comfort in using the mic to speak things into the universe showed a wee jump in his UFC comfort levels; perhaps representing his arrival to the big dance.
As Adesanya escaped Whittaker's powerful lunges, where Whittaker would rush at Adesanya with his awkward striking style, it was dancing that kept sliding into my noggin. Whittaker attacked Adesanya in a linear fashion, bombarding his opponent with punches and the odd kick before retreating back to safe distance. I suspect this works against other opponents who either move straight back themselves allowing for Whittaker to follow a retreating opponent, or pushing an opponent to move sideways where they step into a strike from that side. Whittaker is a weird fighter, which has taken him to the top, where he met another weirdo.
While Whittaker rushed Adesanya, the body control shown by Adesanya to lean away from Whittakers strikes was not normal. The key was in Adesanya's walk out, when he danced with those who taught him to dance way back in either Rotorua or Whanganui and from my perspective it looks like the genre of dance that Adesanya was most interested in was krumping or pop-locking. Both require extreme body control, being able to pause a section of your body while moving another section and merely being in full control of what each limb is up to.
Whittaker landed 25 percent of his significant strikes in round one, 17 off 66 strikes. That's because of Adesanya's ability to evade and shift his body out of harm's way. I view the key in Adesanya's win as this body control, because Adesanya didn't have to move too far away from Whittaker as Whittaker rushed. While others respond to Whittaker by moving their whole body and then having to re-engage, Adesanya was able to lean back to avoid Whittaker's shots with his feet still close to Whittaker.
Adesanya could then counter Whittaker's rushes. Having watched Adesanya rise through the UFC ranks swiftly over the past 18-24 months, I love seeing Adesanya strike with his level of precision. This was on display in his first UFC fight agains Rob Wilkinson as Adesanya was clearly dictating the fight, but patiently picked his shots and laneded them perfectly - as opposed to recklessly going in for the kill. That pin-point accuracy, precision striking is exactly what you don't want to see while you are lunging, rushing an opponent and Adesanya's body control allowed him to be there, in front of Whittaker to counter with precise accuracy.
As one would expect, Whittaker was all class in defeat and this result puts him in an interesting space where he has to earn his way back here. It feels like the UFC middleweight division will move along to Adesanya vs Paulo Costa, leaving Whittaker to fight someone like Kelvin Gastelum within six months. Whittaker didn't attempt a single takedown, despite having that in his tool-belt and instead opted to stand and bang with the world's best striker. Integrating more takedowns and being able to control fights with his wrestling should give Whittaker another wrinkle to explore in the next phase of his career; his plan didn't work here.
Not everyone from Aotearoa naturally leans into super-stardom. Adesanya's buzz could be viewed as rather un-kiwi like, especially compared to his comrades in Hooker, Riddell, France and Young along with the abundance of humble coaches at CKB. The very root of Adesanya's actions in Melbourne though, were rooted in Aotearoa's mana as Adesanya expressed himself creatively to open the fight, doing so with folks who were there with Adesanya before he even went all-in on fighting. His homie dancing even had 'Broken Native' tattoo'd on his arms!
Some portion of that mini dance routine felt like dance combined with haka, which offered a tangible feeling deep in my loins and perhaps yours. What wouldn't have got the attention, but gave me the most goosebumps was Adesanya waiting for his coaching staff to walk through the tunnel after his performance. Adesanya completed his routine, then ushered his team into the arena and a decent amount of Aotearoa's MMA history arrived behind Adesanya.
In all of what Adesanya does, there is a intense level of substance. Look at Adesanya's antics and you might catch a feeling of 'wtf is this dude up to?' or you may catch the feeling of a star, shining bright on the biggest stage. Adesanya is obviously a star, although none of that does justice to how grounded Adesanya is and this was evident in Melbourne as all of the antics were rooted to Adesanya's mana.
Prior to the fight, Adesanya discussed the respect he has for his coaches and his gym. I directly referred to this quote when sharing the preview: "I'd get slapped, I'd get regulated. I might be the biggest fuckin' star in this fuckin' game but I will always bow down to Eugene (Eugene Bareman)." Through the history of combat sports in Aotearoa and how that is being channeled through to Adesanya, there is a strong line mana from the ancient lands of Aotearoa up to the brightest star in the sport right now in Adesanya.
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Peace and love 27.