Israel Adesanya’s rise to become one of the meanest men on the planet seemingly happened overnight – but his rapid rise belies the arduous journey.
On Sunday, at UFC 253, the Ultimate Fighting Championship Middleweight World Champion will face his toughest test yet as he takes on Paulo Costa.
Both men have unbeaten records and the fight has already been hyped as ‘the fight of the year’ and yet despite the immense pressure, Adesanya remains calm and laser-focused.
“I’ll just keep doing it – as I always have,” the 31-year-old Nigerian-born Kiwi explains to Daily Mail Australia.
This simple ethos has been a guiding principle throughout his brief but hugely successful MMA career.
An unshakable confidence that developed at a young age, as his family traveled from Nigeria to the backyards of Rotorua in search of a new and better life.
Adesanya’s new beginnings got off to a rocky start, marred by frequent clashes with bullies – and racists – on the streets and in the playgrounds of rural New Zealand.
The trick Adesanya learned was to talk to himself – to “build myself up,” he says – with moments of self-reflection and positive reinforcement that slowly but surely left him feeling that nothing could stop him.
Israel Adesanya will face Paulo Costa on Sunday in their UFC 253 title fight at Fight Island in Abu Dhabi
A native of Nigeria, 31-year-old Kiwi said he was bullied at school during his younger years for being black
In just two years, Adesanya has gone from the obscurity of Asia’s wild regional fighting competitions to a world title and it was after his first victory at the UFC – the world’s foremost mixed martial arts organization – in Perth in February 2018 that the fighter first spoke of the hardships he endured as a child who arrived in New Zealand only at the age of 10.
He told the assembled press how he was seen as ‘a runt’ in high school – bullied for the color of his skin and his love of dancing and ‘nerdy’ anime.
A lot has changed since then.
Adesanya explained that he turned to martial arts as a means of defending himself and of building himself up mentally and physically.
Its evolution did not happen overnight and it is far from over.
‘I am not done. I’m not done yet. You haven’t even seen the best of me, ”Adesanya tells The Daily Mail.
Over the past 12 months, undefeated Adesanya (19-0) has proven herself to be one of the most popular – and marketable – athletes in the world. He claimed the UFC middleweight title with a stunning knockout of Robert Whittaker from Australia last October, before defending his belt against Cuban firm Yoel Romero in March.
Over the past 12 months, undefeated Adesanya (19-0) has proven herself to be one of the most popular – and marketable – athletes in the world.
The UFC Champion (pictured as a child) has quickly made a name for himself as one of the top middleweight UFC contenders after growing up in rural New Zealand.
He claimed the UFC middleweight title with a stunning knockout of Robert Whittaker from Australia last October
This weekend, Adesanya will take on the toughest match of his career when he takes on Brazilian wrecking ball Paulo Costa in the head of a monster UFC 253 fight card staged at the UFC complex ‘Fight Island’ in Abu Dhabi.
“He’s just dangerous,” says Costa’s Adesanya. That’s one thing to remember: he’s dangerous. But he has to remember … me too. ‘
Already Adesanya’s fame extends well beyond the mixed martial arts cage where he pursues his profession.
In February, Adesanya was named New Zealand Athlete of the Year – the first time anyone in the martial arts has received that honor – while last week was named as the face of global sportswear giants Puma’s promotions in the Oceania region, once again the first time a hunter is placed on that position.
Adesanya was named New Zealand Athlete of the Year in February – the first time anyone from martial arts has received that honor
But it was Adesanya’s emotional speech at the Black Lives Matter meeting at the US Embassy in Auckland in June that showed how important his role has now become, both in sports worldwide and in society itself.
Adesanya said he was “sick and tired” of seeing alleged racist deaths in the United States, and of racism worldwide.
‘[I have a] platform so i have to speak. I’ve been doing it for two weeks. You have seen that I have been angry, ” Adesanya told the rally in a speech that was reported around the world.
“I’m tired of seeing those faces killed, because guess what, I see myself in it,” Adesanya said.
Adesanya is dismissive of the idea that he is a role model – or even should be considered a role model – but believes it is time for athletes to definitely start using their spot in the spotlight for the common good.
Adesanya (pictured) will put his UFC Middleweight World Title on the line against fierce 29-year-old Costa
“I don’t really see why anyone would want to look to me for my view of social issues, or political issues, because I’m not a politician, first of all, but a fighter,” says Adesanya. ‘But I am also a human being, a son of this earth. So I have my own opinion on things. I don’t often share them, but if I feel the conviction I will. You saw that at the protest of George Floyd / Black Lives Matter.
‘I think athletes, not just black athletes but every athlete, should stand up to what’s happening in the world right now. Not just with racism. ‘
Come Sunday (Australian time), and the UFC Fight Island base in Abu Dhabi, and Adesanya will put his UFC Middleweight World Title on the line against fierce 29-year-old Costa, undefeated at 13-0 and with 11 knockouts. to his name so far.
The build-up to the event was bitter to say the least, with Costa taunting Adesanya as a ‘skinny clown’ and the Kiwi replying that he thought the Brazilian was an ‘overly bloated balloon animal’.
‘I don’t dwell on it too much [the trash talk]’says Adesanya. ‘Ever since we were kids, when people don’t like each other, they talk s *** and eventually fight it out. But while they are talking, it is all part of it. It’s all part of fighting. ‘
Leading up to the match, Costa mocked Adesanya (pictured) as a ‘skinny clown’ and the Kiwi replied that he thought the Brazilian was an ‘overly bloated balloon animal’.
The fighters present an intriguing contrast in styles, with Adesanya famous for his ability to flow through his fights and knock out his opponents with punches and kicks, and Costa more battering ram than man as he walks forward with huge and heavy hands.
Adesanya stayed at his City Kickboxing base in Auckland for weeks during COVID-19’s forced lockdown in New Zealand. He says the time away from the ‘sound’ has focused him like never before.
‘I had no idea I needed to be here or there. Any business I had to handle I could do online, ”he says. ‘There was no place to be. I just went back to the simple life. The martial arts life. Wake up, exercise, eat, sleep. Repeat. It was beautiful.
‘Now all I worry about expressing myself and having fun. Winning is just a part of that. When I have fun I am the best in the world. ‘
The highly anticipated fight between Adesanya and Costo kicks off Sunday in Australian and New Zealand time on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi.
Australians can watch the fight on the Main Event, with the main card to start Sunday afternoon (AEDT)
Adesanya will take on Paulo Costa (pictured together with UFC boss Dana White) in Abu Dhabi on Sunday afternoon to defend his title belt.