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A comet streaks across the mixed martial arts sky every so often
and alters the landscape of the sport forever. Israel
Adesanya
serves as a prime example.

The New Zealand-based Nigerian kickboxer entered the
Ultimate Fighting Championship
a little more than two years ago
as an unbeaten but unproven commodity. Adesanya has since rattled
off eight consecutive victories, improved to 19-0 overall and
ascended to the top of the 185-pound weight class, his stock rising
with each performance inside the Octagon. The 30-year-old
City Kickboxing
star last fought at UFC 248 on March 7, when he
retained the undisputed middleweight championship with a unanimous
decision over 2000 Olympic silver medalist Yoel
Romero
.

As defining moments continue to pile up for Adesanya, here are five
that stand out:

1. First Impression

The Glory Kickboxing alum put away Rob
Wilkinson
with knees and punches in the second round of their
undercard tilt at 185 pounds, as he made a successful debut at UFC
221 on Feb. 10, 2018 in Perth, Australia. Wilkinson withered, as
Adesanya’s measured and methodical approach exacted its toll.
Wilkinson spent much of the first round whiffing on takedowns and
attempting to bully the promotional newcomer in the clinch. His
efforts proved fruitless. Adesanya blasted him with knees to the
face and stiff jabs, all while focusing on the body with damaging
combinations. He broke the battered and bloodied Wilkinson’s will
along the fence and cut loose with knees and punches until it was
over 3:37 into Round 2.

2. A Contender’s Arrival

Adesanya’s hype train picked up speed when he breezed through what
was at the time most significant test to date, slicing and dicing
Brad
Tavares
to a unanimous decision in “The Ultimate Fighter 27”
Finale main event on July 6, 2018 at the Palms Casino Resort in Las
Vegas. Scores of 49-46, 50-45 and 50-45 confirmed the arrival of a
new contender at 185 pounds. Adesanya connected with nearly three
times as many total strikes (127-46) and significant strikes
(119-40) as the Hawaiian across the 25-minute confrontation.
Perhaps most impressively, he denied all but one of Tavares’ 12
takedown attempts. Adesanya left the
Xtreme Couture
mainstay in a compromised state in the fourth
round, where he opened a gruesome horizontal cut below his right
eyebrow with a standing elbow. For Tavares, it will serve as a
permanent reminder of his encounter with “The Last
Stylebender.”

3. Youth Served

Though it lacked the finality for which many had hoped, Adesanya
cleared the final hurdle standing between him and a shot at the
middleweight crown and did so with room to spare. “The Last
Stylebender” poked, prodded and outmaneuvered the great Anderson
Silva
for the better part of three rounds and took a unanimous
decision from the future hall of famer in the UFC 234 headliner on
Feb. 9, 2019 at Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne, Australia. All three
judges sided with heavily favored Adesanya: 29-28, 30-27 and 30-27.
Silva made headway in the second round and showed flashes of his
former self before his younger, faster adversary reclaimed control.
Adesanya doubled up “The Spider” in the significant strikes landed
department and found another gear when it mattered most. He
outlanded Silva by a 25-5 margin in the third round, removing any
thoughts of an upset.

4. Epic Encounter

Adesanya captured the interim middleweight championship with a
unanimous decision over “The Ultimate Fighter 17” winner Kelvin
Gastelum
in an electrifying UFC 236 co-main event on April 13,
2019 at State Farm Arena in Atlanta. “The Last Stylebender” emerged
as the last man standing in what was widely hailed as the “Fight of
the Year.” Their 25-minute engagement was marked by wild shifts in
momentum. Gastelum drew first blood in the first round, where he
had the City Kickboxing standout reeling with a sneaky but powerful
right hook. Adesanya answered in the second, first with a chopping
right hand that resulted in a knockdown and later with a spinning
back elbow that revved the crowd’s engines. As they headed to the
championship rounds, it appeared to be anyone’s fight. Gastelum
opened a cut under the New Zealand-based kickboxer’s right eye and
staggered him badly with a head kick, driving forward with punches
in a bid to finish late in Round 4. Still, Adesanya refused to
wilt. He did his best work over the final five minutes, as he
threatened Gastelum with a standing guillotine, transitioned to a
triangle choke and scrambled to his feet. Adesanya knocked down the
fading
Kings MMA
rep three times in the last half of the fifth round
and was closing in on a stoppage when the horn sounded, an audible
buzz rippling through the audience.

5. King of the Middleweights

When Adesanya entered first set foot in the UFC, there seemed to be
far more hype associated with him than substance. “The Last
Stylebender” has since silenced such skepticism. Adesanya arrived
at the summit as the undisputed middleweight champion with his
second-round stoppage of pound-for-pound stalwart Robert
Whittaker
in the UFC 243 headliner on Oct. 5, 2019 in
Melbourne, Australia, where a record crowd of 57,127 witnessed his
coronation at Marvel Stadium. Whittaker bowed out 3:33 into Round
2, his reign atop the 185-pound weight class at an end after 660
days. Adesanya allowed “The Ultimate Fighter: The Smashes” winner
to lead the dance for much of the first round, then turned his
aggression against him. Whittaker wandered into a counter right
hand in the closing seconds of the opening period, hit the deck and
might have met his demise there if not for the bell. Adesanya
rattled him again early in the second round and later engaged him
at close range in the center of the cage, uncorking a compact
counter left hook that connected on the chin. Whittaker collapsed
to the canvas, where a short burst of follow-up punches resulted in
the stoppage.


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