As the world’s largest mixed martial arts league, it’s no surprise that the Ultimate Fighting Championship boasts the best talent in the world of MMA — but, as with any sport, there are always going to be a few stars that shine brighter than the others. Nigerian fighter Israel Adesanya, reigning UFC Middleweight Champion, is one of those stars and a man that every fan of mixed martial arts should be familiar with. Here’s everything you need to know about “The Last Stylebender.”
Adesanya was born in Lagos, Nigeria in 1989, where he grew up and went to school. He took a shine to martial arts at a young age and enrolled in an after-school Taekwondo club before his mother removed him from it following an injury. This temporarily cooled the boy’s interest in combat sports, and his parents later made the decision to relocate to New Zealand in order to pursue better educational opportunities for their children.
There, Adesanya began high school, where he initially had little interest in continuing his pursuit of martial arts. Persistent bullying changed that, however. After graduation, the 18-year-old enrolled in college and (perhaps despite his mother’s protests) took up kickboxing, rekindling his love affair with the ancient art of combat. Only two years later, Adesanya quit his studies and embarked on what would become a wildly successful fighting career.
He quickly made a name for himself. After racking up an impressive amateur record of 32 wins and zero losses, Adesanya began fighting professionally and made his official debut in 2012 (accomplishing all of this before the age of 21). After a pair of victories, he took a two-year hiatus to train before returning to the sport in 2015. He continued to rack up wins in New Zealand, China, and Australia until the UFC took notice of this rising star and signed him in 2018.
Adesanya made his league debut that year at UFC 221. His TKO win there set the tone for his continued tear through the ranks as The Last Stylebender added victory after victory to his record. At UFC 236, just slightly more than a year after his debut, he defeated Kelvin Gastelum via unanimous decision to win the interim UFC Middleweight Championship belt. Later, in October, the interim champ became the official champ when he delivered a knockout to Robert Whittaker to win and unify the middleweight title.
He has gone on to defend his belt twice since then, maintaining an undefeated professional record with 20 wins and no losses — until UFC 259. There, Adesanya briefly moved up in weight to challenge Jan Blachowicz for the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship. It was then that The Last Stylebender was handed his first defeat when the Polish champ retained his crown with a unanimous decision over his challenger.
Adesanya came off his loss in good spirits, however, seemingly no less determined to continue his upward trajectory in the most competitive MMA league in the world. For now, the Nigerian star fighter — still the UFC Middleweight Champion — has returned to his previous weight class, although it’s hardly unlikely that he will challenge for the light heavyweight belt again.
In the meantime, The Last Stylebender is focused on another title defense as he faces Marvin Vettori in a rematch at UFC 263. The two met in the Octagon once before in 2018 (Adesanya’s second fight with the UFC) where Vettori lost via split decision — a defeat that “The Italian Dream” still disputes. Both fighters have matured considerably since their first encounter, with Vettori remaining unbeaten since that matchup. Time will tell if Adesanya, fresh off his first-ever defeat at the hands of Blachowicz, will remain standing with the middleweight championship belt around his waist after the dust has settled.
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