FLASHY kickboxing specialist Israel Adesanya has been on the rise for about two years now and he cemented his place at the top when he won the undisputed middleweight belt last weekend.
‘The Last Stylebender’ captures the imagination of MMA fans with his thrilling and stylish performances. He drags his love of anime, video games and popular culture into the MMA domain.
Adesanya’s fans compare him to protagonists like Naruto and Aang: The Last Airbender.
He uses the fan art, portraying him as super powered ninjas to bolster his confidence when stepping into the octagon with the real-life baddest men on the planet.
However, for all his flashiness and showmanship, he largely plays it by the book.
“Keep it simple, stupid”
Adesanya’s kicks and punches are technically sound, he strikes out and retracts shots like a whip.
His elbows are tucked and he spins out of a headkick should he miss, rather than trying to draw his leg back and knock himself off balance. Oh, and his footwork is impeccable.
You only need to watch Adesanya’s performance against his idol Anderson Silva to see this.
His knockout over Whittaker, or writing his name in the Deathnote as he would call it, was a departure from this.
He won with a movement that looked somewhat sloppy. He was leanin back from Whittaker’s attacks, hands down and chin up; winging hooks from either side.
Although it looks crude, this technique led to a knockdown in the closing moments of round 1 and the finish in round 2.
Improvise, adapt, overcome
Being a fantastic analyst and knowledgeable combat sports athlete, Daniel Cormier made an astute observation from the commentary table.
He said that Whittaker was lunging in because he had seen that forward pressure pay off for Kelvin Gastelum when he fought Adesanya.
The lean back may have looked sloppy compared to Adesanya’s typical moves but it is what worked at the time.
Robert Whittaker is pound-for-pound one of the best fighters on earth. He has even been compared to a new and improved Georges St-Pierre.
Whittaker bested Yoel Romero twice with his no nonsense tidy boxing and cool head under fire. As for the ground game, even Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt Ronaldo Souza couldn’t trouble him.
When you are facing ‘Bobby Knuckles’ you need a little bit extra. You need to do something unconventional because he has an answer for everything else.
It’s the intangibles, that little bit of magic, that unflinching self belief that Adesanya takes from the fan art of him as his favorite superhero and his inner fire that tells him he is the next big thing.
Sometimes that aura is what gets it done.