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The signing of Israel Adesanya by the UFC has been met with enthusiasm.
After all, it’s not every day that an undefeated, exciting 28-year-old striker who happens to have knocked out all of his 11 MMA opponents crashes the middleweight scene. Add to it an extensive and highly victorious kickboxing record – 75-4, according to Adesanya’s own calculations – and you understand why there’s excitement.
Looking at it now, The Nigeria-born Adesanya, who fights out of New Zealand, seems as close to a natural as there can be. But, as it turns out, his presence didn’t always command the same respect that it does now. So he learned how to get it.
“Coming up, I was never like this,” Adesanya told MMAjunkie Radio. “Contrary to popular belief, I was like a runt back in high school, back as a kid, and bullied being the new kid in New Zealand, like one of the only few black kids. And I had to learn how to defend myself. You’ve got these big Maoris and these Islanders, you know. They don’t (expletive) around.
“So I had to learn how to talk to myself. I had to build myself up, so this was not – people say, ‘Oh, he came up overnight.’ Or, ‘He’s just this big, confident’ – nah, I learned how to talk to myself properly. And that’s (something) that not many people have in this game.”
Adesanya (11-0 MMA, 0-0 UFC) is set to have his octagon debut Feb. 10 against Rob Wilkinson (11-0 MMA, 0-0 UFC) at UFC 221 in Perth, Australia. This will be Adesanya’s seventh MMA bout in Aussie territory – the others took place in either New Zealand or China.
Whenever someone enters MMA’s biggest stage after making an impression elsewhere, there’s bound to be some comparisons. Considered a rangy, technical striker with a penchant for highlight-reel knockouts, all-time octagon greats like former champions Anderson Silva or Jon Jones become tempting parallels.
As Adesanya expressed when fellow MMAjunkie Radio guest Jacob “Sitch” Duran said the composed 185-pounder sounded like a young “Bones,” that wasn’t his first time hearing it. Of course, you can do worse than being compared to one of MMA’s most talented fighters. But “The Style Bender” is here to make statements of his own.
“When I first saw Jon, it was, I think, UFC 94 – (Georges St-Pierre) vs B.J. Penn 2,” Adesanya said. “He fought Stephan Bonnar. I was watching him and seeing the way he wrestled, and I was like, ‘Oh’ – because, you know, same body type and frame.
“He’s been an inspiration coming up, but I’m not trying to be anyone else. I’m just trying to do me. I’m going to just keep the same energy. Do what I’ve always done. Do the same thing but just in a different cage.”
Adesanya’s MMA record might not be too extensive, but when you factor in kickboxing, it’s clear the UFC isn’t dealing with an inexperienced man, either. Over the years, Adesanya says, he’s learned how to properly channel whatever nerves he has before his fights and expects to keep that going under the bright lights inside the octagon.
Seeing Adesanya fight and even hearing him confidently speak, it’s hard to imagine many other human beings able to scare him. But, as it turns out, he’s not entirely immune to fear.
“My mom scares me, depends,” Adesanya said. “My coach, if he’s mad at me – shout out to Eugene (Bareman). I don’t know. I don’t really have much fears. But it’s part of life. You do get scared in certain moments, but it’s how you deal with it.”
To hear from Adesanya, check out the video above.
MMAjunkie Radio broadcasts Monday-Friday at 1 p.m. ET (10 a.m. PT) live from Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino’s Race & Sports Book. The show is hosted by “Gorgeous” George Garcia, Brian “Goze” Garcia and Dan Tom. For more information or to download past episodes, go to www.mmajunkie.com/radio.