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The Rise of Israel Adesanya: Fight by Fight

Israel Adesanya will take on Kelvin Gastelum for UFC gold at UFC 236. How did he get here? Find out below.

In combat sports, high expectations often result in disappointment. The hot prospect doesn’t deliver, the highly-touted newcomer can’t handle competition on the next level, and the stories go on and on. 

But Israel Adesanya is a different kind of fighter. And it’s not just because of his charisma, candor and marketability. Of course, all those attributes help, but what matters most is what happens on fight night. So while a 75-4 kickboxing record and a perfect 11-0 pro MMA slate got people interested, it would all be for naught if “The Last Stylebender” couldn’t handle the next level of competition in the Octagon.

Five UFC fights later, Adesanya can handle it. And now he’s a week and a half away from going home to New Zealand with the interim UFC middleweight title should he defeat Kelvin Gastelum in the co-main event of UFC 236 in Atlanta on April 13.

That’s a lot to take in for someone who was getting ready for his second UFC bout at this time last year, but if anyone is seemingly built to handle it all, it’s the 29-year-old Nigeria native. So how did he get here? Let’s look at his UFC run…

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UFC 221
TKO2 Rob Wilkinson

(Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)

Heavily hyped middleweight Israel Adesanya didn’t disappoint in his Octagon debut, as he kept his perfect record intact with a second-round stoppage of Rob Wilkinson.

Wilkinson was tenacious in his attempt to ground Adesanya throughout the opening round, and while he put his foe on the mat twice, the Nigeria native jumped right back up. Overall, it was mission accomplished for the Aussie, though, as he was able to nullify the offense of the highly-touted newcomer.

Adesanya began to get into an offensive rhythm in round two, and he mixed his strikes up well before another quick takedown by Wilkinson. But as soon as Adesanya got up, he began to open fire on his bloodied foe, and after a series of unanswered shots, referee Steve Perceval intervened, with the official time of the stoppage 3:37 of the second round.

UFC on FOX
WSD3 Marvin Vettori

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Highly-touted middleweight Israel Adesanya got a tough test out of fellow up and comer Marvin Vettori, but he still left Glendale with a three-round split decision victory and his undefeated record intact.

Vettori was aggressive from the start, but Adesanya’s speed and defense kept him from any serious trouble as he mainly focused on his opponent’s legs throughout the opening frame.

After missing on two takedown attempts in the first round, Vettori also came up empty on the third early in the second stanza, and Adesanya was settling into a groove on the feet, which was bad news for the Italian, who began to take an array of kicks, punches and elbows.

Vettori finally got his takedown in the third round, but Adesanya avoided any trouble and got back to his feet. Vettori kept the pressure on, though, and he put the New Zealander back on the deck again. A restart from referee Herb Dean broke up a subsequent clinch against the fence, but Adesanya wasn’t able to do enough in the closing moments to get the round. “The Last Stylebender” did do enough for the win via scores of 29-28 twice and 28-29.

UFC 236: Two Belts on the Line
UFC 236: Two Belts on the Line
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TUF 27 Finale
WUD5 Brad Tavares

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In his first UFC main event, middleweight up and comer Israel Adesanya fought like he’s been headlining for years, as he delivered a lopsided five-round decision victory over veteran contender Brad Tavares at The Palms in Las Vegas.

Scores were 49-46 and 50-45 twice for Auckland’s Adesanya.

The first round was largely a tactical one broken up by sporadic bursts of action, most of them initiated by Adesanya. Tavares was unbothered by anything coming his way from the New Zealander, but he didn’t deliver enough offense to take the frame.

Picking up the pace for round two, Adesanya landed a hard kick to the head in the second minute that got Tavares’ attention and prompted the Hawaiian to seek a clinch. Adesanya smoothly maneuvered out of trouble and got back to range. With under two minutes left, Adesanya got a stern warning from referee Herb Dean for keeping his fingers facing Tavares, but moments later, it was a kick to the body that briefly rattled the veteran 185-pounder.

A flush knee to the head by Adesanya in the second minute of the third stanza appeared to fire Tavares up, but the more aggressive he got, the more “The Last Stylebender” found the openings to score with more telling blows. With a little over two minutes left, Tavares saw a takedown stuffed, and while he was getting more aggressive, he wasn’t able to take Adesanya out of his comfort zone. And as the round progressed, Adesanya began punishing his foe with a variety of strikes.

Tavares made a rush at Adesanya to start the fourth and he was able to get the fight to the mat in the opening minute, taking Adesanya’s back briefly before the two rose. Adesanya stayed cool, ultimately getting back to his feet, where he used a short elbow to cut Tavares below the eyebrow. The Octagonside physician took a look at the cut before allowing Tavares to continue, but things didn’t get any better for the Hawaiian when the action resumed.

And whether on the feet or the ground, Adesanya continued to dominate and punish Tavares in the fifth round, with only Tavares’ heart keeping him in the fight until the final horn.

UFC 230
TKO1 Derek Brunson

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Fighting in the UFC 230 main card opener at Madison Square Garden in New York City, Israel Adesanya was seemingly going to get his stiffest test to date in fellow middleweight contender Derek Brunson, but it didn’t turn out that way, as “The Last Stylebender” put in a star-making performance in halting Brunson in a single round.

Brunson sought a takedown almost immediately, and when that came up short, the North Carolina native locked Adesanya up against the fence. Referee Herb Dean separated the two, warning Brunson for grabbing his opponent’s shorts, and while Brunson again sought the takedown, Adesanya’s defense was solid, and with under a minute left, Adesanya started implementing his offense. A left knee to the head stunned Brunson and it was the beginning of the end. After a few punches, another knee staggered Brunson, and while he tried to hang in there, a right hand dropped him and had Dean watching the action closely. A right-left stunned Brunson once more, and Dean had seen enough, stopping the bout at 4:51 of round one.

UFC 236 Free Fight: Adesanya vs Silva
UFC 236 Free Fight: Adesanya vs Silva
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UFC 234
WUD3 Anderson Silva

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Unbeaten middleweight contender Israel Adesanya got the win over one of his fighting heroes in the UFC 234 main event, but 43-year-old future Hall of Famer Anderson Silva showed that he’s still got some gas left in the tank as he extended Adesanya the three-round distance before losing a unanimous decision.

“Anderson, thank you,” said Adesanya. “You’ve been doing this a long time. I appreciate you.”

“I love my job,” said Silva, the former middleweight champion. “I know it’s tough. But this is my heart, this is my life. That’s why I continue to fight.”

Scores were 29-28 and 30-27 twice.

Outside of a kick to the leg, there was no offense from Silva in the opening two minutes, allowing Adesanya to take an early lead, but after “The Spider” got wobbled briefly by a right hand midway through the frame, Silva began to pick up the pace, getting a rise out of the crowd as he went on the attack. Adesanya wasn’t able to hurt Silva again, and the Brazilian icon did acquit himself well as he dodged some potential fight-ending blows from “The Last Stylebender” while both did their share of showboating before the horn sounded to end the round.

Silva dropped his hands in round two and dared Adesanya to hit him, and the rising star obliged, clipping Silva with a 1-2. Silva took the blows with no issue and he later landed a hard right hand and followed up with a solid flurry at close range. With under two minutes left, Silva landed two hard right jabs and took the role of aggressor, but Adesanya played it cool as he looked to counter. Silva’s forward motion down the stretch may have done him well on the scorecards, though.

With chants beginning for Silva in round three, the former champ kept playing to the crowd, and after eating some shots from Adesanya, he nearly landed a flying knee. Soon, Silva’s right eye began swelling shut, and the Brazilian called for Adesanya to trade with him against the fence. Adesanya wouldn’t bite, instead calling Silva to the middle of the Octagon, and Silva followed, looking loose as the time ticked away. All the while, though, Adesanya kept landing enough blows to maintain his lead, and while Silva shook off the shots, he wasn’t able to fire enough back to secure the win.