This is Adesanya's era – he has everything a UFC crossover star needs

Israel Adesanya is a potent mix of incredible skill and marketability… the UFC’s breakdancing, smooth-talking middleweight champion has already signed a landmark deal with PUMA and this could be remembered as his era

  • Israel Adesanya has attributes to become a crossover mainstream success
  • He recently became the first MMA fighter to be snapped up in deal with PUMA  
  • The middleweight champion ticks every box inside and outside of the cage  
  • He’s unafraid to speak his mind, a spectacular finisher and savvy on social media

Crossover success was once defined as ‘someone so famous your grandparents know their name’. 

Israel Adesanya might not be the talk of the local bowls club just yet but the UFC’s freshest superstar is on the fast track to global stardom. 

MMA is well established now as a major sport but those who manage to break into public consciousness away from fight circles are few and far between. Adesanya has all the ingredients to do just that and is tailor made for the spotlight. 

Israel Adesanya has become the UFC’s biggest star and underlined that status at UFC 253

Adesanya treated himself to a 2019 orange McLaren 720s Spider after he won the title 

#freestyle #allstyles When in Africa do as Africans do…we #dance #Krump #afrobeat #yougotserved2 ¿ Event: @FreestylefridaywithNM #freestylefridaywithnasmagnificent #ffwnm Location: @hitboxgames

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Everything about his scintillating win over Paulo Costa, and the note perfect week preceding it underlined that fact. 

The Brazilian threw a white belt at him during a stare down mocking Adesanya’s ground game, the champion caught it and whipped him back. It is now the most watched UFC face-off of all time, revealed Dana White. 

He was razor sharp and hardly allowed Costa to land a blow before securing a TKO in the second round of the Fight Island showpiece itself. The powerful puncher was only a narrow underdog with the bookies but the Adesanya’s performance made a mockery of those odds. 

The 31-year-old made a ‘humping’ motion behind Costa after the referee had waved it off, footage that has since enraged his opponent and divided opinion among fans. 

Some believe he crossed the line, but others argue that the beaten man had it coming for all his own trash talk. He’d posted a mock video of Adesanya leaping out of the octagon to run away from him and another mocked up image of himself holding the champion’s severed head. All is fair in love and cage fighting. 

Some believe he crossed the line when pretending to hump Costa, others argue that it is fair game given all the disrespect that came the other way from the Brazilian  

For any sporting celebrity, especially in MMA or boxing, being quick with the keyboard is hugely important. Adesanya talks a good game, fights an even better one but rules over social media like few others. 

His 3.6million Instagram followers are privy to a combination of aspirational shots of Adesanya with his £500,000 McLaren supercar, training pictures or footage of him dancing. 

UFC fans will know all about the Nigerian-born New Zealander’s moves as he’s pulled out a few breakdances in the cage before but footage of him showcasing his talent is genuinely impressive. 

He competed in dance competitions across New Zealand when he was younger and the choreographed walk-out routine prior to his title win over Robert Whittaker went viral. 

That foundation in dance is one with great value in combat sports. The overlap to fighting with precise footwork is undeniable and shared by the likes of legendary Ukrainian boxer Vasyl Lomachenko who’s father made him focus on dance for four years during his youth.

Fighters who could enthral with the fluidity of their movement always interested Adesanya as he told the Joe Rogan Podcast: ‘Prince Naseem Hamed was the first boxer I saw that made me pause and watch and just smile and laugh, the way he moved. I’ve always been drawn to guys like that, like Ali, Roy Jones, Pernell Whittaker.’

The waves he’s been making were big enough to attract huge interest from major sportswear brands too. PUMA recently snapped him up in a landmark multi-year deal and he is the first MMA fighter to sign with the company. 

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Welcome to the fam @stylebender 💫

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Welcome to the fam @stylebender ¿¿

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Adesanya will be the face of their Oceania division and is expected to play a major part in their global campaigns too. 

‘Not only is Israel a fearless and incredibly talented athlete, but his passion for dancing, fashion, anime and his memorable personality makes him a standout individual to represent the brand,’ PUMA’s general manager of Oceana Pancho Gutstein gushed. 

It is all of those aspects of Adesanya’s profile that make him such a marketable character, the rare combination of elite fighting ability and the personality to cash in too. 

Unsurprisingly, he was chosen alongside Jorge Masvidal to be the faces of the latest EA Sports game. 

The middleweight champion is cover star alongside Jorge Masvidal on the new game 

For a while the kickboxer was earmarked as ‘the next big thing’ given his startling upward trajectory inside the UFC but he has truly arrived now.

Having made his debut in the organisation in 2018 he went on a remarkable run of six victories, including the interim title, before beating Whittaker in a huge antipodean clash in October 2019. 

And it is not as though Adesanya is calculated in creating a persona he thinks will gain fans or traction. He’s a showman at heart and even in his early days would play the role of crowd pleaser. 

Old footage of Adesanya’s early fights show him lounging across the top of the ropes after one KO and taunting his opponents with his hands low before savaging them with spinning techniques.

There’s never a dull moment, although granted some who watched the Yoel Romero fight may disagree, and from the entrance to the exit on fight night, it is hard to take your eyes away from Adesanya. 

Footage of some of Adesanya’s early kick-boxing bouts demonstrates his showmanship

Adesanya is a huge fan of anime and it features heavily in his references out of the cage

Three of the middleweight’s friends were back-up dancers for his entrance at UFC 243

He’s constantly moving, making hand gestures from the anime show Noruto in the octagon and even based his nickname ‘Stylebender’ on the show ‘Avatar – The Last Airbender’ which features a main character intent on mastering the five elements in the same way he wants to master each martial art. 

The flashy show-off characteristics are a key part of the appeal but predictably rub some up the wrong way. Many prefer their stars to be softly spoken outside of the cage, following the Georges St-Pierre blueprint. 

But Adesanya’s confidence would be misinterpreted as arrogance. He has huge respect for his team at City Kickboxing and coach Eugene Bareman. 

On the long flight home from Abu Dhabi after the weekend’s win, rather than lap up the champagne in first class and bask in his victory, he gave up the seat to one of his team-mates and swapped back to economy.

The former kickboxer is making waves at the top of the sport and loves fighting the best

Of course, the benchmark for pay-per-view numbers, ticket sales and cross-over status is Conor McGregor. Even your grandparents have probably heard of him.  

Adesanya is not yet at that level and may never be afforded the same worldwide exposure as the Irishman had for his blockbuster fight with Floyd Mayweather in 2017. 

But with the middleweight champion entering his prime, emitting the glow of an unbeaten record and luring in mainstream sponsorship deals – this could just be the start of Israel Adesanya’s era.  

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