Israel Adesanya (originally born in Lagos, Nigeria, now living in Auckland, New Zealand) fought with all his being in overthrowing the former middleweight champ from his throne as a perfectly-timed counter floored the dangerous yet durable Robert Whittaker. It was an outcome which shocked fans and fighters alike, but showed a striking prowess and technical fighting genius that will forever be cemented in MMA history.
His nickname “The Last Stylebender” is a reference to the anime-influenced cartoon series, “Avatar: The Last Airbender”. This refers not only to his love for anime, but his striking IQ and adaptability which is inspired by the main character “Aang” of the TV show.
After being bullied and mistreated in his youth, Israel took up martial arts at 18 years-old, training in kickboxing after being inspired by the cult-classic Muay Thai film, “Ong-Bak”, starring Tony Jaa. He fought in China, amassing an undefeated amateur kickboxing record of 32 wins.
Later on, he gave boxing a try – of course a notably bigger money maker in the realm of professional combat sports. Even though he had lost a controversial first match, his exceptional skill set was obvious as he established himself as a lethal middleweight competitor winning all his other bouts in convincing fashion through sheer speed, strike volume, and accuracy.
In the world of mixed martial arts, Israel is recognised for his prodigious striking output and precise style to achieve an outstanding 19 wins and zero losses in his career so far. This is perhaps not very surprising as The Last Stylebender has dismantled opponents in similar fashion in both kickboxing and boxing.
Israel’s is an exciting and thrilling story, so after a couple of other background details, let’s dive into 5 of his best MMA finishes (in descending order)!
Every quality fighter also has a strong team behind them. Israel trains at City Kickboxing with formidable fighters such as lightweight contender Dan Hooker and featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski – an inspirational team to have when it comes to preparing for upcoming fights.
Prior to ‘Izzy’ becoming the undisputed middleweight champion, he was a decorated kickboxing champ, fighting as the first New Zealander to be signed with Glory promotions. See Israel’s kickboxing career highlight reel below – his movements and striking display are works of art, literally…
He fought across three different weight classes, where his sporting achievements in the “King in the Ring” tournament, saw him become a two-time cruiserweight and heavyweight champion. He tallyed a stellar record of 75 wins (29 by KO/TKO) with only 5 losses to account. His participation in prize-fighting professional boxing tournaments saw him gain a 5-win and 1-loss record.
- Vs. Song Kenan — The Legend of Emei 3 (Aug. 8, 2015)
- Vs. Rob Wilkinson — UFC 221 (Feb. 11, 2018)
- Vs. Derek Brunson — UFC 230 (Nov. 3, 2018)
- Vs. Stuart Dare — Hex Fighting Series 12 (Nov. 24, 2017)
- Vs. Robert Whittaker — UFC 243 (Oct. 6, 2019)
After two wins by TKO in his professional debut, Israel fired up his MMA career in Hong Kong and China where he fought at the WFC (World Fighting Championship) on the main event.
The first round began with Israel approaching Song with his hands down but maintaining distance and using his reach to his advantage. Song moved laterally to avoid getting pinned by his strikes and attempted counter shots, but this proved unsuccessful.
At 1 minute, 17 seconds, Izzy goes in for a flying knee but Song responds immediately going for the takedown and it looked like he was in trouble for a moment, but he escaped with little to no trouble getting back to his feet.
Soon after, Israel again takes control and walks down his opponent with well-timed shots and leg kicks cutting him off, and at 4 minutes 20 seconds is where he goes in for a head kick that knocks Song down with the referee intervening to call the match done.
“The Last Stylebender’s” twelfth professional MMA bout was his debut for the UFC where his reputation was now squarely put under the spotlight at UFC 221.
The first round tested his takedown defense as Wilkinson attempted to clinch with Israel, pinning him against the cage in hopes to possibly transition to a takedown.
This plan proved to no avail however as Izzy’s methodical, deadly-accurate kicks and punch striking had Wilkinson bloodied.
He put on an exemplary performance in the first round as it showcased his ground work, showing his athleticism, for instance, when rolling out from a takedown attempt by Wilkinson.
Wilkinson takes a different approach by having a back and forth standing exchange with Izzy. However, Wilkinson is gradually overcome by The Last Stylebender’s persistent pressure and striking precision.
The final nail in the coffin was a knee to the head which had Wilkinson stumbling and unable to defend effectively. Israel went on the offensive, completely overwhelming his opponent TKO’ing him with knees and punches, where he not only secured the win but further, the Performance of the Night bonus in this, his memorable debut.
This was considered the biggest challenge for Israel now facing Derek Brunson, a well-experienced fighter and ranked 8th in the UFC middleweight division. However, this match would prove all doubters wrong of Israel’s ability.
The first round started off with Brunson applying the pressure by clinching and persistently going for takedown attempts, which were unsuccessful as Izzy remained calm and composed, neutralizing his opponent’s advances. Although, prior to the bout, Brunson was trash talking Izzy, claiming he would be more than willing to stand up and beat him. That idea didn’t quite go to plan.
At 6 minutes, 36 seconds Brunson went in for another takedown while Izzy times exactly where his head is going, catching the fighter with a knee. It was downhill from here for Brunson as he struggled to defend Israel’s unrelenting onslaught. The result was a TKO victory by knees and punches in the very first round as well as the Performance of the Night bonus.
This was the bout before Israel’s UFC debut where he was battling it out for the Hex Fight Series middleweight championship.
The round began with a back and forth exchange with Israel standing his ground and taking control by going on the offensive. He picks his opponent apart, effectively using feints and his dynamic weapon set to his advantage.
With only 7 seconds left, Israel throws a question mark kick, Stuart blocks for a body kick but it goes high to the head instead. The kick instantly chops Dare down and knocks him out cold – no follow up required. This marked Israel’s first MMA career knockout whilst earning himself the HFS middleweight championship belt.
A definitive moment in the Stylebender’s MMA career was his middleweight championship bout against Robert “The Reaper” Whittaker.
After a historic 5-round back and forth battle for the interim middleweight title, Israel was the next middleweight contender to contest for the belt and opened up with a choreographed dance number, showing a whole new level of confidence.
UFC 243 was held in Marvel Stadium, Melbourne, where 57,127 people were in attendance breaking the previous record set by the same venue. The clash between the two fighters generated 40,000 quick ticket sales soon after they were made available.
The first round began with both fighters being active on their feet. Robert kept on his toes, bouncing back and forth as Israel was calmly telegraphing his distance and timing.
An exchange of hits ensued as Whittaker lunged in with lead hook shots, catching Izzy a handful of times. In his previous bout, Izzy had issues with looping overhand hooks as he was caught frequently. It seemed Whittaker was fixed on using this strike repeatedly in his fighting strategy to exploit this apparent weakness.
As the round proceeded, wild hooks were thrown by Whittaker as the Stylebender moved elusively, managing to avoid getting hit whilst countering some lunging lead hooks and head kicks.
The strike volume at this point leaned more towards Whittaker, but Israel was more efficient. With 10 seconds left in the first round, Whittaker lunges in with an offensive combination where Izzy pivots and slips out of the way to counter with a rear hook, knocking the middleweight down bang on the end of the round.
Robert Whittaker recovered well but his legs were noticeably shaky. With the second round starting, Whittaker’s approach didn’t change, staying on course with his offensive tactic. Israel is caught with Whittaker hooks and jabs, but the champion begins to slow down, effectively getting hit by counters.
His hooks get wilder and at 13 minutes 4 seconds into the bout (see video), Israel steps in and eats Whittaker’s jab. Strikes are traded with the ending blow being a lead hook aimed right on Whittaker’s chin. Israel follows up with a flurry of punches on a downed Whittaker.
After another exceptional technical performance on stage at UFC 243, “The Last Stylebender” not only became the Middleweight Champion, but also earned a cool $490,000; $400K purse, $50K Performance of the Night bonus, and a $40K sponsorship deal. What a psyched up day and victorious night for Izzy Adesanya!