Sports

Adesanya, UFC’s next breakout star, yearning for Africa return


JOHANNESBURG, FEB 7 – Israel Adesanya, Africa’s fast-rising Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) athlete, takes on legendary Anderson Silva in UFC 234 in Melbourne this weekend with one thing on his mind: confirming his status as the sport’s next superstar.

The action will be broadcast from Australia from 05:00 (CAT) Sunday, 10 February 2019 on SS11.

Unbeaten in 15 visits to the octagon, four of them in UFC, Nigeria-born Adesanya faces the most formidable opponent of his career. As the man popularly known as “The Last Stylebender” put it in an exclusive interview on Thursday: “Silva brings experience as the longest reigning champion with the best active win streak in UFC history. Plenty people are counting him out because of his age (43), but Randy Couture was champion aged 45. Older fighters are often dangerous fighters.”

Despite having lived in New Zealand since his teens, the Lagos-born Adesanya still considers himself a son of the African soil. He says he proudly wears a tattoo of the continent on his chest and, after his landmark career win against Brad Tavares in Las Vegas last year, he addressed his fellow countrymen in his native tongue, Yoruba.

“I just want to say something to me people, my fellow Nigerians, what’s happening? What’s up? I am here beating my opponents silly,” he teased.

With Adesanya having won four straight UFC outings in under a year, the international MMA community has picked the Nigerian as a can’t-miss future superstar.

“You have one of your own in UFC and I’m happy to share the love,” he said from Melbourne, a city he deeply enjoys, chiefly on account of its good food.

He and Kamaru Usman, a fellow Nigerian who is on the cusp of a crack at the UFC welterweight championship, are bringing it hard for the continent, even to the point of campaigning to bring the biggest MMA franchise to Africa. The pair met for the very first time this week, so there was much to talk about.

“There’s something calling me back home to Nigeria,” he said wistfully. “My plan is to go to Nigeria, South Africa, Dubai and maybe Abu Dhabi after this weekend. Of course, we can bring UFC to Africa. South Africa may be one of the best places to start with given the influence of SuperSport, and you guys have EFC over there. I’m predicting UFC’s first show will take place in Africa in 2020.”

Although this weekend’s contest takes place in Melbourne, a short hop from his family home in Auckland, he claims not to feel additional pressure to produce the goods.

“I’ve been prepping for so long, I’m looking forward to the action. I don’t feel pressure as a star in the making. I’m one of the fastest-rising guys in the whole [UFC] company. Not everyone is ready for this, but to me it’s another day in the office.

“If it was in Brazil it would be same stuff, different day. Walking to the cage, I don’t care where I am. I use the occasion to boost my will. But it feels good to be near to home.”

Despite his bravado, he expects a thorough workout against Silva, the wily veteran who knows this could be a shortcut to title contention.

Said Adesanya: “Definitely, this is the biggest fight of my life, one for the history books. Coming through, I didn’t expect him to still be around, but I have to fight him, to create my legacy.”

The hot middleweight contender has no strange pre-fight rituals or habits, but he wants to get a haircut. “I wanna look good,” he said. “I might dance, feel myself. I’ll be ready.”

The headline bout sees middleweight champion Robert Whittaker put his title on the line against Kelvin Gastelum.

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