UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya’s stark rise among his UFC peers has been one of the most tremendous and remarkable come ups in the history of the sport. But Adesanya could very well be on the way to capping his sensational feat by pummelling monstrous middleweight terror Yoel Romero at UFC 248.
While unquestionably talented and already ranked among the top pound-for-pound fighters in the UFC, a win for Adesanya over Romero at UFC 248 on Mar. 7 in Las Vegas would help make this budding and boisterous striking star into something more than he already is today.
And that would be yet another scintillating chapter in the unlikely story that is being told every single time Adesanya fights: How Adesanya chose his own fate and the universe seemingly conspired to help him along his way.
Late Blooming Middleweight Champ Might Outlast Everyone
Truly, the Nigerian-born Kiwi is a fighter like no other. Even among an extremely deep crop of noteworthy UFC fighters with compelling backstories and unlikely journeys, the 30-year-old pound-for-pound kickboxing savant’s legendary come up probably beats them all when it comes to the vastness of its awe-inspiring and myth-like components combined with the heights he achieved so very quickly.
Some people are just born to fight, or so it seems, even if they don’t figure it out nearly as fast as everyone else does. For example, boxer George Foreman started training in 1967 and earned the gold medal at the Olympics the next year.
Similarly, Adesanya is another late bloomer, and he blossomed in a sport dependant on its participants having deep roots in at least one or more fighting styles. But Adesanya didn’t even begin training in earnest until he was 21 years old, and he wasn’t all that wanted at his gym, City Kickboxing in Auckland, New Zealand, after an uninspiring amateur tryout for coach Eugene Bareman.
“He seemed just like a normal guy,” Bareman said to Bleacher Report in 2018. “He’d watched Brazilian jiu-jitsu on YouTube a week ago, maybe done some judo. So I said, ‘OK, this is not what I expected.’”
So Bareman did what he usually does when someone comes to the gym with big dreams but small talent. He encouraged Adesanya to keep looking around for other places to train.
“I was underwhelmed,” Bareman said per Bleacher Report.
“I told him what I tell a lot of young guys that show up at my gym,” Bareman said per MMA Fighting. “I told him, ‘There are a lot of really good gyms in this area. Why don’t you go and check them out, and if you like the atmosphere in this place, you can come back after trying out the others.’”
Adesanya returned, but his first sparring sessions went poorly, too.
“He got his ass kicked, and I was like, ‘OK, you go on your way, I’ll go on my way,’” Bareman said per Bleacher Report.
But Adesanya stuck with it anyway. He had quit his job, packed all his things and fully committed to making his dream of becoming a professional fighter come true. So Adesanya didn’t really have anything to lose, and he trained his butt off like that was the case.
“You can’t teach dedication like that. It doesn’t come along that often,” Bareman said per MMA Fighting.
Eventually, of course, Adesanya’s dedication paid off tenfold.
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Bareman’s Wife Saw Something Special in Adesanya
Starting martial arts so late isn’t the usual path of a future world champion. Heck, it’s not even that common among the club fighters who are simply hoping to make it in the professional ranks. But its especially rare with those that become middleweight champions of the world for the biggest and best MMA promotional company on the planet.
In fact, most of the athletes you see in cage fights today, especially those who ply the trade in the UFC, have been studying martial arts for a long time.
But Adesanya hasn’t even been training for 10 years yet, and it seems he owes at least part of the amazing lifestyle that comes along with being a UFC champion to Bareman’s wife.
Because even though Bareman ultimately allowed Adesanya to train at his gym, Bareman hardly paid any attention to Adesanya until his wife took notice of the fighter at one of Adesanya’s fights.
Was it a sliding doors moment? Fate? Dumb luck? Whatever the case, Bareman’s wife saw something in Adesanya that her husband just hadn’t yet grasped.
“The first inkling that he could be different was my wife came in the gym and said, ‘I know that kid,’” Bareman said to Bleacher Report. “My wife knows nothing about fighting, no interest at all. If she goes, she doesn’t pay attention.”
Something caught her eye.
“We were at the fight, and she was in the crowd while I was backstage,” Bareman told Bleacher Report. “His fight had been really spectacular. He jumped on the ropes, flexed around, talked to the guy, got in his head, got a knockout. It was a crude version of what he is now.”
Today, the combined force of Adensanya’s effort, his coach’s teaching, and the unlikely scenario that was Bareman’s wife noticing the fighter’s potential have helped change their lives forever.
Fighting Is Adesanya’s Highest Form of Self Expression
Adesanya’s amazing fighting style, incredible post-fight dance moves, and sharp-witted self-promotional antics all make up a significant piece of why the fighter has risen so quickly among his peers to become the emerging superstar he is heading into UFC 248.
It’s hard enough to find a fighter who possesses real talent. Harder still to find a talented vessel who works as hard in the gym at honing the craft as the way less fortunate do around him. Just those two attributes together make Adesanya somewhat of a unicorn in the mule-filled world of combat sports.
But add to it that Adesanya considers the highest function of his form to be utilized to entertain people, and the result is something a bit more rare than even a magical unicorn might be.
“I have always been an entertainer, all my life,” Adesanya said to Grazia. “If I could sing well, guys like Chris Brown, Jason Derulo [and] Justin Bieber would have been eating my dust.”
Lucky for us, Adesanya can’t sing worth a lick.
Oh, he can dance. In fact, Adesanya’s first love was exactly that. He spent most of his youth expressing himself in that way and even credits his ability to move around the Octagon like no fighter before him largely to be a product of his dancing days.
“Without dancing, without expression, I wouldn’t be the fighter I am today … that’s why I’m creative, why my jabs are so fast, why my timing is very offbeat, why I get risky,” Adesanya said per LA Times’ Lance Pugmire. “How are they going to read me? They can’t. That’s why I’m so unorthodox.”
But he’s even better at fighting than he dancing, and if you haven’t seen him, he’s really good at it.
Undefeated. Undaunted. Unlike any fighter ever.
The scariest part about Adesanya, at least for his competitors in the UFC’s middleweight division, is that he still seems unfinished.
Maybe the craziest part about it? He might actually end up doing it.
Because similar to Pacquiao, Adesanya is one of the most unlikely superstars in the history of fighting sports. Unlike the popular 41-year-old Filipino pugilist, Adesanya still has the better part of the next decade to wow people even more than he already has.