24 Sep 2019

UFC: A Kiwi takeover

7:24 pm on 24 September 2019

Well before his UFC debut 18 months ago, Israel Adesanya predicted he would fight Kiwi-born Australian Robert Whittaker for the world middleweight title in 2019.

But, sharp as he is inside and outside the cage, he probably didn't foresee the circumstances in which that bout for the belt would come.

Adesanya will be joined by City Kickboxing team-mates Dan Hooker and Brad Riddell, as well as Hamilton's Luke Jumeau at UFC 243 in Melbourne next Sunday.

It means the dressing rooms at the 60,000-capacity Marvel Stadium will be swarming with Kiwis, at what was set to be biggest single event in Australasian combat sports history.

As far as Adesanya is concerned, there's no doubt that made a difference.

"In the cage it doesn't but when we're together as a squad, rolling together as a unit, it does because it feels like we're storming their land and taking over.

"It's a prideful thing but it's not even like a nationalist thing, it's a mana thing."

Kiwi UFC star Israel Adesanya.

Kiwi UFC star Israel Adesanya. Photo: Andrew Cornaga/Photosport

The heavy New Zealand involvement is especially good news for Riddell.

The 27-year-old, whose stellar kickboxing resume has helped him earn his UFC debut, said Melbourne won't feel like enemy territory at all.

"It's going to feel like I'm here. Like I'm here, warming up or training.

"I'm going to go out there and I'm going to hear just as many people from my gym. We've got like 200 people going over and they're all sat in one area.

"It's going to be like home."

That relaxed Kiwi vibe will also be welcomed by Hooker, given the last five of his 13 UFC bouts have been in the US.

After an impressive first round knockout win last time out, he gets a big opportunity in the co-main event against the world's sixth-ranked lightweight, highly respected American Al Iaquinta.

New Zealand mixed martial artist Dan Hooker.

New Zealand mixed martial artist Dan Hooker. Photo: Photosport Ltd

Hooker says he's more than happy to take a back set to Adesanya ahead of next Sunday.

"I like it when Israel's on the card.

"He gets asked all the questions and I can kind of just fly under the radar and get to the fight, which is the part I like."

A statement victory could also open big doors for Jumeau in the welterweight division.

Although he spends his weekends in Auckland, and is close with the City Kickboxing crew, the 31-year-old said he's pretty happy in Hamilton for now.

"Auckland's a pretty expensive place to live and it's pretty big city.

"But man, Hamilton's where it's at, too. We've got we got some really good talent down there."

Jumeau said that talent is, in part, a product of the increasing success being experienced by New Zealand's top mixed martial artists.

NZ UFC fighters, from left, Dan Hooker, Israel Adesanya, Brad Riddell, Luke Jumeau.

NZ UFC fighters, from left, Dan Hooker, Israel Adesanya, Brad Riddell, Luke Jumeau. Photo: Andrew Cornaga/Photosport

"It's blowing up and it's really good.

"[It] gets these guys off the streets and putting their energies into something positive, having all these guys as role models.

"We come from the same place, same areas. Like, it's super motivating for these kids and I know that."

Motivation isn't an issue for Adesanya.

The potential to get a shiny gold belt to match his shiny gold chains, while not everything to him, is helping ensure that.

Never short of confidence, the Nigerian-born 30-year-old had a message for those saying he's not ready to be a world champion just yet.

"Everyone, every time [says] 'oh, it's too soon, he's not ready'.

"I've proved them wrong and proved myself right every single time. This will be no different."

Just taking part definitely won't be enough.

But, as Hooker explained, whichever way results fall, its going to be an afternoon to remember.

"To have the biggest event in UFC history taking place in Australia and have all these Kiwis representing and flying the flag in front of the world's eyes. It's not just those 60,000 people there.

"That's an incredible feat in itself."