8 Oct 2019

Adesanya chasing 'legacy, history'

5:15 am on 8 October 2019

The Kiwi who has officially become one of the biggest stars in one of the world's fastest growing sports says he's just getting started.

Israel Adesanya celebrates winning the UFC middleweight world title belt.

Israel Adesanya celebrates winning the UFC middleweight world title belt. Photo: Photosport

Israel Adesanya's knockout win over Kiwi-born Australian Robert Whittaker at UFC 243 in Melbourne on Sunday cemented his place at the summit of the mixed martial arts world.

It was a crowning moment in a meteoric rise for the talented 30-year-old, whose family immigrated from Nigeria when he was 11.

With no lack of charm and confidence in front of a camera or microphone, he's now alongside Irishman Conor McGregor as a superstar of his sport.

"It's crazy.

"Like sometimes I have to pinch myself and just be like, 'huh', like that really happened. We just did that."

Millions watched the event around the world, including a UFC record crowd of more than 57,000 that Adesanya played a key role in attracting.

UFC senior executive Lawrence Epstein said the scale of it all was just the tip of the iceberg for the uber-confident Kiwi.

"Israel Adesanya can fill stadiums anywhere in the world.

"There's no doubt that this guy is gong to be a huge star, he's incredibly charismatic.

"He's got a fighting style that is really interesting and he's an incredible personality, so I think you're going to see him involved in a lot of big events in Vegas and Australia and who knows where else."

Adesanya wasn't short of close company at UFC 243.

His team-mate at Auckland gym City Kickboxing, Dan Hooker scored a significant win over Al Iaquinta, the sixth ranked fighter in the lightweight division, which includes none other than McGregor himself at number three.

Another team-mate, Brad Riddell, picked up an $80,000 bonus for winning the fight of the night on his UFC debut.

Hooker said those opportunities, and the booming popularity of the sport in Australasia, was largely because of one person.

"That comes down to Israel.

"It comes down to his his ability to capture that mainstream audience and get people's eyes and attention.

"I feel like everyone in the UFC and everyone of us fighters owes him a lot of credit for that."

Kiwi UFC fighter Dan Hooker on his way to victory over Al Iaquinta.

Kiwi UFC fighter Dan Hooker on his way to victory over Al Iaquinta. Photo: Photosport

And Adesanya said he's just getting started.

"I can do things that no one else has ever done.

"From the walk out to the fight itself, [Sunday] was perfect for me and my team.

"I'm not doing this for the money alone. I love the money, don't get me wrong, and the money love me but [it's about] legacy, history."

The next step on that journey is yet to be determined, although Adesanya has expressed interest in making his first title defence on home soil.

Wherever it is, he was assuring everyone he had absolutely no plans to take his foot off the accelerator.

"It's harder to stay champ than it is to be champ.

"This, for most people, is they've clocked the game. You see a lot of people just fall off after this because they've done it. They've done what they wanted to do, what they set out to do.

"I've done one thing that I set out to do, which is become the UFC champion. Now it's about defending that [title], actively."

After going from UFC debutant, to UFC champion in less than two years, Israel Adesanya is only just getting warmed up.