23 Sep 2020

'I really didn't realise me being black was a problem' - Adesanya

12:10 pm on 23 September 2020

UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya maintains being black was only a problem when he got to New Zealand.

NZ UFC star Israel Adesanya.

NZ UFC star Israel Adesanya. Photo: Photosport/USA Today

The Nigerian-born, Auckland-based mixed martial artist, who will defend his belt at UFC 253 against Brazilian Paolo Costa this weekend has told the Australia's Daily Telegraph he was bullied when he first came to New Zealand.

"I really didn't realise me being black was a problem, until I got to New Zealand," said Adesanya.

"I'm like, 'Why are you being mean to me, why can't you be kind?'

The Nigerian born 'Last Stylebender' arrived in New Zealand as a ten year old and has become one of UFC's biggest names with a 19 win no loss record and is the undefeated middleweight champion.

"My first week in school, there was a kid who was being a dick to me, he lived down the road, he kept riding by my house with his friend telling me, 'Go back to your own country black'.

"I didn't understand it. It was so foreign. I didn't even know this guy, why was he being so mean to me?," he told the Daily Telegraph.

"That next week at school, he came up to me after interval and pushed me to the ground, and I lost my s---.

"I beat him up, from D block to K block, I beat him up for about a minute and a half, and I was crying while I was whooping his ass, then I ran away and went to hide. It was a pretty traumatic experience for myself.

"I just didn't understand, why are you being mean to me because of the colour of my skin? I still can't fathom it because I'm not of that creed."

Four months ago Adesanya also spoke at a Black Lives Matter march in Auckland.

"What the f---, are you stuck in 1942? It's like people's sexual orientation, or their religion, everybody is just fighting each other," he said.

"I don't think people realise that the powers that be, want us to be divided, because that way we don't focus on the real problem, which is the powers that be perpetrating evils in this world.

"When the march happened, I spoke out and am really proud of what I said, I was really angry and I reacted, but it hasn't stopped yet.

"Like Jay Z said, 'I'm past kneeling'. There's no point in bringing awareness no more, what we need is for the world to change, talk to the lawmakers, the councilmen, the mayors, your own city, your own town, your own city, and demand change from whatever you feel is wrong.

"I'm doing my best to make change in my own world. I can't change the world, but I can change the world around me, and I think people should try to do that because it's a shame to see what's happening to black people all around the world.

"I'm still human, I'm me and I'm still figuring out my own self.

"I feel like people look at me from a political view. I'm like 'Bro, I'm not the person to be looking at for political takes'. I'm a fighter who has something to say because of what's happening in the world, but I'm not your councilman.

"Go to those legislators and leaders in your town, to get your point across."

Israel Adesanya makes his acceptance speech after winning the Halberg Award for 2019 NZ sportsman of the year.

Israel Adesanya makes his acceptance speech after winning the Halberg Award for 2019 NZ sportsman of the year. Photo: Andrew Cornaga/Photosport

Adesanya plans to make a difference, but also relishes the anonymity of someone who can't.

"I'm just a regular dude doing extra regular s---. And I'm doing it very well," he said.

"But I'm still the dude who walks around bare foot in west Auckland, walking his dogs through the mud.

"I'm still that guy with his headphones on at Pak 'n Save trying to get my shopping done without having 20 people asking for photos."

Adesanya is brim full of confidence. So much so that he recently was bold enough to say that globally, he's bigger than the All Blacks.

"I wasn't lying, and it is not just because of my social media following, I was talking about - he did the same thing I think you're doing, he asked me a question and the media outlets took at as me saying I'm bigger than the All Blacks," Adesanya said.

"You ask me a question, I answer it bluntly. I didn't cop a lot of grief, but you can't argue with me."

"I even said in my answer, I'm not talking about in New Zealand, I have a footprint bigger than the All Blacks, not in New Zealand, but worldwide people know me a lot, and it's just something people have to take, because it's fact.

"If not's a fact to you, that's cool, I don't care what people think."

Adesanya and Costa dislike each other.

"It's just energy, sometimes people just don't like each other and that's OK, we don't have to make a storyline behind it, I don't like his energy, he doesn't like my energy, that's it," Adesanya said.

"The difference is we get to fight about it."

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