Israel Adesnaya will defend his middleweight title against American Sean Strickland at UFC 293 in Sydney on Sunday.
Ahead of the bout, Jonty Dine looks back at The Last Stylebender's ten greatest performances inside the octagon.
1. Cold, Calculated Revenge.
Israel Adesanya vs. Alex Pereira 2.
UFC 287, Miami, 2023.
Round 2 KO win.
In this highly anticipated rematch, Adesanya took on his old rival and boogeyman, Alex 'Poatan' Pereira, Adesanya entered the octagon with a point to prove, having lost their previous encounter and was on the wrong end of a 3-0 scoreline between the pair across two combat sports. Many believed Pereira simply had the kiwi's number, despite him dominating the majority of their previous encounters. The champion had an aura of invincibility after just four UFC fights and came out full of confidence in the first round, landing a number of calf kicks before showing even more aggression in the second. Not looking for a decision win, Adesanya obliged and the two engaged in some fierce exchanges.After seemingly having the challenger hurt up against the cage, Pereira began to unload but overcommitted and caught a vicious right shot from Izzy on the button.The follow up shots were academic, but emphatic. Punctuated by performing Poatan's trademark arrow celebration as the Last Stylebender reclaimed his middleweight crown.
"I know he hasn't forgotten any of those three fights and I think that's going to be a psychological factor."
"They say revenge is sweet, and if you know me I've got a sweet tooth you already know, this is f***ing sweet."
2. A New King is Crowned.
Israel Adesanya vs. Robert Whittaker 1.
UFC 243, Melbourne, 2019.
Round 2 TKO win.
Marking Adesnaya's official arrival as one of the world's elite, he would meet the reigning middleweight king Robert Whittaker. There was plenty of mutual respect between the pair in the lead up to the bout with little trash talk from both camps. An extravagant entrance by Adesanya with his dance crew set the tone for an awe inspiring performance. 'Bobby Knuckles' came out firing but found little success as Adesanya showcased superb head movement. The fight was very nearly over at the end of the first round, only the horn saving the hometown hero from a fight ending follow up shot after he was dropped with a vicious right. A bloodied Whittaker showed increasing urgency, catching Adesanya on occasion but he used his range and precision to keep the Reaper at bay. Adesnaya would ultimately catch him with a perfectly timed counter right hook, putting his rival down in the second round to win the undisputed middleweight championship.
Whittaker pre-fight- "I've got 25 minutes to look for a finish and that's what i'm going to do."
Adesanya post-fight- "They said I have no knockout power! Hahaha, 'you too skinny bro!'"
3. The Eraser's Big Mistake.
Israel Adesanya vs. Paulo Costa.
UFC 253, Abu Dhabi, 2020.
Round 2 TKO win.
Someone's '0' had to go on Fight Island. The first UFC middleweight title match featuring two undefeated fighters had fans salivating. The pre fight vitriol had been boiling over for months, Costa claiming Adesanya was scared of him and rehashing the idea that Adesanya was "too skinny." Costa's aggressive pressure and knockout power was billed as a serious test for the champion. Instead, the Last Stylebender put on an absolute clinic in Abu Dhabi. Adesanya dismantled Costa with leg kicks with welts appearing within the first minute, the empty arena accentuating the force of each precise strike. A beautifully placed head kick saw Costa leaking claret and Izzy moved in for the kill, ultimately finishing him in the second round with a series of brutal shots on the ground after a perfect right cross .Costa doubled down after the loss, blaming his poor performance on a hangover due to drinking a bottle of wine the night before.
Costa pre-fight- "Adesanya is nothing. Adesanya is the most shameful champion I have seen ever. He's nothing. I will make him cry."
Adesanya post-fight- "Ya'll must have forgot, I had to remind the world, why we the best."
4. A War for Interim Gold
Israel Adesanya vs. Kelvin Gastelum.
UFC 236, Atlanta, 2019.
The biggest war of his UFC career, this was one for the ages. With Robert Whittaker out injured, Adesanya and Gastelum fought in Atlanta for the interim middleweight title and showcased their incredible heart and resilience. The fight saw several momentum swings, with both fighters having their moments. Despite being rocked in the first round, Adesanya recovered to dominate much of the striking exchanges in the subsequent rounds, demonstrating his full arsenal with a spinning elbow which floored his opponent in the second. Gastelum would attempt to shoot for a takedown only to be stuffed by Adesnaya. Both men ate plenty of heavy shots, and Adesnaya's face was swollen badly. The pace picked up in the championship rounds and Izzy was forced to retreat late in the fourth after a high kick landed flush. Tied two apiece, Adesanya's warrior spirit was on full display as he whispered "I am prepared to die," to himself as he entered the final five minutes. In a further display of his well rounded game, Adesnaya almost synched in a guillotine and triangle choke in the fifth. Finishing on the feet, Adesnaya tagged Gastelum several times with crisp jabs with the American crumbling to the canvas in survival mode. The late surge was enough for Adesanya to earn the unanimous decision victory. The fight was one of the most thrilling battles in middleweight history and won Fight of the Year in 2019.
Gastelum pre-fight- "I'm going to put a stop to the hype train."
Adesanya post-fight- "I was ready for war, we have lost teammates to this game, I knew I was willing to leave it all in there."
5. Acing the Wrestler Test.
Israel Adesanya vs. Derek Brunson.
UFC 230, New York, 2018.
Round 1 TKO win.
In just his fourth UFC fight, Adesanya took on veteran American Derek Brunson. Insults flew whenever a microphone was put in front of either fighter, Brunson claiming Adesanya was being fast tracked due to Dana White privilege but The Last Stylebender proved his hype was very real.
Brunson looked to use his physical advantage and aggressively charging forward attempting to take Adesanya down. However, this played into Adesanya's game plan, as he used Brunson's forward momentum to land counters at will. Brunson was warned by referee Herb Dean for grabbing the kiwis shorts twice as Adesanya showcased his stellar takedown defence. Adesanya would dismantle Brunson, catching him with a knee as he again recklessly charged, ultimately finishing him in the first round with a devastating combination. This victory signalled Adesanya's arrival as a serious contender in the middleweight division.
Brunson pre-fight- "You better lift some weights, you're too skinny bro, I'm not worried about you."
Adesanya post-fight- "This was like a walk in the park, a walk in the garden, Madison baby!"
6. Passing of the Torch.
Israel Adesanya vs. Anderson Silva.
UFC 243, Melbourne, 2019.
A case of the student becoming the master, Adesanya took on his idol, the legendary Anderson Silva in a number one contender fight. Izzy admitted that Silva was the man that inspired him on his MMA journey and said it will be an honour to take him out of the game. Despite the mutual respect between the two fighters, a world class striking affair was set. Silva was not the fighter he once was after snapping his leg against Chris Weidman, but still presented a daunting challenge. Some pinpoint elbows had Silva retreating in the first, Adesanya ending it with a trademark taunt. Silva had his moments in the second, particularly in the clinch with one judge awarding him the round. In the third, The Spider did his best to evade Adesanya's strikes but the future champion was consistently hitting his target. In an exquisite stand up exhibition, Adesanya would outpoint Silva over the three rounds to slay the GOAT. Both men showed the love they shared following the bout as they bowed to one another in the centre of the octagon.
Silva pre-fight- "I have a lot of skills and experience and I will try to use everything to win this fight."
Adesanya post-fight- "If I'm playing basketball..to play against Michael Jordan...this is it for me, Anderson, thank you my friend."
7. The UFC arrival.
Israel Adesanya vs. Rob Wilkinson.
UFC 221, Perth, 2018.
Round 2 TKO win.
In his UFC debut, Adesanya faced Rob 'Razor' Wilkinson and made an immediate impact. There was huge hype behind Adesanya due to his impressive kickboxing and undefeated MMA records. The Australian confidently walked Adesanya down, but soon found himself on the back foot. After 16 failed takedown attempts, Wilkinson was out on his feet and surrendered the result as he was unable to respond to the onslaught, Adesanya overwhelmed Wilkinson with a barrage of strikes, eventually finishing the fight in the second round with knees and punches with some showmanship for good measure. After nine minutes, it was 'Razor' who was cut and bloodied as Adesanya decried a 'so-so' performance as he took his record to 12-0.
Wilkinson post-fight- "Hats of to Israel he is a great fighter."
Adesanya post-fight- "I'm the new dog in the yard, and I just p****d all over this cage."
8. The Breakout.
Israel Adesanya vs. Brad Tavares.
Ultimate Fighter Season 27 finale. Las Vegas, 2018.
The match between Israel Adesanya and Brad Tavares was a pivotal moment in Adesanya's early UFC career. Tavares was a seasoned middleweight looking to establish his own dominance in the division while the UFC was looking to test their new star. Taking place at the Ultimate Fighter 27 finale, Adesanya's striking was again the focal point of the fight. His Octagon control belied that of a man making just his UFC appearance. The Hawaiian struggled to take Adesanya down, with 11 of his 12 takedown attempts being stuffed. Tavares ate numerous heavy leg kicks and some slicing elbows. After three rounds of striking dominance, Adesnaya unofficially landed 120 significant strikes to Tavares' 40. Unsurprisingly, he swept the scorecards with all three judges giving it in favor of Adesanya. The win earned Adesanya his second performance of the night bonus from his first three UFC fights.
Tavares pre-fight- "He's extremely delusional, he's going to have to get in the cage with me and all the talking is not going to help him."
Adesanya post-fight- "My first main event and I'm just getting warmed up."
9. The Fall.
Israel Adesanya vs. Alex Pereira 1.
UFC 281. New York, 2022.
Round 5 TKO loss.
Adesanya's boogeyman had followed him from kickboxing to the UFC. The history between the pair was the perfect narrative for Adesanya's next challenge after lapping the middleweight division. Pereira had beaten Izzy twice in previous meetings, the most recent being the sole knockout loss on the Last Stylebender's combat resume. After four rounds of dominance, it seemed inevitable Adesanya would notch another title defence. He was piecing Poatan up at will with low kicks and sniper like jabs. Deep in the final round and with his title hopes slipping away, Poatan let loose. Pereira began to land power punches while Adesnaya did his best to cover up. With less than three minutes on the clock seconds to go, the Brazilian scored with a thunderous uppercut, stumbling the champion. Referee Marc Goddard had seen enough and called an end to the fight to the absolute shock of the MMA world.
Pereira pre-fight- "We all know what happened in the last two fights, but I'm going to fight like it's the first time in my life."
Adesanya post-fight- "Crazy isn't it? Same story as last time. But it's not over."
10. Stepping Up.
Israel Adesanya vs. Jan Blachowicz.
UFC 259. Abu Dhabi, 2021.
In a quest to become a double champion, Adesanya moved up to light heavyweight to challenge Jan Blachowicz. Despite his efforts, Adesanya suffered his first MMA loss as the Polish powerhouses size proved too much. Blachowicz's grappling prowess posed challenges that Adesanya was unable to overcome. Despite his first career loss, Adesanya's courage to move up in weight class and challenge for a second title showcased his ambition and willingness to take on new challenges.
Blachowicz pre-fight- "He is a really good striker, I have to watch out because he can knock me out."
Adesanya post-fight- "I will be back, dare to be great, I'm going back down to 185 and I'm going to rule that b**** with my black iron fist."