February 17, 2018

Israel Adesanya: Imploring the UFC To Take Things Slow With "The Style Bender"

By Raphael Garcia

Last weekend, UFC 221 provided the mixed martial arts world with one new development for sure: excitement about UFC newcomer Israel Adesanya. The 28-year-old Nigerian fighter won his UFC debut by stopping Rob Wilkinson in the second round of their fight. His performance has created a buzz in the fan base that’s been missing for quite some time. Now it’s time for the UFC to cultivate that excitement through a slow and deliberate career progression for "The Style Bender."

There’s always something to be said for a fighter who can put it together in the cage and also has the personality to get fans interested in them outside of the cage. And in one bout Adesanya generated a level of interest that hasn’t been seen around a prospect in quite some time. There have been men and women who’ve come into the Octagon with the either the skills or the personality to captivate fans, but rarely have they had both. This isn’t the time to compare Adesanya to any of those athletes; instead, this is the time to hope that the UFC proceeds with caution when it comes to the newest addition to its roster.

Although he's still young, Adesanya boasts a wealth of experience in combat sports. He’s 12-0 in MMA, 50-5 in kickboxing, and 5-1 in boxing. His striking skills were on display against Wilkinson and they powered him to victory. And while there’s still room for development in other areas of MMA -- we haven’t seen much of his grappling game, for instance -- there seems to be a lot to like in what Adesanya brings to the cage.

With that in mind, matchmakers behind the scenes need to be careful with their next moves. It’s clear that the new UFC ownership group wants to capitalize on any and all opportunities to drive revenue. However, even if Adesanya is an individual with the potential to be developed into a profit-driving star at some point, he has to establish the track record of performances to validate that potential.

Consider the cases of Sage Northcutt and Paige VanZant, two promising prospects whose UFC experiences represent two sides of the same cautionary coin. After suffering early losses, things could have gone badly for both of them, but Northcutt is slowly being built back up fighting against talent that isn’t highly ranked, while VanZant, on the other hand, continues to struggle because she continues to be matched against tougher opponents who are more than capable of defeating her.

Adesanya needs to be kept away from anyone in the middleweight division that could hinder his growth. Much like the way that Conor McGregor was given ample time to display his abilities against opponents specifically tailored to him, Adesanya should be afforded the same space to develop at a proper pace. And since the promotion has such a large middleweight roster, there are a more than enough fighters who could be slotted into these positions.

As Adesanya enjoyed his victory and the post-fight parties with his friends, hopefully the UFC took the time to put together a slow promotional plan for him, one that includes matchups against fighters who aren’t the world-beaters ranked in the divisional Top 15. This is an opportunity for the promotion to develop a crossover star if all the stars align, but it has to do so properly, and going forward, there’s a lot of work to be done.

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