November 6, 2018

UFC 230: Israel Adesanya Gave Us A Breakthrough Performance To Cap Off A Breakthrough Year

By Adam Martin

A year ago at this time, not too many MMA fans had heard about Israel Adesanya, the Nigerian-born, New Zealand-bred kickboxer who has quickly taken the UFC by storm. He was fighting on the Aussie and Chinese regional MMA circuits and the only name opponent he had shared the cage with was UFC veteran Melvin Guillard. Some hardcore fans might have caught that fight, but most had no idea who Adesanya was; unless you were watching every GLORY kickboxing event, his name barely would've registered. But now, after an incredible 2018 inside the Octagon, the 29-year-old phenom who calls himself "The Last Stylebender" is on the verge of superstardom.

Adesanya began 2018 by making his UFC debut on the prelims of UFC 221, taking on Rob Wilkinson. Despite having a bit of trouble with Wilkinson's takedowns, Adesanya was able to eventually land the knockout blow and win a "Performance of the Night" award in his UFC debut. He was buried on the prelims for that fight though, so most casual fans still didn't know who he was. In April, Adesanya took on Marvin Vettori in his sophomore UFC effort, and although he didn't have his best performance in that fight at UFC On FOX 29, failing to secure a knockout, he was still able to eke out a decision win and improve his record to 13-0.

The Vettori fight wasn't the performance that made people think he could be a potential superstar, though. It was Adesanya's third UFC bout that made everyone a believer. Despite getting a huge step up in competition by taking on Brad Tavares for five rounds in the main event of the TUF 27 Finale, Adesanya made the fight look easy. He picked Tavares apart for all twenty-five minutes, and though he wasn't able to get the stoppage, he still showed off all the skills of someone who could one day be a champion. It was clear from the Tavares fight how much Adesanya's takedown defense had improved since the bouts against Wilkinson and Vettori, and his striking looked on point as usual. It was the win he needed to set himself up with a top-10 opponent, and the UFC obliged by matching him up with Derek Brunson at UFC 230 in Madison Square Garden.

Brunson was the best fighter Adesanya had ever faced, but as he likes to say, he was on level two while Brunson was still loading up his game. The KO win over Brunson on the big stage in New York City was exactly the win Adesanya needed to break through and become a superstar for the UFC at a time when the sport desperately needs them.

The win over Brunson should also lock up Adesanya's award for 2018 MMA Breakthrough Fighter of the Year. Considering that very few MMA fans even knew who he was a year ago, and now he has fought four times in the Octagon and won all four, there should be no doubt. In fact, if it wasn't for Daniel Cormier's historic 2018 where he won the heavyweight title to go along with his light heavyweight crown, Adesanya would be in the running for Fighter of the Year.

With nearly flawless victories over Wilkinson, Vettori, Tavares, and Brunson, Israel Adesanya has had quite the 2018. "The Last Stylebender" is an amazing talent, and don't be surprised if he's wearing UFC gold around his waist sooner than later. He's that good, and the crazy thing is he's only just getting started. 15-0 with 13 knockouts and still improving. That's a special talent.

UFC 230
Israel Adesanya vs. Derek Brunson: Israel Adesanya def. Derek Brunson via TKO (knees and punches) at 4:51 of Round 1.

UFC 230: Cormier vs. Lewis took place November 3, 2018 at Madison Square Garden in New York, New York.

Click HERE for more UFC 230 Post-Fight Analysis

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