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14 June


Israel Adesanya can become UFC pound-for-pound No 1 – and undisputed MMA "GOAT" – in 2021

"The Last Stylebender" bids for "champ champ" status against UFC light heavyweight king Jan Blachowicz in March

Photo: UFC

/NOVOSTIVL/ Neutralising light heavyweight champ Jan Blachowicz’s “legendary Polish power” at UFC 259 in March is, of course, a necessary first step and no easy feat.

But undefeated UFC middleweight king Israel Adesanya – fresh off winning his second consecutive Fighter of the Year gong at the 2020 World MMA Awards – is perfectly positioned to take the pound-for-pound reins by the end of this year.

It’s been quite the rise for the 31-year-old Kiwi-Nigerian (20-0), who made easy work of chiselled contender Paulo Costa via second-round TKO at UFC 253 last September for his second title defence.

Adesanya went from an Octagon debut on a Yoel Romero undercard in 2018, to becoming the division’s interim title-holder a year later, to winning the undisputed belt from Robert Whittaker via a devastating second-round TKO in October 2019, to successfully defending it against the very same Romero last March.

He has won six performance-of-the-night accolades in seven fights, and his growing star power was highlighted when he crossed the MMA-boxing divide to appear as a ring analyst for Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jnr’s nostalgic exhibition fight in December.

Adesanya was picked to represent MMA for a reason. His abilities inside the Octagon are undisputed. He also possesses a refreshing charisma that connects with a younger audience (take his pre- and post-fight anime-themed rituals and dance moves) and some god-level social media trolling skills which come off as natural – never forced, nor part of a gimmick.

What is perhaps most frightening is it seems to be but the beginning of Adesanya’s reign. There is absolutely no reason “The Last Stylebender” can’t out-do himself once again as fans welcome a new generation of fighters.

Perennial “GOAT” (greatest of all time) candidates such as Georges St-Pierre (26-2), Anderson Silva (34-11, one no contest) – whom Adesanya beat in 2019, albeit past his prime – and Khabib Nurmagomedov (29-0) are retired, while Demetrious Johnson (27-3-1) has left for Asia with ONE Championship.

Of course, it would be ridiculous – insulting, even – to not mention long-standing UFC pound-for-pound No 1 Jon “Bones” Jones (26-1, one no contest), whom UFC lightweight champ Khabib finally toppled in the rankings last October. Despite his several run-ins with the law and the US Anti-Doping Agency, the 33-year-old former light heavyweight champion was pretty much defending his belt since becoming the youngest UFC champion in history at 23.

The American has remained inactive since a disputed unanimous decision against Dominick Reyes in February, vacating his belt and threatening to leave the UFC amid a feud with president Dana White. But he has made clear his intentions to get swole for heavyweight domination Jones and Adesanya have long set their sights on each other. Both claim one is running from the other, with Adesanya appearing marginally more hesitant given he often says he will “get to Jones” after a few more title defences. The social media mind games are in full flow and are – fingers crossed – a prelude to a mouthwatering year-end match-up.

“That’s Jon ‘Blow’ Jones’ downfall. Like, ‘I need to move up in weight, pack on the size’. Some people are just stupid. They play the game so stupid. I’ve done it in kick-boxing,” Adesanya told Submission Radio last year.

“Yeah sure, you want to put on size? All right. Is your body used to being that heavy? Are you used to moving around that heavy with the work rate you were doing from all your previous fights?

“Yeah, I just don’t play the game like everyone else. I’ll just chill. I’m gonna get stronger. I always do. But I’m not gonna purposely put on muscle just so I can be at a weight class. Stupid.”

White has already given his blessing for the match-up. “Somebody asked me yesterday, ‘If you could make one fight in 2021, what would it be?’ That’s the fight. That’s my pick,” White told BT Sport last month.

There is a strong argument the bigger and more experienced Jones could take the decision via out-wrestling Adesanya.

But Jones has looked vulnerable on the ground and in the stand-up in recent years, while Adesanya’s exponentially improving ground game has helped him evade takedowns from top-class grapplers like Romero and Kelvin Gastelum.

A win over the 37-year-old Blachowicz (27-8) – not to be forgotten nor overlooked in all of this – could finally set up that Jones superfight. A fight for the ages and, if successful, a conclusive handover of the MMA baton.

But at which weight class? Jones has made it clear he has “no intentions” of moving back down to 205 pounds.

“I would love to win the heavyweight championship, defend it two or three times against the top heavyweights out there, and then I’d really like to transition into humanitarian work,” Jones told Bleacher Report last week.

So it looks like Adesanya might have to move up again and try to conquer a third different division – something which would undeniably put him at the precipice of mixed martial arts, not just as its undoubted active pound-for-pound No 1, but also its “GOAT”.

Source: SCMP