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Could Israel Adesanya be poised to take over as the UFC’s next big thing?
Adesanya, the reigning UFC middleweight champion, is already one of the most recognizable names in mixed martial arts. His star status could reach another level Saturday when he attempts to take the light heavyweight title from Jan Blachowicz at UFC 259 (10 p.m. ET, ESPN+ pay-per-view).
A victory in the headliner would make Adesanya the fifth simultaneous two-division champ in UFC history, joining the likes of Conor McGregor, Daniel Cormier, Amanda Nunes, and Henry Cejudo. Adesanya, however, would be the first among that elite group to do it with an undefeated record. He’s currently 20-0 overall and 9-0 since making his UFC debut in February 2018 – and he’s done it with style.
That type of in-cage success, mixed with Adesanya’s unique personality and life story as a Nigerian-born fighter from New Zealand, makes him a talent with potential to be bigger than just fighting.
“I really believe he has the ability to be MMA’s next major crossover star,” Adesanya’s manager, Tim Simpson of Paradigm Sports, said of Adesanya. “There was Ronda Rousey, who crossed over to a certain degree. There’s Conor McGregor, who transcended the sport and is one of the biggest celebrities on planet earth – not just in MMA. And I think Israel has all the potential to do the exact same.
“He can be anything he wants to be. Megastar, Forbes (highest-paid athletes) list, movies. He’s got the athletic ability, the personality and the drive to match.”
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Adesanya agrees that’s the direction his life and career are headed, a place where he’ll be equal to the biggest mainstream names to ever compete in the UFC.
It’s not exactly something he’s comfortable with, but Adesanya is learning to be. If he wants to maximize this moment in his life, it’s all part of the package.
“It’s inevitable,” Adesanya told MMA Junkie at Thursday’s UFC 259 press conference. “I just have to get used to it. I just have to accept it and not hide from the role that I’m in and not hide from the platform that I’m on, because a lot of people get to this spot and just start to like … I’ve been here, and I’m like, ‘Sh*t.’ Like Kayne West said: Y’all can have it back. But I just accept it. It is what it is. I have what I have, so I just accept it.”
Adesanya’s brand already has started to attract widespread appeal. According to his manager, there is heavy interest in supporting what “The Last Stylebender” brings to the table, and it could just be the tip of the iceberg.
“Israel’s commercial landscape is very, very healthy at the moment,” Simpson said. “We have deals with a lot of major, blue-chip companies in the form of PUMA, My Protein, BMW, Kill Cliff Energy, EA Sports. Commercially he is hugely successful, and that’s credit to his performances not only as an athlete, but his big personality and really strong brand.”
Dana White has seen all types of fighters come and go through his history as UFC presdient. Some have exceeded expectations, others have fizzled out well short of their potential. When it comes to Adesanya, though, even White can’t deny his potential.
“If he keeps doing what he’s doing and continues to win and breaks records and things like that, like he said, it’s inevitable (he’ll be a superstar),” White said.