Following Alex Pereira’s last minute upset over Israel Adesanya, we ought to commemorate “Stylebender’s” title reign to this point.
Adesanya had a quick rise through the rankings, dominating opponents such as Brad Tavares and Derek Brunson. At UFC 236, Adesanya fought Kelvin Gastelum for the interim middleweight championship. The fight went back and forth for five rounds, and Gastelum had Israel badly hurt in round 4. Israel then dropped Gastelum multiple times to close out the fight and earn his first belt.
At UFC 243, Israel had his crowning moment against the undisputed champion Robert Whittaker. Having struggled against Gastelum, many wondered how he would handle an opponent as skilled and durable as Whittaker. Israel responded with one of his finest career performances. He dropped Whittaker badly at the end of the first round, before knocking him out in the second. It was a shocking finish after Whittaker had just won an epic war against Yoel Romero in his prime.
Adesanya’s hype was at an all-time high heading into his next fight against Romero at UFC 248. However, the fight massively disappointed fans as both fought cautiously for five rounds. Despite the fantastic performances Israel had already put on, fans quickly labeled him a “boring” fighter.
As per usual, however, the fans’ recency bias showed in Adesanya’s next defense. Leading into the Paulo Costa fight, many pointed to Costa’s clear physical strength advantage. Combined with Costa’s aggressive style, fans expected a war between the two young stars. Instead, Adesanya delivered his single greatest title defense to date. He completely dominated Costa before dramatically finishing him in round 2. This defense signaled that he would be an extremely difficult champion to dethrone.
At the peak of his stardom, Israel challenged light heavyweight champion Jan Blachowicz at UFC 259. Even though he lost the decision, Israel still put on a respectable performance. He weighed in several pounds under the weight limit and took on a much larger opponent. Blachowicz’s strength advantage played a large role in his ability to secure takedowns and win the decision.
Adesanya immediately bounced back from the loss against Marvin Vettori at UFC 263. While their first fight was a close split decision, Adesanya this time won all five rounds. He looked untouchable on the feet and easily defended Vettori’s takedown attempts. Even when Vettori finally managed to take Adesanya’s back, the champion quickly reversed position. Adesanya showed that he was still a stylistic nightmare for most middleweights.
Israel then had to face a much-improved Robert Whittaker at UFC 271. Whittaker had scored three very impressive victories since their first meeting, and looked more dangerous than ever. Israel again dropped him in the first round but then endured a grueling back and forth war. Nonetheless, he still won the decision against “The Reaper”, another all time great middleweight in his own right.
Israel next defended against Jared Cannonier at UFC 276. He dominated the dangerous Cannonier with ease. However, once again fans had begun to criticize his style for being boring. Adesanya’s bold pre-fight talk caused further backlash from both fans and analysts, who criticized him for his passivity.
Ironically, in his loss to Pereira, Adesanya seemed to be answering most of the criticisms that had come his way. He nearly finished Alex in the first round. Both fighters displayed high level kickboxing throughout the fight, and Israel even used his grappling to tire Pereira out. Although Pereira had knocked Israel out in kickboxing, Adesanya was in complete control of this fight. However, Pereira stunned the world by finishing Adesanya in the fifth round. The fight had eerie parallels to their previous encounter, as Pereira again came from behind to snatch the victory.
Israel will now likely prepare for an epic rematch with “Poatan”. However, regardless of the outcome of that fight, Israel’s legacy as of now is undeniable. After already having success in kickboxing, he entered mixed martial arts and competed at the highest level. He fought numerous title-worthy opponents and handily beat them. Fans who consider him boring fail to appreciate both his skills and the brutal wars he has already delivered. One cannot talk about the middleweight division without mentioning Israel Adesanya.
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