For the past few years, Israel Adesanya has been on an unstoppable tear through combat sports, racking up titles across Australasia and the stadiums of China. Don Rowe sits down for breakfast with the Stylebender ahead of his third King in the Ring elimination tournament next weekend.
With more than 40 professional kickboxing wins, two King in the Ring belts, a Super 8 boxing title and an undefeated pro MMA career, Israel Adesanya continues to build his case as the most exciting talent in New Zealand sports. The 6’4 Nigerian-born is brash, unapologetic and fights like the love child of Jon Jones, Anderson Silva and Pernell ‘Sweetpea’ Whitaker for good measure. He’s the only New Zealander signed to premier kickboxing promotion Glory and next weekend he fights in the King in the Ring heavyweight tournament, taking on 7 of Australasia’s best fighters at 100kg. Adesanya is a two-time champ at 86kg, and will be giving up around 10kg when he enters the ring.
We had breakfast at The White Rabbit in Britomart. Fresh out of Saturday morning sparring with the likes of UFC featherweight Dan ‘The Hangman’ Hooker, Adesanya had three green smoothies, eggs, toast, hash browns and bacon followed up with a fat stack of pancakes. I had a piece of sourdough toast with avocado spread and a flat white. We yarned for a sprawling hour or so, covering everything from psychedelics through to the Art of War, UFC to Glory and back again.
The publishable excerpts are as follows.
The last time we spoke was before your first King in the Ring victory. How did life change after that?
After that first King in the Ring, things were a lot easier. I didn’t have to worry about shit like where my next money was coming from, how I’m gonna pay bills, things like that. It made it a lot easier. And it seems like every second day now someone will come up and be like “What’s up Stylebender, can I get a picture?” But like I said, all the shit I’ve said will happen, I’ve already seen it happen in my mind, so it wasn’t a surprise.
I noticed your social media just exploded over night.
Man, I don’t even fuck with Facebook anymore. I gave up. Before, I used to add all my fans to my own Facebook cause I figured they’re just fans and they just wanna see what’s up, and I was so against making an athlete page. Messages are the worst though. People get mad because I haven’t replied, but it’s like ‘Man, I haven’t seen it, I’ve got 2000 unread messages, I don’t have the time to sit down and go through them all.”
How was it different coming into the second King in the Ring?
The build up was different cause I felt like everyone knew that I’m the guy. The first time, I knew I was the guy, but people were like ‘Aw, but Slava is this, and Jamie Eades is on fire, and TY Williams is this and that,” but I was like “I’m the guy, man, I’m the guy,” And that’s why at the end of the first one, I said to the camera “I told you so.”
That pissed a lot of people off. So did your swearing at the end of the second King in the Ring.
Ahhhhhh I love it, I love it. The second time everyone knew “Ok, he’s the guy,” and then in the final, the Australian guy Maait pulled out, he was injured in the semi’s. Then Zane Hopman declined, he doesn’t want to fight me, and so Pati Afoa stepped up. People were angry because I swore at the camera, like “Aw, think of the children!” but I thought “Man, the children are watching me put people to sleep, and you’re worried about swearing? Pati is the fucking man, he didn’t have to step up, he’s got balls of steel, and I’m gonna say it.”
Next Saturday you’re taking on the heavyweights. Are you bulking to make up the weight difference?
Na man, it’s all about skills. Skills and speed. They can’t touch it. They don’t have the eyes.
Your physique has noticeably changed though.
A lot of people have been saying that. I’ve been working with Sunz Singh on the North Shore, at HPC, so that’s all him. I don’t know anything about strength and conditioning, I only just started calling hamstrings hamstrings, I used to the think they were hamsprings. Apparently it’s hamstrings. I still think that’s up for debate but we’ll find out. But yeah, we’ve been doing Olympic lifting, heaps of explosive stuff, throwing around medicine balls, clean and jerks. Stuff like that.
Have you noticed a difference on the pads?
Everybody has. The power is different. I hit different. I can even feel it in my hands cause they’re starting to get a little sore. The speed is still there though, you can never take it away.
There aren’t many people left to fight in New Zealand.
That’s why this is probably my last King in the Ring. I’m going to leave three belts, two weight classes, one king. Then it’s on to MMA.
How have you shifted your training towards mixed martial arts?
I’m wrestling every day at 10am. Wrestling with MMA gloves, working on my takedowns, working on my defence. I like striking, but I also like a good takedown. I want to be able to hold people down, maybe give them a couple elbows.
You’re training with Dan Hooker, who’s 2-2 in the UFC. What effect has that had?
I call Dan NZ’s Vegeta. He’s a real life Vegeta. He’s so straightforward, he doesn’t give a fuck. He definitely raises the intensity, he kicks my ass in MMA. The gap is closing, slowly, but he’s getting better as well. And his fight IQ, he’s very, very smart. He knows the game.
His last loss against Yair Rodriguez was unfortunate. What happened was his coach Greg Jackson outwitted us. The guy came out southpaw, he never comes out southpaw. The gameplan was to make Rodriguez reach because he’s orthodox and Dan is southpaw and so every time he’s reaching, Dan’s catching him. That was the basic plan. Then Rodriguez comes out southpaw and it changes the dynamics. We didn’t expect it.
How has the UFC Reebok deal effected your business plans?
Now that you can’t bring in sponsors, you’ve gotta establish your brand before you jump in there. I’m looking at the Ronda Rousey, the Conor McGregor, the Yair Rodriguez, that kind of deal. That’s what I’m looking at and that’s what I’m gonna get. I see that Reebok $2500 payout and that’s not me.
Who are you watching at the moment?
McGregor. It’s the way he thinks. The way he ‘sees tings’. When I first saw him fight, there was a moment where he did something from southpaw. He faked the teep and, boom, hit him with the left hand, and then went on his bicycle. I thought “Ok, that’s not regular striking, this guy knows some shit.” Real recognise real. This guy knows some shit. I went online and thought “Who the fuck is this guy?” The shit he was saying was stuff I was already thinking, but I didn’t know you were allowed to say it. I wasn’t sure so I kept those things to myself, but seeing him say those things gave me confidence and I thought “I’m gonna say what I’m thinking!”
I’m liking Jon Jones too, I like him, I just wish he would be honest, be the heel, that’s the Jon Jones I like. Not the ‘Thank God, thank my family, I kicked his butt,’ guy. It’s like, “What? You’re a grown-ass man, you don’t say butt. You fucken whooped that ass.” I like guys who are real. Jon Jones should be embracing who he is, going Mike Tyson. Maybe not quite full Tyson, ‘eat your children’ and all that, but you know.
I like Donald Cerrone, you can’t not like Cowboy, the way he talks and he fights and the way he lives. Bungy jumping, rock climbing before fights. It’s like me, you might see me the week out from a fight, I don’t like to compress myself, so I understand why he does what he does. A lot of guys make it like a big event, I can’t do this, I can’t do that. I’m like relax, have a beer with dinner, have a glass of wine, live your life don’t make a fight this huge thing.
I like like-minded people.
Where are you in two years?
Next year is the UFC, I’ve always said 2016, UFC, and then by 2018 I’ll be fighting for the title. After I’ve had that for a while, it’ll be time for superfights with Jon Jones or something crazy like that. I’ve still got one fight left with Glory, so I’m not hitting up Dana White on Twitter just yet or anything like that, but once I get that fight out of the way, that’s me.
For that Glory fight I want Joe Schilling, I want the Simon Marcus rematch, I want a big name. I feel like I’m just getting started. I look at myself, and I consider how I would beat myself. That’s aways the goal, constantly evolving, constantly climbing the ladder and making sure I’m always better than I was the day before. I’m very objective, and so is Eugene, my coach. I’m my biggest fan, but at the same time I’m my worst enemy, I just have to balance it out.
But I can go back to a video from 2008, my third or fourth fight, in Whangarei, and I’m saying “Right now we’re staying in the backpackers, it’s the small time, but soon.” I said it before anything. I knew it. It works man, there’s a lot of method to my madness, like the King in the Ring, I told you and how many others I’m gonna win, cause that means that I have to win. I can’t eat my words, I hate it. I will find a way to win.