Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

Adesanya caps off a flawless night for New Zealand MMA

New Zealand goes three for three at UFC Melbourne, culminating in Israel Adesanya’s win over Anderson Silva. 

Israel Adesanya’s victory over Anderson Silva in Melbourne was a masterclass in creativity and a coming-out party for New Zealand MMA.

Facing down a near mirror-image of himself, Adesanya fought fluid and confident, switching his stance, here fighting off his right, there off his left. Silva, 43, was equal to the challenge, manipulating his timing, rhythm and defensive postures minute to minute, fighting as if he had three different brains. Though Silva was wobbled early on, any concerns about his durability were soon dispelled, and he remains near untouched after all these years.

The fight was more performance than brawl. There was an air of a demonstration, as if the sequences and beats were choreographed ahead of time. But of course it wasn’t, and every strike felt as if it could be the last. It was the antithesis of the exciting but ultimately unsustainable ‘just bleed’ mentality pervasive in so much of MMA. Both fighters executed with all the smoothness of a video game. As UFC president Dana White said backstage following the bout, “it was like a kung fu movie”.

The timing, reflex and athleticism on display were exquisite. There were flying knees, jumping kicks, spins, pirouettes, shades of Bruce Lee at every step. Adesanya at one point attempted to run up the cage. Paint them both in tie-dye and it could have been Cirque du Soleil. Silva had his moments, stinging Adesanya and forcing him momentarily onto the back foot.The momentum oscillated, with Silva potentially stealing the second round when he momentarily confounded Adesanya. But there was never a moment to equal Adesanya’s shot in the first round.

“I’m passing the baton on to you,” Silva said following the fight.

It was the performance of the night, putting an extra $50,000 in the pocket of each fighter, but sweeter still for Adesanya would have been the performances of his stable mates Kai Kara-France and Shane Young.

Kara-France opened the card with a tough performance against a much taller Brazilian, landing his signature overhand right with  less effect than in previous bouts, but ultimately doing enough to secure the bag unscathed.

Straight after, Shane Young threw upwards of 400 strikes en route to a victory over American Austin Arnett. From the opening bell, Young pressured his taller opponent, forcing him onto the back foot against the cage. The fight had echos of his last performance, a second round knockout of Filipino slugger Rolando Dy. The range proved difficult at times for Young, and he sported a dripping black eye following the fight. Young dropped Arnett at the very end of the third round, ultimately taking a judge’s decision. He used the moment to thank his mum, then draw attention to the rates of youth suicide in New Zealand, and backstage continued in the same vein. 

“I went home to Maraenui and all my whanau said, ‘oh you’re like the toughest dude ever’, so if I can use this platform to show them that, hey, I cry, I reach out and talk to people, then I will. I’ll keep saying it until our rates are the opposite, until we’ve got the highest amount of happy kids.”

The wins put City Kickboxing at a near-perfect 14-1 in the past year and a half. Head coach Eugene Bareman has established Auckland as the beating heart of kickboxing in Oceania, and the already-crammed facilities are likely to be near impossible going forward. For a coach in his prime, it’s a good position to be in. For Adesanya, a return to Nigeria beckons, and then it’s onwards to the title. New Zealand martial arts have never been stronger.


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