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Israel Adesanya is here to lead the UFC into the next generation

Kevin Iole
·Combat columnist
·5-min read

With professional fighting victory No. 100 securely, and easily, locked up, Israel Adesanya took a moment to let his critics have a piece of his mind.

The UFC’s middleweight champion decimated Paulo Costa, who was supposed to present the gravest threat to his reign, but it ended after eight minutes and 59 seconds of a one-sided beatdown.

Adesanya was quicker, he was smarter and he was just plain better than Costa, whom he knocked out Saturday in the main event of UFC 253 to retain his middleweight title at Flash Forum in Abu Dhabi.

It was no contest from the beginning. Adesanya chopped down Costa’s legs early, and the previously unbeaten Brazilian was limping around the cage gingerly in the early moments of Round 2. When he got Costa looking down for the kicks, Adesanya came up with a few to the body and then a big one to the head.

That head kick softened Costa up, but it didn’t finish him. You don’t get to be 13-0 with 12 finishes like Costa was by succumbing easily. So he moved forward, even after the kick.

By this point, though, the power in his fists had dissipated, and he had little to offer. Adesanya slid to his right in the center of the cage and whipped a left hand that caught Costa on the head.

Costa went down, Adesanya mounted him and it was over in a flash befitting a superstar champion.

Adesanya invoked the legendary boxing champion Roy Jones Jr. in his post-fight interview with the UFC’s Jon Anik. He referenced Jones’ rap song, “Ya’ll Must Have Forgot,” which Jones released in 2006 before a title defense against Clinton Woods.

Nobody forgot, or was unaware, of what Adesanya could do. It’s why people were so genuinely excited about the bout. It’s why video of their staredown at Friday’s weigh-in set records on the UFC’s social media channels for most views.

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - SEPTEMBER 27:  Israel Adesanya of Nigeria celebrates after defeating Paulo Costa of Brazil in their middleweight championship bout during UFC 253 inside Flash Forum on UFC Fight Island on September 27, 2020 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)
Israel Adesanya of Nigeria celebrates after defeating Paulo Costa of Brazil in their middleweight championship bout during UFC 253 inside Flash Forum on UFC Fight Island on Sept. 27, 2020, in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)

People were into the fight big-time because they were about to see two great fighters square off for all the marbles.

What we saw, though, was something less. There was one great fighter, who stands among the best champions the UFC has ever had, tearing apart a very good one.

Costa would have beaten most people on Saturday, but he wasn’t even close to doing anything to Adesanya.

It couldn’t have been a shock to him that Adesanya would chop at his legs, but Costa acted as if he didn’t know how to check a leg kick or that Adesanya would actually want to kick him.

Adesanya gave him angles in the rare times that Costa was able to close the distance, and he’d slither away out of danger.

Costa made no adjustments during the round and no adjustments between rounds. He did the same thing repeatedly, moving forward with no particular strategy, and it was child’s play for Adesanya.

Adesanya was one of the elite fighters in the world coming into this fight. He was ranked fourth on the UFC’s pound-for-pound ratings prior to the bout, and there’s a good chance he’ll slip past heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic into third.

So it came as no surprise how good Adesanya looked. He showed everything you’d want from a fighter in a gut check win over Kelvin Gastelum, and in destroying former champion Robert Whittaker when there was loads of pressure on his shoulders. He scoffed at the pressure and put Whittaker away in dramatic fashion.

We knew he could fight. There was no question about it. The question was whether he could ascend to that next level, the one so few are able to reach.

It’s a lot harder to do that, and to quantify exactly when someone reaches that pinnacle.

Well, Israel Adesanya hit that peak on Saturday. He’s the biggest star in the sport now. Yeah, Conor McGregor sells the most pay-per-views, but he’s constantly retiring if he’s not getting into trouble.

In 19 months, Adesanya has done the following:

That’s 5-0 in just over a year-and-a-half, including 4-0 in title fights. In that same time span, McGregor has fought once and has been in more scrapes with the law than he’s been in the Octagon.

Adesanya has also tirelessly promoted himself, his sport and the UFC in travels all over the globe. In addition, he’s become a socially conscious young man who speaks up for what is right and for what he believes, no matter the consequences.

This is a guy who you’ll see on your television screens and on your computer for a long time to come.

He’s not unbeatable, because MMA continually teaches us that just when you think someone is a perfect fighter, there is a flaw in his or her game that we missed, or a style that he or she can’t deal with.

But Adesanya’s the guy to lead the UFC into the next generation. He’s colorful and flashy and knows how to attract a crowd.

And more than anything, he knows how to fight.

My, oh my, does Israel Adesanya ever know how to fight. If you doubt that for a second, ask Costa and you’ll find out real quick.

Adesanya is the truth.

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