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Can Nigeria’s Israel Adesanya become an MMA legend?

“For me it’s about the victories. The names you collect, the scalps you take along the way. I want to be the guy that took out everyone so that when it’s all said and done they can be like, ‘he’s the greatest of all time.’

Those are the words of reigning UFC middleweight champion Israel “The Last Stylebender” Adesanya.

The Nigeria-born New Zealand-based fighter was speaking ahead of his highly anticipated clash against fearsome light heavyweight champion Jan Blachowicz, 38, in the headline bout of UFC 259 on 6 March.

It sees the undefeated Adesanya, 31, make a step up from middleweight as he attempts to become a two-weight UFC champion.

Irishman Conor McGregor was the first fighter in UFC history to win two titles after defeating Eddie Alvarez to add the lightweight title to his featherweight crown.

He was followed by Americans Daniel Cormier (light heavyweight and heavyweight) and Henry Cejudo (flyweight and bantamweight) as well as Brazilian Amanda Nunes (bantamweight and featherweight).

Nunes defends her featherweight crown against Australia’s Megan Anderson on the same UFC 259 bill, which also features a third title bout as Russian bantamweight champion Petr Yan takes on American number one ranked contender Aljamain Sterling.

As Adesanya seeks to join this list of legends Nigerian MMA journalist Babatunde Koiki has explained to BBC Sport Africa what makes The Last Stylebender such a formidable fighter.

Striking accuracy

Adesanya lands one out of every two blows he attempts with either his fists, elbows, knees or feet.

Fighters who land a high percentage of their strikes can be more efficient and waste less energy. And with an 80 inch arm reach coupled with a 44.5 inch leg reach on a 6ft 4inches frame, Adesanya is a nightmare from distance with fearsome jabs.

He takes his time with his shots which leads to a decent 4.10 of significant punches being landed per minute. Everything is meticulously calculated.

McGregor once said: “Precision beats power and timing beats speed” which is the perfect way to describe how Adesanya approaches his fight. You don’t amass 15 MMA knockouts by accident.

Masterful defence

Nigeria-born Israel Adesanya (right) avoids a punch from Paulo Costa at UFC 253
Nigeria-born Israel Adesanya (right) avoids a punch from Paulo Costa at UFC 253

Adesanya has mastered the art of manoeuvring his sinewy frame away from attempted strikes by his opponents.

He absorbs an average of 2.33 strikes per minute which, for a tough sport like MMA, is pretty low. And its all down to his superb footwork, head movement and timing which have helped him dance out of range of one punch knockout specialists.

He also holds the ability to avoid being taken down to the canvas where some MMA fighters prefer to fight often by forcing submissions, countering 86% of all attempts to put him down.

Neither does he attempt takedowns, clearly aware that his success lies in doing what he does best: kicking and striking opponents into submission.

Tremendous self belief

Nigeria-born Israel Adesanya (right) lands a kick on Paulo Costa at UFC 253
Nigeria-born Israel Adesanya (right) lands a kick on Paulo Costa at UFC 253

Probably his biggest weapon is his mind. He has been described as cocky and arrogant by opponents and critics alike.

During verbal jousting sessions with his foes during pre-fight media events many have been on the receiving end of his acidic wit and razor sharp tongue.

His social media barbs are cutting and he has managed to get under the skin and of many of those who have dared to clash with him.

Adesanya has backed up every word with his fists in the octagon and is unbeaten.

Can he create history this weekend?

At around 185lb (84kg) Adesenya is significantly lighter than Blachowicz’s 205lb (93kg), however the champion and his team have declared that they will not be bulking up in order to face the Pole.

“I don’t play the game like everyone else,” he said. “I’ll just chill. I’ll just stay me. I’m gonna get stronger. I always do but I’m not going to purposely put on muscle just so I can be at a weight class. Stupid.”

Those who have met Adesanya in person have been amazed that he is much bigger than they had expected.

Most observers feel that Blachowicz’s size and power will be too much for Adesanya and that he is biting off more than he can chew, but if Adesanya stays true to his kickboxing craft and plays to his strength then he has every chance of staying undefeated.

Blachowicz will be expected to be the aggressor and force the pace which means that Adesanya will try to stay measured, calculated and use plenty of leg attacks.

All his skills will be put to the test because the belief is that he must be perfect for 25 minutes while Blachowicz needs to be perfect for just five seconds.

“The casuals (will) get to see that muscles don’t win fights. Skills, technique and brain power wins fights,” he said. (BBC)

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