In the early hours of Sunday morning, Nigerian-born Kiwi, Israel Adesanya will put his UFC Middleweight strap on the line against the very dangerous Cuban Olympic silver medalist, Yoel Romero, in a fight that promises to be an intriguing and explosive clash of styles in the city of lights.
This fight will be a career-defining one for Romero as the outcome will either finally get him the title he’s been chasing for over a half-decade or put the final nail in the ‘coffin’ of that opportunity and cement his legacy as the biggest ‘maid of honour’ in that division or at worst, make him the division’s gatekeeper.
For Adesanya, this fight is just another one in his personal quest to be the best ever and become the face of the UFC and MMA in general.
This fight was not meant to happen, at least not now.
Adesanya was supposed to defend his middleweight title against fellow undefeated fighter, Paulo Costa, who defeated Romero last August to become the number one challenger for the title, but a bicep injury forced the Brazilian out of the fight and that situation has brought us here.
Adesanya didn’t need to take this fight as he could have taken time off, waited for his original challenger to get healthy and get a new date for his first title defence, but he chose to take on arguably the most feared man in the division.
To put it in perspective, Adesanya could have chosen to take on any other fighter in the division for his maiden title defence or not fight at all this weekend.
Followers of Adesanya’s rapid rise in the UFC (He’s been in the promotion for just two years), will not be surprised with his decision to take on this dangerous fight, as he’s always had supreme confidence and iron-clad belief in his fighting abilities, which some people see as arrogance or being cocky, but he has continuously backed up the perceived ‘arrogance’ with exciting and devastating performances in the octagon.
In his UFC debut in February 2018, during his post-fight octagon interview after a second-round TKO of Aussie fighter Rob Wilkinson, he said: “middleweights, I’m the new dog in the yard and I just pissed all over this cage”.
Less than two years after making that bold claim, he became the undisputed UFC middleweight champion in October 2019 with a devastating second-round KO of the former champion, Robbie Whitaker.
Adesanya is already changing the game for the period he has been with the UFC because two fights in a year is considered a lot for most major UFC fighters and in less than twenty months, he’s had seven fights and is already the champion of his division.
John Jones, arguably the greatest ever UFC fighter and the current light heavyweight champion, is already toeing that line and has began making at least two title defences in a year, saying he wants to be more active (There’s been bad blood brewing between Adesanya and the American and we might see a fight between them sometime in the future).
The popular consensus is that this is a very dangerous fight for Adesanya and he also acknowledges that fact. Romero has always been at the cusp of being the middleweight king, but has always fallen just short.
He fought against Whitaker for the interim title in 2017 and lost a very close fight via unanimous decision. In early 2018, he had the opportunity to fight for the interim title again, against Luke Rockhold, but couldn’t make weight and that meant he couldn’t get the title despite winning that fight by knocking the American unconscious.
Later that year, he had the opportunity to fight for the undisputed title, didn’t make weight yet again and lost in a split decision to Whitaker again.
His last fight was supposed to make him the number one contender for the title, but he lost via unanimous decision to Costa.
This fourth opportunity to fight for the title just fell into the hands of the 42year old, who’s a devout Christian and calls himself ‘the soldier of God’ and he sees it as a divine sign.
He’s an Olympic silver medalist and a former world champion in freestyle wrestling. He defected to Germany in 2007 and began his mixed martial arts career. He is a very muscular and powerful six-footer with an imposing physical presence, who packs a mean punch in addition to his deep wrestling background.
Adesanya has never hidden his desire to test himself against the best fighters in the UFC and being the champion won’t see him change that by avoiding tough fights to preserve his status, he even talked about not really caring for the belt that much.
During an interview about this fight, he said “It’s not even about the belt. I just wanna beat up the toughest guys. I want to beat up the people of our generation right now considered the best of the best, and he’s one of them”.
Adesanya has proven that he is the real deal and keeps proving it. It’s amazing that despite his incredible rise and achievements in the octagon, some people still feel he’s a bit over-hyped and not as good as what we’re currently experiencing before our very own eyes.
Adesanya started out as a boxer, amassing five victories from six professional fights and moved into kickboxing, where he had over 80 fights, winning 75 and losing just 5, before entering into the world of MMA, where he currently has a record of 18 wins from 18 fights, with 14 KO’s.
MMA is considered the pinnacle of combat sports because it is a clash and mixture of every professional combat style and technique and where the best fighters from different combat styles converge and the UFC is the sport’s biggest brand.
When it comes to pure stand-up striking, Adesanya is elite and one of the best in the world, but one of the arguments against him is that his ground game is not as good as his striking, that an elite wrestler or jiu-jitsu fighter will give him serious problems.
He has faced wrestlers before and has a takedown defence of over 85%, which is elite and will make anybody with a good ground game think twice before trying to take him down.
He also keeps telling anyone who cares to listen that he is constantly improving and his ground game is becoming elite. I guess we will never know how good his ground game is until he’s severely tested there (since he defends most takedown attempts) or wins fights via submission.
Romero is going to present a very stern test for Adesanya and the fact that at 42, he may not get any other opportunity to fight for the title again, will make him very dangerous and probably more aggressive than usual (he’s usually very explosive).
He also needs to be very careful, because Adesanya is a very disciplined and cerebral striker & counter striker and will pick him apart easily if he becomes careless and lets his guard down while being offensive.
Romero has been stopped just once in his 17 professional MMA fights, but that was in 2011 before he joined the UFC, where he has never been stopped since his debut in 2013.
Adesanya is looking forward to being the first man to do that and who will want to bet against the last stylebender?
Whatever happens, we will be guaranteed a great show in Vegas, the city where the spectacular always happens.
Chinasia Ibonye writes from the United States of America.