The Film Room: Israel Adesanya

By Kevin Wilson Jul 1, 2018
Illustration: Ben Duffy/

The undefeated Israel Adesanya will face off with longtime Ultimate Fighting Championship staple Brad Tavares in “The Ultimate Fighter 27” Finale headliner on Friday at the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas. Adesanya has compiled a 50-5-2 record as a professional kickboxer and owns a perfect 13-0 mark in MMA, with 12 of those wins coming by knockout. The 28-year-old looks to be one of the more exciting prospects to enter the UFC in recent years.

The latest installment of The Film Room examines Adesanya’s stylings.

‘The Last Stylebender’

A lifelong martial artist, Adesanya has competed professionally in boxing, muay Thai, kickboxing and MMA. While his extensive striking background has drawn all of the attention, he also holds the rank of blue belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu under Andre Galvao -- one of the most respect coaches in the world.

One question always dogs fighters transitioning from kickboxing or boxing to MMA: How will they perform on the ground? However, as seen with fighters like Stephen Thompson, some strikers only need effective takedown defense to succeed in MMA. Adesanya seems to be taking the same approach, as he has used magnificent defensive footwork to deny 16 of the 21 takedowns attempted against him in the UFC.

Adesanya’s defense revolves around footwork and evasive movement. Some fighters prefer to stand their ground and block strikes with their arms and legs, but if the point of hand-to-hand combat is to hit and not get hit, then using footwork to evade attacks seems like the superior strategy. In his most recent appearance, Adesanya avoided the strikes of an advancing Marvin Vettori and had him swinging at air for much of the fight.

Footwork also anchors Adesanya’s success in the standup department. Using a variety of feints and benefitting from the ability to comfortably fight out of both stances, he can overwhelm an opponent’s reactions without even throwing a strike. A fighter who can switch stances during a bout creates a variety of attacks from which to choose, which in turn overloads the man standing across from him. When an orthodox fighter faces another orthodox fighter, he knows what is available to him on offense and defense. However, when an opponent switches to southpaw, a new realm of possibilities opens up. Fighters who constantly switch between stances, continually change the openings available to them. Better yet, a fighter who can hide a stance switch in between combinations or while circling can make an opponent think he is in one stance before launching an unexpected attack from the other.

Although 12 of his 13 wins have come by knockout or technical knockout, Adesanya has not shown much in the way of one-punch power. Instead, he slowly breaks opponents with a steady pace of accurate strikes. Even when the end is near, Adesanya tends to keep the same pace and intelligently picks his strikes instead of rushing in for the finish.

Quick and accurate combinations in the pocket were born out of his kickboxing days, during which he was more of a stand-and-trade fighter because of the absence of grappling. Since he moved to MMA, Adesanya has put his focus on footwork and movement -- the source of his success thus far.

Adesanya showed off another interesting trick against Vettori: a brilliant rhythm-manipulating elbow. He switched to an orthodox stance and stomped forward with a jab outside of his counterpart’s lead foot. Vettori covered up while expecting an elbow, but Adesanya waited until he dropped his guard and threw it at a delayed speed a second later. That kind of rhythm manipulation is rare in MMA, a tactic used successfully by only a handful of fighters.


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