Kickboxing: All guts and glory for champion fighter

By Daniel Richardson

Israel Adesanya has just signed with Glory promotion. Photo / Xavier Wallach
Israel Adesanya has just signed with Glory promotion. Photo / Xavier Wallach

Israel Adesanya loves cartoons, once wanted to be a dance choreographer and is also a champion kickboxer.

Throw in a certificate in automotive workshop and repair studies and a half-completed degree in computer graphic design and you get the impression the 24-year-old doesn't like to limit himself.

The Nigerian-born Muay Thai middleweight recently became the first Kiwi to sign a deal with the Glory promotion, kickboxing's biggest stage. He spent the past six months in China, fighting full-time in a sport which a couple of years ago was bringing him about US$1,500 a bout but is thought to be more lucrative now. It was China where he has forged much of his 32-1 record, his only defeat coming against world champion Simon Marcus, whom Adesanya took to an extra round before the Canadian-Jamaican was given a controversial decision.

Adesanya lived in Nigeria until he was 11 before he and his family moved to Ghana briefly before settling in Rotorua. It was there he developed his love of dance and he even won a couple of talent shows.

"Dancing was a good athletic foundation," he says. "I was just, as a kid, finding something to do."

He credits his dancing background for his nimbleness in the ring; trainer Eugene Bareman, himself an accomplished fighter, says Adesanya's fast feet are one of the things that make him so dangerous.

"It's his athleticism, there's no doubting that his genetics have got something to do with it," Bareman says.

Then there's the cartoons. When Adesanya left Rotorua to move to Wanganui to study computer design and animation, it was something his parents told him would never result in a "real job".

"I wanted to be an animator because I love cartoons."

Living in Wanganui agreed with Adesanya and he found kickboxing in 2008 after watching a movie Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior. It was a big turnaround for a guy who used to get bullied at school.

He smiles when he thinks of his other reason for arriving at his first class: "I was dating this chick at the time, so I thought 'I've got to get in shape'."

After making his way through the national scene, Adesanya moved to Auckland and linked with City Kickboxing. Now he has a chance to mix it with the best on the planet after he signed a two-fight deal with Glory. His first bout comes on April 12 against Belgian Filip Verlinden at Glory 15 in Istanbul.

The Kiwi feels he can add a Glory title to his national light heavyweight and cruiserweight belts.

- APNZ

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