"I'm just getting started, man, from the avenue to the world view."

With that signoff, expat Whanganui MMA exponent Israel Adesanya raised up the first of two new shiny pieces of silverware at the Ray White Whanganui Sports Awards last night.

While the reigning UFC Middleweight champion would like see recognition for himself and more importantly by extension for Kiwi combat sports from the Halberg Awards, his former home town was more than willing to give prizes to the 30-year-old, who began his first serious combat sport training here before he left to take on the world.

Adesanya received the International Senior Sportsperson prize, which he found a pleasant enough surprise in a field that included top rowers and former winners Chris Harris and Kerri Gowler, along with Gowler's younger sister Jackie, and tennis prodigy Paige Hourigan.

Advertisement

But even the confident fighter, who is an excellent orator, needed a moment to find some more words when he was called back to the stage to accept the Supreme Award, which is judged amongst the 10 category winners.

"Thank you for honouring me with this. This is crazy," Adesanya had said on his first trip to the dais at the Wanganui Function Centre.

"Everyone who was nominated, you all deserve to be right up here with me, we all do this for the greater good.

"I didn't go to school here, but Whanganui is where my career started.

"Like 2007-8, I was at Stellar [bar], regular Saturday night, and I saw Kyle Gallacher. You all know Kyle, 6ft 9, big white boy," referring to the former NZ kickboxing champion and trainer.

"We started talking about mixed martial arts, and then I started training with him and before you know it, I had my first fight and rest was history.

"So, my career started here. This is where I decided, 'I'm gonna be the best fighter in the world'."

Israel Adesanya returns to the stage to accept the Supreme Award for the evening, recognising him as the best of the ten award winners.
Israel Adesanya returns to the stage to accept the Supreme Award for the evening, recognising him as the best of the ten award winners.

Off stage, Adesanya emphasised he felt Gallacher should have been up there with him, being one of the people alongside local trainer Derek Broughton to help him get started before moving to Auckland to train with Eugene Bateman.

Advertisement

He appreciated the symmetry of the evening where judo exponent Keightly Watson had received the International Junior Sportsperson award, while the late Empire Games silver medal winning wrestler Pat O'Connor was inducted into the Whanganui Sports Hall of Fame.

"Kiwis, even in Whanganui, I know better than anyone, we love a good scrap.

"Fighting's always part of the culture. Kiwi culture, because I grew up out here."

While his career is not motivated by the prospect of winning awards, Adesanya said for young people who have a passion for combat sports, it was important they could receive their due alongside other sports.

"They'll get recognised as legitimate athletes, not just some thugs.

"People don't understand the work that goes into this – the hours.

"It's just cool to see that we're starting to get recognised as proper athletes."

It was wonderful night for the Adesanya family, as father Femi and mother Taiwo along with other supporters were on hand to witness the occasion, which recalled the well-tread story about how their young son decided almost in the dead of night that he had to leave home in Whanganui to go further his fighting ambitions in Auckland.

"I told them, but they didn't let me leave until the morning. The rest is history, now they're big fans of the sport.

"They're probably my undercover coaches because they always tell me what's up and they look at every single opponent potential, and they tell me what I should watch out for."

Adesanya's success is being recognised in all areas which have a claim to him, as the Nigerian-born fighter has also been nominated for the upcoming 2019 Future Awards Africa in the sport category.

"It would be too much of a trip to go out there for an awards show, so after my next fight, definitely I'm going to make a trip back out there, just so I can get more in touch with the culture and let people know that we're working out here."

Judo exponent Keightly Watson received the International Junior Sportsperson trophy.
Judo exponent Keightly Watson received the International Junior Sportsperson trophy.

In accepting the International Junior Award after winning major Asian tournaments at junior and senior level, Watson thanked everyone from the training staff at City Gym to his parents, family, and sponsors who help him compete around the world.

"It does mean a lot to me and it inspires me to achieve more."

Standout golfer and Harewood Open winner Tara Raj spoke along the same lines, as like Watson, she had great success in tournaments against adults in the last year.

Her parents, sisters, coach, the Future Champions Trust and Wanganui Golf Club were all recognised.

"You guys are always there for me and I really appreciate it."

Golfer Tara Raj was the National Junior Sportsperson of the Year.
Golfer Tara Raj was the National Junior Sportsperson of the Year.

Unable to make it back in time from Taranaki, jockey Lisa Allpress was represented by husband Karl on the stand to accept the National Sportsperson of the Year trophy again after she regained the national jockey premiership by riding 133 winners in 2018-19.

"It's a fantastic season this year, a long hard season again," Allpress said in a recorded message.

"To get another premiership, it was well worth it, after the injuries I sustained, to get back out there on the track," she said, referring to the bad shoulder injury of late 2017.

"Thank you to all my supporters that are out there. My family, my friends, the people that are there to pick up the pieces when the days are not as good as what they can be."

Krystine Davies receives the Masters Award for another great season of speed skating.
Krystine Davies receives the Masters Award for another great season of speed skating.

It was an excellent night for the inline skaters as multiple time national masters champion Krystine Davies once again received the Masters Award, while the man that trained her and others to win 24 national titles, Gary Clark, received the Coach of the Year prize.

"Thanks to my coach Gary Clark, and Hayden [Gibson] and the Mitre 10 crew for the carpark, and the sponsors," Davies said.

A clearly emotional Clark also thanked Gibson and the Mitre 10 Mega staff for letting them use their land as the training base for his charges, including lights in the winter.

"I'm a little bit taken aback, I didn't expect this," Clark said.

"I've got some fantastic skaters, some real athletes, and they've done me proud."

Inline speed skating's Garry Clark was the Coach of the Year.
Inline speed skating's Garry Clark was the Coach of the Year.

In the Masters grade, there was a special recognition prize given to the Aramoho Whanganui Rowing Club's Master's crew, who had won 25 medals, including 11 golds, at the National Masters regatta at Lake Ruataniwha this year.

A regular nominee and multiple time past winner of Coach of the Year is Collegiate's Alec McNab, and Sophie Redmayne made sure to thank him along with the supportive families when she accepted the Junior Team of the Year award on behalf of the Senior Girls 4x400 Sprint Relay squad.

Sophie Redmayne accepts the Junior Team of the Year trophy on behalf of her Whanganui Collegiate 4x400m Relay team.
Sophie Redmayne accepts the Junior Team of the Year trophy on behalf of her Whanganui Collegiate 4x400m Relay team.

Redmayne, Emma Osborne, Ana Brabyn, Tayla Brunger, and Genna Maples had an outstanding season, including a new national record in winning the NZ Secondary Schools title along with a silver at the NZ Athletics Championships against centre teams.

"Relay's a huge part of our athletics at school and we're really delighted to receive this award," Redmayne said.

Just as pleased was the Whanganui Premier Men's Rink Hockey squad, who received the Senior Team of the Year award for winning the first national title for their club since 1988.

They cordially invited local kids to give "alternative" sports a go while searching for a code that suited them.

The Whanganui Premier Men's Rink Hockey squad were the Senior Team of the Year.
The Whanganui Premier Men's Rink Hockey squad were the Senior Team of the Year.

And there was another repeat winner for the Club of the Year prize, going to the Rangitikei Area Distance Riders.

The Riders were recognised for continuing to grow their membership, which is now over 220, while being very active in supporting their community, including raising $11,000 for Marton School in their annual fundraisers, with the volunteer fire brigade the next in line for their assistance.

For the new Hall of Fame members, Pat O'Connor's nephew Kerry was clearly emotional to accept the induction for his late uncle, who died in 1990 after an amazing journey in amateur and then professional wrestling.

"What a great man, what a great career.

"He was our uncle Pat, and he certainly left a legacy."

Jockey Brett Thomson's induction was accepted by his brother Mark, with Thomson being a last minute withdrawal from attending due to a family matter.

"How highly honoured he is to be inducted into the Whanganui Hall of Fame," Mark Thomson said.

Golfer Simon Owen was able to make the trip home, and told wonderful stories of acting as caddy for his mother around the Tawhero course as a young boy, before getting in trouble as a pupil at St Augustine College when he told the sports master he wanted to focus on golf instead of the 1st XV.

"We're so fortunate here to have all the sports facilities we need."

Golfer Simon Owen accepts his induction into the Whanganui Sport Hall of Fame.
Golfer Simon Owen accepts his induction into the Whanganui Sport Hall of Fame.

Joining Castlecliff Golf Club at age 15, Owen would defeat future Golf NZ Hall of Fame inductee Bryan Silk at the Wanganui club champs, before working 18 months as a book keeper for him while Owen competed on the NZ PGA tour for no money, due to the rules of the time.

It was winning the German Open that set the young man on his way, including going toe-to-toe with the great Jack Nicklaus at the 1978 British Open.

Owen thanked his wife and family "for sticking with me through the good times and the lean times on tour".

Award Winners
NZCT National Senior Sportsperson of the Year: Lisa Allpress (Thoroughbred Racing)

Moore Markhams National Junior Sportsperson of the Year: Tara Raj (Golf)

Stihl Shop Wanganui Club of the Year: Rangitikei Area Distance Riders

Mars Petcare Coach of the Year: Gary Clark (Inline Speed Skating)

Treadwell Gordon Junior Team of the Year: Whanganui Collegiate School Senior Girls 4 x 400 Sprint Relay Team

Ali Arc Senior Team of the Year: Whanganui Premier Men's Rink Hockey Team

David Jones Motors Masters Award: Krystine Davies (Inline Speed Skating)

Velo Ronny's Bicycle Store International Junior Sportsperson of the Year: Keightley Watson (Judo)

Mitre 10 MEGA International Senior Sportsperson of the Year: Israel Adesanya (Mixed Martial Arts)

Ray White Wanganui Supreme Award: Israel Adesanya (Mixed Martial Arts)

Other Recognition:
Rivercity Gas Disabled Sportsperson Recognition: Lee Brooks (Equestrian)

Media Works Services to Sport Recognition: Aaron Manville (Hockey); Aimee Merrick (Equestrian Distance Riding); Anna and Tahi Nepia (Waka Ama); Anna Symes (Hockey); Claire Thomas (Football); Des Lock (Rowing); Diane Tasker (Netball); Egelani Taito (Boxing); Kay Kotuhi — Brown (Softball); Pauline Hiroti (Dance Sport); Sascha Mayes (Equestrian); William Hocquard (Hockey).

Whanganui Sports Hall of Fame Inductees: Pat O'Connor; Brent Thomson; Simon Owen.

Sport Whanganui Roll of Honour: Walter Rhodes (Hockey), William (Bill) Tanner (Football).