The local fighting community will be "huddled round the TV waiting for the head kick" when the young Nigerian who threw his first blows in anger in Whanganui will make his debut in the Ultimate Fighting Championship tomorrow.

Expat Israel Adesanya, 28, will make his hyped debut as a middleweight on the preliminary card of UFC 221: Romero vs. Rockhold against Sydney's Rob Wilkinson, 25, at the Perth Arena.

A native of Odogbolu, the Ogun State of Nigeria, Adesanya was born in Lagos and moved to New Zealand with his family in 2001, initially in Rotorua.

After they came to Whanganui, the young Adesanya took up Muay Thai under Derek Broughton, before he moved to Auckland to begin a professional kickboxing career with Eugene Bareman at City Kickboxing.


In kickboxing, Adesanya carved out an impressive resume with a 65-5-2 record, including 24 knockouts, with the highest profile being his challenge for the Glory middleweight title in January 2017 against Dutch champion Jason Wilnis in Los Angeles – losing a contentious points decision.

Along with kickboxing, in 2012 Adesanya began broadening his repertoire into Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) and now owns a perfect 11-0 record, all by stoppage.

He got a lot of attention when he defeated former UFC veteran Melvin Guillard by TKO in July to win the Australian Fighting Championship middleweight title in Melbourne.

Adesanya's former Whanganui sparring partner and another New Zealand champion Kyle Gallacher said their former stablemates were all excited to watch the event.

"I'm going to take as much money as I can and putting it all on Izzy, that's for sure."

Wilkinson (12-1) lost his UFC debut to Netherlands-based fighter Siyar Bahadurzada (23-6) in September by knock out, and Gallacher thought the Aussie was the perfect first up opponent for Adesanya to impress.

"That just shows the level, I think Izzy is going to eat him up.

"I've watched fights of [Wilkinson], he's got holes in his game."

Nicknamed 'The Style Bender' for his unique kicking and punching, plus his rapid fire combinations and devastating knee strikes while clinching with his opponent, Adesanya could become very easily marketable by the UFC by putting in a good performance.

Even though this is his debut on the big stage, Gallacher believes the 1.90m tall fighter should not need extra caution to try and grind out a win, but should stick with the all-offence style that has brought him success.

"That's the deal with these highlight-reel finishers – they look good and they get you attention, but they're also effective.

"That's his game – setting up devastating KO's [knock outs]."

Another unique circumstance is that Adesanya's bout, scheduled for sixth on a 12-fight card, is likely to get underway in the mid-morning, as the event will start at 7am in order to be shown in the regular American television time slot of Saturday evening, US time.

Almost all the fights in Adesanya's career would have been afternoon or evening affairs, but Gallacher said the time difference will be no problem, as both men have to go through it.

"Izzy's camp, they leave no stone un-turned, they prep for that.

"If he's fighting in the morning, then his sparring and training will have been at that time."

Adesanya and Bareman were working towards getting the UFC's attention for a while, finally signing a four-fight deal late last year.

In order to get the feel of being inside a UFC event with the crowd noise, Adesanya went to the octagon with his gym-mate Dan Hooker (15-7) for his submission win over Marc Diakiese at UFC 219 in Nevada this December.

"I already knew I needed to make that walk with him out to the octagon," Adesanya said in a NZ Herald interview last week.

"I kind of already knew it would be the same thing so I made the walk behind him and realised I've done this before, this is just another show - different cage, same energy.

"It was good just to make that walk to reaffirm to myself that I belong here."

Although he has won all MMA fights by knockout and admits he likes to pick at his opponent until they fall down, Adesanya said there were a number of tricks in his bag he hadn't had a chance to pull out yet.

He has the option to fight under the Nigerian or New Zealand flag, but said when he steps up for a bout, he wouldn't represent a particular nation, but a group.

"I represent whoever represents me, wherever in the world you are, any sexual orientation or religion, if they represent me I represent them."