By Christopher Reive in Melbourne

Israel Adesanya wants his name to live on long after he leaves the world of mixed martial arts behind.

A decorated kickboxer and undefeated in the MMA arena, it wasn't until he signed with the UFC in late 2017 that the world took notice.

In the spotlight of the world's biggest MMA promotion, Adesanya's legacy has grown. In the past 18 months, the 30-year-old has soared to worldwide stardom. After just six fights with the UFC, he's become one the company's biggest, most well-recognised stars.


But unlike a lot of the company's stars, Adesanya has a point of difference — he did his growing outside the UFC. While working the various fighting circuits in Australia, China and New Zealand, Adesanya learned his lessons away from the scrutiny of the wider world.

"I took my time to get into the UFC so I made sure I was ready not just physically, but mentally, emotionally, spiritually and maturely," he said.

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"I've made my mistakes outside the UFC and I'm glad they were away from the spotlight. This day, you make a mistake, and that's it — it's on you for life. The public opinion of you, whenever you name comes up, that's what they're going to remember."

Today, Adesanya will make the walk to the UFC octagon for a legacy-making fight against Australian Robert Whittaker for the middleweight championship. The bout will be the headline fight on the UFC 243 card at Melbourne's Marvel Stadium, which is expected to draw a capacity crowd of almost 60,000.

Robert Whittaker and Israel Adesanya will fight for the UFC middleweight championship at UFC 243. Photo / Getty Images
Robert Whittaker and Israel Adesanya will fight for the UFC middleweight championship at UFC 243. Photo / Getty Images

In 2015, when the UFC hosted an event at the same venue, Adesanya watched on from the nosebleeds as Holly Holm shocked the world with a knockout win over then-unbeaten women's bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey.

It is a moment Adesanya hopes to replicate against Whittaker, who is unbeaten at middleweight and hasn't lost a bout since 2014, when he was fighting in the welterweight division.

On the eve of the biggest fight of his career, Adesanya reflected on how far his journey has come in the past four years and that while he's become a worldwide name, his approach to the game and the traditions of the sport will always remain the same.


"My coach will tell me to go sweep the mats and I don't protest. This is martial arts, you have to have that code, that honour; that respect for your coach.

"A lot of people don't have that any more. I've seen it in the highest level — I've seen people yell at their coach. I'd get f***ing slapped, I'd get regulated.

"You have to have that respect. I might be the biggest f***ing star in this f***ing game but I will always bow down to [coach] Eugene [Bareman]. I will always respect my elders and the people that got me to this game, but a lot of people don't have that any more; and people say I'm not humble? Get the f*** out of here."

Tristram Apikitoa, Israel Adesanya, Eugene Bareman and Andrei Paulet. Photo / Getty Images
Tristram Apikitoa, Israel Adesanya, Eugene Bareman and Andrei Paulet. Photo / Getty Images

While he's been a student of mixed martial arts for more than a decade, Adesanya knows the career he's chosen won't last. In fact, it probably won't see him through the next decade. But since making his UFC debut in February last year, he's gone about acquiring a small empire — acquiring about 20 properties around New Zealand.

"You have to set yourself up right," he said. "I don't want to be fighting when I don't want to fight ... if I'm not passionate about something, I'm not going to do it. After this, I might have my own production company and get into eSports or animation or voiceover acting.

"I'm not here for a long time; I'm here for a great time."

Everyone's legacy starts somewhere and, for Adesanya, it was the decision to pack up and move from Whanganui to Auckland to pursue the dream. It's the struggles of those early years that he looks back to now.

"I fight like I'm broke. There's a quote — it's hard to get up in the morning when you sleep in silk sheets. I make myself get up. That's the challenge, that's the first fight of the day.

"I'm always fighting — every f***ing day."

Tale of the Tape

Israel Adesanya v Robert Whittaker

Age: 30 | 28
Record: 17-0 | 20-4
Height: 193cm | 183cm
Reach: 203cm | 187cm