By Christopher Reive in Melbourne
In most lines of work, it would be hard to take being called a rash as anything but an insult. But when Israel Adesanya refers to wrestling coach Frank Hickman as such, he means it as nothing but praise.
Hickman, the head wrestling coach at the famed Tiger Muay Thai gym in Phuket, took up residence at Auckland's City Kickboxing to help the fighters in camp ahead of UFC 243.
Between Hickman and resident wrestling coach Andrei Paulet, the City Kickboxing stable has been put through its paces on the mat over the past couple of months.
"He's a rash; trying to get him off you is just work," Adesanya said of Hickman. "He gives you that work and he's constant, he's like a work dog, a working breed."
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Bringing Hickman into the camp was a decision all about upskilling. Adesanya and fellow City Kickboxing fighters Dan Hooker and Brad Riddell will fight as part of UFC 243 at Melbourne's Marvel Stadium on Sunday, while teammate BJ Bland will fight on local promotion Eternal MMA's card in Melbourne on Friday night.
Adesanya goes into the biggest fight of his career on Sunday, meeting Sydney-based Robert Whittaker in the five-round main event for the UFC middleweight championship.
While he hasn't shown much of it during his UFC career, Whittaker has a strong background in wrestling – qualifying to compete for Australia at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
While whether or not Whittaker will look to take the fight to the mat on Sunday remains to be seen, but Adesanya knows he's ready for whatever comes his way.
"It's more for me, for my upskilling, not really because of Robert. Because we're not just worried about this fight, we're worried about the next fight and the one after that as well.
"If Robert pulls out and I have to fight a wrestler on a day's notice, I'll be fine – put it that way."
Adesanya and Whittaker will be the headline fight on the card expected to draw close to 60,000 spectators to Marvel Stadium. The UFC last hosted an event at the venue in 2015, where Americans Ronda Rousey and Holly Holm were the headliners. At that event, Whittaker fought on the card while Adesanya was in attendance – watching from the stands as a fan.
"I remember walking down the street tweeting 'if you see Dana White just keep dropping my name' after the show because I was just so inspired by that show and now I'm headlining the place – wow," he recalled.
"It's a weird way the world works."