Israel Adesanya has come through his toughest mixed martial arts challenge with a split decision victory over Marvin Vettori in UFC Glendale, Arizona, Sunday.
It is the first time the former Whanganui fighter Adesanya has been taken the distance in 13 MMA fights, and while the win wasn't as dominant as his dismantling of Rob Wilkinson in his UFC debut in Perth in February – for which he earned a performance bonus – he got it done after being taken to the floor in the third and final round.
Adesanya has made no secret of the fact that his strength is his striking ability, and it was perhaps fortunate for him that he had worn down Italian Vettori to such an extent in the first two rounds that his opponent couldn't make the most of his several takedowns in the third.
In the end Adesanya did show good strength to get back to his feet and the pair were separated by the referee due mainly to Vettori's lack of workrate.
On the positive side, Adesanya, nicknamed "the Last Stylebender", hit Vettori almost at will in the first two rounds and showed a remarkable ability to judge the distance and avoid being hit himself. It would have been clear to most observers that he won the first two rounds so for one of the referees to score it 2-1 to Vettori was odd to say the least.
Changing from orthodox to southpaw, Adesanya made the most of his height and reach advantage and made Vettori, who had no choice but to plod forward, look two-dimensional in comparison.
After Adesanya announced himself with such a charismatic performance in his debut, UFC president Dana White watched closely cage-side.
His constant feinting and inside kicks to Vettori's legs sapped his opponent's strength, but he couldn't find the knockout blow despite showing an impressive array of strikes from fists and feet.
Vettori said before this middleweight fight that one of his attributes was his "marble head", and it held up well apart from a cut above his right eye. He also had to cope with an accidental eye poke in the first round and a beautiful right elbow from Adesanya in the second.
"Hats off to him, his marble head held up like he said," Adesanya said in the octagon afterwards. "He had better head movement than I anticipated. I don't know, a win's a win but I'm not happy with it."