By Sunday former Whanganui resident Israel Adesanya could be a world champion.

The mixed martial artist is getting ready to take his fight legacy to the next level by adding Ultimate Fighting Championship gold to his waist.


From taking up Muay Thai in Whanganui a decade ago, to debuting in the UFC only in February last year, Adesanya, 29, will now fight for the UFC's interim middleweight title against fourth ranked middleweight Kelvin Gastelum in Atlanta on Sunday.

Along the way Adesanya, also known as "Izzy" and "The Last Stylebender", has dabbled in professional boxing, racked up more than 50 professional kickboxing wins, and currently boasts an undefeated professional MMA record of 16 wins, 0 loses.

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His opponent, Kelvin Gastelum is known for his strong wrestling game, but also packs a powerful punch with two of his last three victories coming by way of KO.

However, if successful, Adesanya will be the first kiwi who still trains in New Zealand to win a UFC title.

Previous kiwis to fight for UFC gold include the legendary Mark Hunt, who lost an interim heavyweight title fight in 2014, and Rob Whittaker who won the interim middleweight title in 2017, and was crowned undisputed middleweight champion later that year.

Both New Zealand-born fighters now live and train out of Sydney, with a trans-Tasman showdown sure to be booked between Adesanya and Whittaker, if Adesanya can get a win on Sunday.

An interim title match between Adesanya and Gastelum was set up, as Whittaker is currently recovering from illness.

Assassins Muay Thai's Kyle Gallacher, who previously fought on the same Muay Thai cards as Adesanya, said he's not surprised to see Izzy fighting for gold the world stage because "he's just that good".

"I definitely saw it coming, he's got all the ingredients to be a world champion," Gallacher said.

It's been a breakout year for Adesanya, who has captured the imagination of social media, going from around 23,000 Instagram followers prior to his UFC debut in February last year, to now having more than 860,000 followers on the platform.

"He's a very flamboyant kind of person, but also very humble and smart," Gallacher said.

"We catch up when he comes back to town and he's always very on to it."

Israel Adesanya (centre) and a Whanganui dance crew krumping, a style which he says has helped his movement in fighting. Photo / File
Israel Adesanya (centre) and a Whanganui dance crew krumping, a style which he says has helped his movement in fighting. Photo / File

When it comes to the fight itself, Gallacher predicts a win for Adesanya, possibly by knockout in the later rounds.

"Izzy's distance control is just too good, he usually has a height advantage in his fights but to have this much of a height advantage is something else.

"I think he'll stay patient, he's not one to take risks, he's just a smart fighter and I think that's why he's undefeated," Gallacher said.

Gallacher said he'll be huddled around a TV with his Assassin's Muay Thai teammates closely watching the fight on Sunday afternoon.

UFC 236 will be played on Sky Arena and Adesanya is expected to fight around 4pm Sunday afternoon.