History was made on Sunday afternoon as former Whanganui fighter Israel Adesanya won the UFC's interim middleweight title in a hard fought unanimous points decision over American Kelvin Gastelum.
Both men were left cut, battered and bruised from the 25-minute contest, which saw all three judges score the fight 48-46 in favour of Adesanya.
"The Last Stylebender" was able to knock down Gastelum in the second round, but it was the final round where Adesanya pulled ahead, knocking down his opponent another two times which almost caused the referee to stop the fight.
The contest was one of two fights to earn a fight of the night award, which gave both Adesanya and Gastelum a US$50,000 bonus for their efforts.
Adesanya's parents and siblings were at the event in Atlanta and joined him in the Octagon following his victory.
Born in Lagos, Nigeria, Adesanya was 10 when he and his family moved to New Zealand and settled in Rotorua. It wasn't until the Adesanya family moved to Whanganui several years later that Israel took an interest in dancing and fighting, ultimately choosing to pursue a career in combat sports.
James Baker, who trained Muay Thai with Adesanya in Whanganui, said it was always clear Adesanya could go far.
"His talent was obvious right from the start, I had been training in karate a few years before I got seriously into Muay Thai so I wasn't a novice at that point, but Israel overtook me very quickly in terms of skill," Baker said.
Baker said Adesanya had great support from training partners in Whanganui, including Assassins Muay Thai head trainer Kyle Gallacher.
"He really helped Izzy in those early stages and is really gifted too."
In February 2010 Adesanya dropped out of a course in computer graphic design and moved to Auckland to chase his dream of fighting professionally.
Former training partner Kyle Gallacher said Adesanya's first opportunity at UFC gold was one of the craziest fights he'd ever seen.
"It was a good hard test but I think Izzy clearly won, he did more damage and did really well once he got in his rhythm," Gallacher said.
"The fight was truly beyond words, Izzy made history and showed us what's possible with hard work and self-belief."
Gallacher said it was an incredible performance that will push Adesanya's career even further.
"He had to dig deep to win that fight which is awesome because he showed the strength of his heart."
A middleweight title unification match-up between undisputed middleweight champion Robert Whittaker and Adesanya is likely to take place in Australia later this year.