COMMENT:

Israel Adesanya has been saying for a long time that he would one day be among the biggest stars in mixed martial arts. It only took him winning the UFC middleweight championship from Robert Whittaker for people to start listening.

The charismatic Kiwi stopped Whittaker in the second round of their bout in Melbourne at the weekend, planting him with a one-two combination of hooks. It was Whittaker's first loss as a middleweight in nine fights in the division.

Since making his UFC debut in February last year, Adesanya hasn't shied away from calling his shots. Coming into the UFC with a 12-0 record with 11 wins by knockout, the Kiwi has improved his record to 18-0 – taking the title in the process.

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While he and American Kelvin Gastelum fought out what will go down as one of the best fights in UFC history in April, Adesanya was still seen by many as all hype. But in beating Whittaker - who went 10 rounds with Cuban Yoel Romero, who is seen by many as the division's toughest contender – there's no longer an argument to deny Adesanya's ability.

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Now, he's in a position to do something not even the All Blacks could – sell out arenas and stadiums anywhere in the world. You only have to go as far as searching Google's search trends from the past seven days to see his reach. In the United States and throughout Europe and Asia, Adesanya is more searched than both the All Blacks and Rugby World Cup, while he was more searches on a worldwide scale than both at the time of his fight against Whittaker and immediately after.

Say what you might about combat sports, the interest in them is growing rapidly and Adesanya is leading the way.

His win over Whittaker came on the biggest stage in UFC history, with the 57,127 in attendance at Marvel Stadium breaking the record set at the same venue in 2015, and seen by millions of people worldwide. Adesanya is now in rarefied air, joining the likes of Steven Adams, Lydia Ko and Scott Dixon as New Zealand's biggest sporting stars on a worldwide level.

In the space of nine minutes in the cage, the church of the Stylebender converted naysayers into believers – with Adesanya becoming the biggest active star in the UFC.

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From a business point of view, the 30-year-old winning the title was probably the best-case scenario. He's outspoken, brash, charismatic and entertaining, and backs up everything he says inside the octagon.

In his seven bouts in the UFC, he has been awarded six performance bonuses - including a reported US$490,000 ($780,000) from the Whittaker fight. Adding to that, he plans to be an active champion and fight as often as possible.

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Simply put, Adesanya is a marketing team's dream.

Israel Adesanya avoids a right from Robert Whittaker in Melbourne. Photo / Photosport
Israel Adesanya avoids a right from Robert Whittaker in Melbourne. Photo / Photosport

"No one is doing anything like I'm doing," Adesanya said after the win. "I showed you guys tonight I can do things that no one else has ever done.

"I've done one thing I set out to do which is become the UFC champion. Now, it's about defending that title actively, not just fight, like, twice a year. I'm going to do what I'm going to do – I'm going to write my own legacy."