Expat Whanganui fighter's Israel Adesanya's ascension to becoming the new face of MMA has motivated, but not surprised, his long-time supporters, including his old sparring partner.
Whanganui's former New Zealand kickboxing champion Kyle Gallacher was among the contingent of friends and family who joined the record 57,000 plus fans at Melbourne's Marvel Stadium to watch Adesanya (18-0) drop Kiwi-born Aussie Robert Whittaker (25-5) in the second round to lift the UFC Middleweight championship and unify it with his interim title.
Seated on ground level not far from the cage, Gallacher agreed the charismatic Adesanya had put in a complete performance – from the time he danced out into the arena to when he walked out of the cage with his new belt.
"I nearly had a heart attack, man," the Whanganui fighter and trainer said from Melbourne this afternoon.
"His walk out, just sparked the energy up so much - that crazy walkout he did.
"The energy in the room was phenomenal.
"I felt like I was fighting, I was nervous like I was fighting. He really got the crowd going."
Now that the hype is passed, the experienced fighter Gallacher could point to the reason for Adesanya's obvious confidence.
Whittaker, while in great shape, was coming off a long injury break, having not fought since early June 2018, whereas the extremely busy Adesanya had four successful fights in that same time frame.
"You could see how tense Rob was when he walked out – he just wasn't in the right mindset – and Izzy's got the beautiful mindset where he understands that when he's having fun and relaxed, he's the best version of himself," said Gallacher.
"He seems to have that down to an art now, especially with all his visualisation, which obviously really helps - the constant mental rehearsal.
"I think Whittaker fans were relying on Rob's heart and tenacity, but that's the wrong strategy against Izzy.
"Izzy just picked him apart and tagged him heaps. Got that knockout."
Along with performing an elaborate dance entrance that will form part of highlights packages for years, Israel Adesanya was immediately able to move on the future, as he called out undefeated Brazilian Paulo Costa (13-0) in his post fight interview.
Only the greats can do that, said Gallacher.
"Biggest fight of his career, most risky fight of his career, and he was able to do the most gangsta walkout ever in UFC, and he took the time to promote his next fight – so he's the full package when it comes to becoming a superstar.
"He's the biggest active fighter in UFC at the moment. No doubt."
Nigerian-born, Adesanya's family moved to Whanganui after six years in Rotorua, attending secondary school year while getting involved in competitive dancing and taking up Muay Thai under local trainer Derek Broughton.
He then moved to Auckland to begin a professional fighting career with Eugene Bareman at City Kickboxing, and the rest is history.
During his training camp for UFC 243, Adesanya had made a quick trip back to Whanganui to visit family while also spending time with Gallacher at his Assassins Muay Thai gym – filming a testimonial for him to encourage people to become members.
Back training his Assassins student classes today, Gallacher agreed he had quite the inspirational story to tell his youngsters.
"I'm really motivated now, I need to get back into it. Definitely want to fight again. Every time I go to these events it motivates me.
"That was insane man. About 60,000, that felt so cool. I went nuts, bro, I went crazy."