I’ve been noticing a trend in my “Prelims” articles, namely that the comments tend to be either comments about the ring girl in the preview picture or some variation of “who the fook is that guy?” The former is out of my control, but I can offer some aid for the latter.
Welcome to the first installment of New Blood, my knockoff of Bloody Elbow’s great (but inconsistent) “Welcome to the UFC” series. Here, I’ll show you why you should care about guys who are still silhouettes on UFC.com. It’ll be a bit of a sparse opener, since there’s only one debutant this weekend, but it’s someone you’re really going to want to see.
Name: Israel “The Style Bender” Adesanya
Record: 11-0, 11 KO (MMA), 65-5-2, 24 KO (Kickboxing), 5-1, 1 KO (Boxing)
Notable Victories: Kenan Song, Melvin Guillard
Adesanya — who very nearly won the GLORY Middleweight title last year in a narrow loss to Jason Wilnis — is currently ranked No. 5 in the world at the weight by LiverKick.com. That ranking isn’t just from taking out scrubs — he’s beaten the likes of No. 3 Yousri Belgaroui and No. 8 Filip Verlinden, all while splitting his time with mixed martial arts (MMA) since 2012. He is among the highest-level strikers to ever join UFC and is doing so in his athletic prime.
Standing a rangy 6’4,” Adesanya is a sharpshooter, using his lead hand to gauge distance while plugging away with straight punches, body shots and front kicks. He has the footwork to maintain range and a nasty intercepting knee waiting for opponents too eager to get inside. When on the attack, he’s got excellent shot selection, finding room for knees, uppercuts and hooks through and around his opponents’ guards.
True to his name, he’s also more than happy to bust out wilder techniques at the drop of a hat. Flying knees, tornado kicks and a sneaky question mark kick are all available to him if the body punches and right cross aren’t enough. Overall, he just has excellent awareness, both when managing distance and taking advantage of tiny openings. He’s shown some solid throws in the clinch and slips in soccer kicks to the body on hurt opponents, which you just don’t see enough of these days.
The big question, of course, is his takedown defense ... and so far it looks decent. The aforementioned range management means opponents generally have to shoot from too far out, giving him plenty of time to get his hips out of the way. In addition, he’s got at least working knowledge of fighting for grips in the clinch and moves well on the ground.
He has got one big issue, though, and that’s defense. He tends to keep his hands low and retreat in a fairly straight line, preferring to lean at the waist when punches start coming for his face. In other words, he really isn’t that hard to hit under pressure. And while his chin held up for the first 71 kickboxing fights, he suffered his first-ever knockout loss to world No. 1 Alex Pereira in March 2017.
Still, he’s an entertaining and destructive finisher with plenty of time to further acclimate to MMA.
Opponent: He’ll be facing Rob Wilkinson, a decent wrestler nearly as tall as Adesanya. I’d be a bit more worried for Adesanya if “Razor Rob” hadn’t struggled mightily with a blown-up Welterweight in Siyar Bahadurzada. Bahadurzada, despite giving up more than seven inches of reach, repeatedly found the mark with far slower and uglier punches than the sort Adesanya can deliver. Unless Wilkinson can grind harder than he ever has, I expect a triumphant UFC debut for Adesanya.
Tape: Unfortunately, most of his MMA fights happened in China, and as I discovered while hunting for tape for UFC Shanghai, they naturally tend to title and tag their YouTube videos with Chinese characters. And I have no idea how to write Adesanya’s name in Chinese characters. Luckily, GLORY put several of his fights on its YouTube channel in the Queen’s English, so enjoy.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 221 fight card this weekend, starting with the Fight Pass “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on FOX Sports 1 at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET.