Israel Adesanya’s mercurial rise to contention has been nothing short of amazing. In just over a year, “the Last Stylebender” has become an electrifying figure in the middleweight division, wowing the crowd with his flamboyant fighting style and dominating opponents with sheer efficiency.

The 29-year-old Nigerian is undefeated in 17 MMA fights, six of which coming at the expense of UFC’s best middleweights. He pulled off a smashing UFC debut by knocking out Rob Wilkinson in the second round of their clash at UFC 221. He remained busy in the ring over the next 12 months, defeating Marvin Vettori (split decision), Brad Tavares (unanimous decision), Derek Brunson (TKO), and MMA legend Anderson Silva (unanimous decision).

This succession of impressive wins by Adesanya compelled UFC to book him to a fight against the No.5 ranked middleweight Kelvin Gastelum for the UFC interim middleweight championship at UFC 236. The Nigerian-born MMA artist never wasted the opportunity bestowed upon him as he unleashed an all-out attack on Gastelum on his way to earn a unanimous decision win and a shot at Robert Whitaker for the undisputed middleweight championship.

The New McGregor

In the UFC 236 press conference, UFC president Dana White showered Adesanya with lots of praise after recording another swashbuckling win. He talked about the fighter’s exciting fighting style, his ability to engage in a war of words, and of course his overflowing charisma inside and outside the Octagon.

White even said Adesanya’s rapid rise to relevance is quite similar to that of Connor McGregor, who took the MMA world by storm with his larger-than-life personality and monumental victories against the best of UFC’s featherweight and lightweight divisions.

“I’m sure many of you saw it tonight. Israel’s flashy, Israel’s a good-looking kid, Israel speaks really well. Israel became a star tonight,” White told reporters during the presser.

“You know who he reminds me of? Connor McGregor,” White said of Adesanya. “That’s what Connor did. Connor came in, he stayed active, he built up a lot of notoriety, had some great fights and people knew his name and people wanted to see him fight.

UFC’s Marketing Machine

By looking at Adesanya’s accomplishments over the last 14 months, it’s noticeable that there’s indeed a striking resemblance to McGregor’s run from 2013 to 2016. During that stretch, the Irish MMA power horse fought 10 times inside the Octagon in rapid succession.

After winning the UFC featherweight strap via first-round KO of then pound-for-pound king Joe Aldo, McGregor only needed three more fights for him to become the first fighter to simultaneously hold two division belts. Even more impressive is that the two welterweight fights against Nate Diaz have transformed him into a bona fide mega-star, becoming the sport’s most bankable personality.

“Israel Adesanya is on the same trajectory right now,” White added. “He’s doing the same exact thing Connor did. And you know what Israel doesn’t say when we call him? He doesn’t say no. Do you think he would say: ‘I’m on vacation, I’m not going to show up to fight for a belt, and the possibility to get a shot at the champion and make pay-per-view money’? He says ‘Yeah, I’ll see you in Atlanta.’

There’s no telling if Adesanya will become as huge of a star as McGregor. However, his achievements in the ring along with his rising entertainment value are steadily putting him in the same breath as the Notorious. Moreover, McGregor’s inactivity, whether you believe in his retirement or not, has left a gaping hole in the UFC’s money-making machine.

White is a marketing genius. He knows how to build stars from scratch. No offense to McGregor fanatics, his success wasn’t made possible without White’s uncanny ability to book fights that intrigue fans the most.

Fans see this in the two fights against Diaz, the unification showdown with Eddie Alvarez and the grudge war with Khabib Nurmagomedov. The UFC boss just knows how to strike while the iron is hot. And right now, White is molding Adesanya to become the next mainstream superstar.

However, Connor’s ego doesn’t seem very pleased with the comparisons. After a well-known MMA reporter tweeted that Adesanya set the record for more knockdowns in a match, McGregor immediately came up to claim that stat, referring to his fight with Alvarez.

Meanwhile, the Nigerian fighter rejects comparisons, saying that each of the athletes in making their own journey. He praises Connor’s commitment, nevertheless, confessing that the one thing he really appreciates is ‘his love for fighting’.

 

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