Israel Adesanya recently regained the Ultimate Fighting Championship (U.F.C.) title in dramatic fashion, his second-round knock-out of Alex Pereira at U.F.C. 287 in Miami bringing a dose of stability to the league that had experienced several champions falling in recent months. The Adesanya-Pereira rivalry runs deep, having met two times on the kickboxing circuit with Pereira coming out on top both times in the earlier stages of their careers.
Adesanya had tripped in the cage in the fifth round at U.F.C. 281, losing to Pereira after leading on the judges’ scorecards, but at U.F.C. 287 Adesanya perfectly timed his counter punches, resulting in the punch-induced knockout and bringing the 185-pound belt back to the champion. His trademark celebration, miming shooting arrows with a bow, was directed at Pereira this time after the championship win.
The U.F.C., owned by media house and conglomerate Endeavor, had seen longer reigning champions such as Ronda Rousey, Jon Jones and Anderson Silva in the earlier stages of building its fan base. However, recent upset losses had clouded the league, this being the case with Kamaru Usman, who had been one win away from tying the U.F.C. record for consecutive victories before being knocked out by Leon Edwards in August at U.F.C. 278. Despite this, U.F.C. President Dana White expressed his belief that the unpredictable nature of the sport was a benefit, as it could help more people become invested in the fights.
The U.F.C’s star power, in part due to Hollywood personality of Conor McGregor, has grown exponentially in recent years. McGregor himself became the sport’s biggest star when he knocked out longtime featherweight champion Jose Aldo in 13 seconds in 2015. More recently Endeavor acquired World Wrestling Entertainment and plans to merge the two powerhouses into one company. The former boxing great Mike Tyson was among celebrities at the Adesanya fight, as was former U.S. President Donald J. Trump.
Israel Adesanya, also known as “The Last Stylebender,” is an Australian-born of Nigerian descent and is currently the 8th ranked pound-for-pound fighter in the U.F.C. Adesanya had been U.F.C.’s 185-pound division champion since 2019 and had defended the belt five times prior to his loss to Pereira in the last bout. After regaining the title, Adesanya told reporters “I’m still a champion and I still carried myself like a champion.” With his invincibility glare restored, Adesanya is sure to remain one of the U.F.C’s biggest stars.
Eugene Bareman, Adesanya’s longtime coach, is the head coach at City Kickboxing, located in Adesanya’s hometown Auckland, New Zealand and home to several of U.F.C.’s top fighters. Bareman’s strategic coaching advice and guidance have been instrumental to Adesanya’s success since joining the gym in 2011. Adesanya himself has said that Bareman has been with him since his early beginnings and “has been with me through highs and lows, from starting from nothing to becoming somebody.”
The U.F.C.’s aim is to keep growing in the mainstream and build on its fan base. Miami has become an annual destination for U.F.C., similar to New York. Adesanya’s victory brought plenty of star power, with celebrities like rapper Drake and retired N.F.L. player Brandon Marshall publicly supporting him, and at least six star N.F.L. players including Odell Beckham Jr. and Justin Jefferson in attendance.
Adesanya’s victory reinforced the idea that U.F.C. can market champions with effective title runs, and that unpredictable results can drive fans to invest further in this sport. It’s an exciting time for U.F.C., and it will be interesting to see how the recent merges with World Wrestling Entertainment will shape its destiny.