The main card of UFC 230 in New York kicked off with a near-perfect performance by one of the sport’s fastest-rising stars in Israel Adesanya, who completed his transition from middleweight prospect to bona fide contender.
“The Last Stylebender” faced his toughest opponent yet on Saturday night when he came face-to-face with an experienced, heavy-handed wrestler in Derek Brunson, who has shared the Octagon with some of the best fighters at middleweight including Ronaldo Souza, Lyoto Machida and Robert Whittaker. As expected, Brunson wasted no time trying to take down his opponent, but found little success as Adesanya stuffed every attempt while putting on a striking masterclass and ending the fight late in the first round.
The 29-year-old’s performance was not lost on Ultimate Fighting Championship President Dana White, who told reporters at the UFC 230 post fight press conference (video) that he was hugely impressed with the undefeated middleweight given the calibre of his opponent.
“Israel has been a guy who has been on the rise here for a minute, but I really felt like tonight was his first big test,” White said. “His opponent hits like a truck and wrestles really well, and Madison Square Garden, opening the show, man, did he deliver. Many people -- including me -- think this kid is the future, and he went out and put a stamp on it tonight.
“The minute I saw this kid, I was like, holy sh*t this is really good, I like this,” White added. “Then you hear him talk, I like that too. He’s the whole package. He is very ambitious, I would like him to pump the brakes a little bit. This guy wants to f*cking fight everybody right now and he wants to fight every month, which I love.
“Listen, you want to become a big star?” White continued. “Keep fighting. If you’re a young guy who’s healthy enough to fight all the time, I absolutely advise it. Do it. What you don’t want to do is put on a great performance and disappear because people forget real quickly. But yeah, I like him very, very much and I don’t want to move him as fast as he wants to be moved, so he and I will get together and find a happy medium.”
Adesanya has said he will be taking his time in deciding who his next opponent would be with one eye on the title fight between current champion Robert Whittaker and Kelvin Gastelum at UFC 234 next February. Alternatively, after Ronaldo Souza’s win over Chris Weidman on Saturday, the UFC may decide to pair Adesanya and Souza on the same card, with the added appeal that the event is scheduled to take place in Australia, close to Adesanya’s adoptive home of New Zealand.