ISRAEL ADESANYA’S transition from Next Big Thing to current superstar was further solidified having won Fighter of the Year again.
The UFC middleweight champion, for the second year in a row, picked up the honour at the 2020 World MMA Awards.
Israel Adesanya won the 2020 Fighter of the Year award[/caption]
He also got the nod for International Fighter of the Year, pipping Khabib Nurmagomedov to both.
Ever since Adesanya’s transition from kickboxing world champion to UFC newcomer in 2018, he has threatened to be the next global attraction.
Within one year he was already undisputed champion, fighting an amazing seven times in doing so, with SIX performance of fight or the night bonuses.
With that kind of activity and excitement it was only a matter of time until Adesanya, 31, was considered among the sport’s elite figures.
Legendary pair Anderson Silva, 45, and Georges St-Pierre, 39, had already conceded their titles as UFC poster boys to the new age of stars.
Jon Jones, 33, has since maintained his argument as pound-for-pound king despite his personal battles outside the cage.
And Conor McGregor, 32, cemented himself as top dog almost instantly having enjoyed a meteoric rise since his 2013 debut.
But, with just two fights, and only one victory, since the Irishman won the 2016 Fighter of the Year, inconsistency has hampered his dominance.
The New Zealander is the UFC middleweight champion [/caption]
That is where arch rival Khabib Nurmagomedov, 32, shined, as he dethroned McGregor as lightweight champion in 2018.
Nurmagomedov, now 29-0 and current P4P No1, appeared to be breathing down McGregor’s next as the UFC’s new face.
The Russian and Dagestani hero – who is a devote Muslim – had the huge fanbase and winning record to standout above the rest.
But that was until he announced a shock retirement in October, unable to fight on without the backing of his influential father, who passed away in July.
With Khabib, McGregor and Jones all proving to have uncertain futures, Adesanya is racing clear of the pack due to his performances in and out of the cage.
As well as fighting frequently, he is taking on the best in his division, with wins over ex-champions or title contenders in Silva, Kelvin Gastelum and Robert Whittaker.
Adesanya beat UFC legend Anderson Silva [/caption]
Adesanya knocked out Paulo Costa [/caption]
And, as champion he has faced the true No1 contenders, in both Yoel Romero and Paulo Costa.
Not only is he racking up the wins, he is doing so in style.
His flashy striking skillset and killer instinct make for a genuine pay-per-view standout, with fans almost guaranteed an exciting fight.
And, as well as walking the walk in the octagon, Adesanya, who is unbeaten in 20 fights, proves value for money in the build up.
His quick wit and supreme confidence has helped build his character, something fans will invest in either to love or loathe.
Like McGregor, Adesanya has an equally long highlight-reel of trash talk and knockouts.
His popularity was so great that he joined Jorge Masvidal, 36, on the cover of UFC 4 – the latest edition in their video game.
And this November he provided commendatory for Mike Tyson’s comeback fight against Roy Jones Jr.
With Khabib insisting he has no interest in reversing his retirement, Jones and Adesanya sit atop of the P4P rankings.
And it seems fitting that UFC president Dana White admitted the one fight he wants to see most in 2021 would be between the rivals.
Adesanya can no longer be considered one for the future – instead a star of the present.
Should he be successful in moving up to light-heavyweight, where he is due to challenge newly crowned champion Jan Blachowicz, it will only enhances his case as the UFC’s No1.
Then, if he was to settle the score with Jones, it offers the perfect passing of the torch fight for Adesanya, who could surpass the American all-time great.
At this point, like has been the case with Jones and McGregor in the past, only Adesanya himself can derail his ever-growing momentium.
And with the right fights next year, it could be the year Stylebender turns potential into supremacy as he finds himself within touching distance of superstardom.