Israel Adesanya: From Naruto fan to UFC champ
That he chose the nickname “The Last Stylebender” should tell you that Ultimate Fighting Championship Middleweight Champion Israel Adesanya is a fan of the anime-influenced American animated series “Avatar: The Last Airbender”. In fact, he even has a tattoo of his favorite character from the show, Toph Beifong, on his forearm. But that’s just scratching the surface of how deep the obsession of this longtime Naruto fan and self-proclaimed anime nerd is.
“Oh, and this bit right here is very significant, hence the intro. ‘Coz he’s the Grim Reaper, and the Grim Reaper is supposed to be the god of death. And I was like, nah, I know the real god of death. Shinigami called Ryuk. So if you know, you know. I took my Death Note out. I put his name in it,” Adesanya said in a video he uploaded to his official YouTube channel to break down UFC 243, where he became the undisputed UFC Middleweight Champion by stopping “The Reaper” Robert Whittaker in the second round with a technical knockout.
From Nigeria to New Zealand
He was referring to that moment inside the ring before the fight started, when he mimed writing Whittaker’s name in the Death Note. Not that most people watching realized that this was what The Last Stylebender was doing.
Adesanya’s full name is Israel Mobolaji Temitayo Odunayo Oluwafemi Owolabi Adesanya, as he announced to the world the first time he headlined a fight in the UFC in 2018, when he dedicated his victory to Nigerians in fluent Yoruba.
Born in Lagos, Nigeria, Adesanya migrated with his family to New Zealand at age 10 and studied at Rotorua Boys’ High School, where he experienced being bullied. After graduating from high school, he enrolled at Universal College of Learning in Whanganui to pursue a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Design, but left during his final year to pursue a career in kickboxing.
It was a movie that changed his life, when he saw the 2003 film “Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior” starring Thai martial artist and actor Tony Jaa. “Ong-Bak” inspired him at age 18 to start training in kickboxing.
The warrior as weeb
His love for anime, however, remains undiminished, and in fact he finds it a source of strength as a fighter.
“The fight scenes was what drew me to anime, but the stories and the depth of the characters kept me there,” he said.
And he proudly shares his obsession with anime in press conferences, interviews, and social media.
“Where do I start? Naruto is just a kid – you can’t even make this a long story, short – but he’s a kid who inspires me based on the way he was brought up and his will-power; his will-power really inspired me, and his morals that he has for his friends and his family, and his code.
“His ninja code could never be broken and I really respect that; not just him but a few other characters like Rock Lee and Shino, Akamaru or Shikamaru; a lot of them. I draw strength from characters that aren’t even ‘real’, quote unquote, because they’re animated.
“‘But they’re real for me and it’s all about what’s in here, what you feel in here [the heart] and I can relate to those guys more than I can to some of the great leaders of our time.”
Adesanya even named his car Kurama after the Nine-Tailed Demon Fox in “Naruto”. And that car is a $650,000 2019 orange McLaren 720s Spider, which he bought as a present for himself 10 days after winning the UFC Middleweight Championship.
Why a 720s? Because of the 720 episodes of “Naruto” he finished watching over the course of four years.
It was his first time to buy a car. Later on he also bought a Porsche for his mom and a Bentley for his dad.
The fighter as dancer
And in case you’re wondering about Adesanya’s dance moves, including during that awesome walkout at UFC 243, he was actually regularly joining dance competitions in New Zealand before he became a fighter.
Apart from anime and cartoons, Adesanya also likes Deadpool and Calvin and Hobbes, whose images are among his tattoos.
“Calvin and Hobbes inside my right bicep. Calvin and Hobbes is a comic I used to read in high school, in the library. I read all the comics that they had of Calvin and Hobbes. And they’re in the box, just chilling or like doing something, playing around, and that’s like the power of imagination,” he said in the GQ Sports video.
Israel Adesanya. A ninja who keeps turning anime moves into real-life moments.
Let’s face it, fellow anime nerds. The Last Stylebender is living the dream.