Thursday, June 13, 2024

Mixed martial arts: Adesanya a class above

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Israel Adesanya – aka The Last Style Bender – retained his UFC world middleweight championship title on Sunday. Photo EssentiallySports

A much as I fear for the long-term mental health of UFC fighters, I admire the confidence and class of New Zealand’s Nigerian-born world middleweight champion Israel Adesanya.

He’s got it all – courage, speed, balance and a mouth that could have competed with that of the late world heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali.

He can also float like a butterfly and sting like a bee. And he’s a lot smarter than many give him credit for although I wish he’d curb his profanities.

His latest second round TKO win against Brazilian knockout specialist Paulo Costa brought his unbeaten record to 20.

With Costa having won all 13 of his previous fights, promoters reckoned it would be the fight of the year. It wasn’t because Adesanya was far too good, just as he said he would be.

He destroyed the Brazilian by bruising his lead leg with low kicks before attacking his head and body with fast punches and kicks.

It was over in the second round when Costa had wrongfully predicted he would knock out the New Zealand star.

At 31 and possessed with the agility and balance of a gymnast, the superbly conditioned Adesanya looks capable of being the king of the cage for many years to come.

It’s a brutal sport that doesn’t have anything like boxing’s Queensberry Rules to protect fighters from head butts, kicks, low blows etc. Yet its barbaric nature has won vast appeal among a fast-growing world-wide audience.

Meanwhile how pleasing it was to see the NZ Warriors complete their NRL season with a 40-28 win against the Manly Sea Eagles under interim coach Todd Payten who will mentor the North Queensland Cowboys next year.

This latest without injured inspirational captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, who stayed behind to support them rather than rush home to Auckland to join his partner and two children after more than 100 days living in Australia.

The game also marked the 331st and last NRL game for tough forward Adam Blair who always took great pride in wearing the Warriors and Kiwis jerseys.

Having finished 10th in the championship despite the loss of key homesick and injured players and the sacking of coach Stephen Kearney, the Warriors should make the play-offs next year under new mentor Nathan Brown.

The signing of Addin Fonua-Blake adds power to the forward pack and the Chanel Harris-Tavita/Kodi Nikorima halves combination should continue to prosper, as will the return of wings Ken Maumalo and David Fusitu’a.

Harris-Tavita’s towering punt immensely improved the kick-and-chase and fullback Tuivasa-Sheck and centre Peta Hiku were consistently outstanding.

With Otago snatching it 30-19 from Taranaki over the past weekend, the Ranfurly Shield has become a hot potato in direct contrast to Auckland’s record reign of 61 defences when they were NZ rugby kings.

True Taranaki didn’t have Beauden and Jordie Barrett to bolster their attack as they did when lifting the famous log from Canterbury the week before. But it did show that the Mitre 10 competition is stronger than many expected it to be.

Ask Canterbury who suffered their second consecutive loss, this time 19-20 at the death to the storming finish of Hawkes Bay.

With captain David Havili scoring three tries in Tasman’s 34-17 romp over Waikato, the defending champions won’t surrender their title easily.

  • Ivan Agnew is an award-winning sports writer and author




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