Israel Adesanya is understandably proud of all he’s accomplished since first arriving in the UFC but perhaps his greatest achievement is that he’s never let any of it change him or how he’s approaching his future in the sport.
Since becoming UFC middleweight champion, the 32-year-old Nigerian-born fighter has rocketed into superstardom and the fruits of his labor paid off in many ways after he inked a lucrative new contract just days ahead of his next fight that his management team said will make him one of the highest paid athletes in the history of the sport.
As much as he appreciates that the UFC has made such a massive financial investment in him, Adesanya isn’t exactly celebrating the deal because to him that means the hard work is really just starting.
“It hasn’t hit me yet to be honest,” Adesanya told MMA Fighting. “I know it’s a big deal. I know that because [my coach] Eugene [Bareman] and [my manager] Tim [Simpson] and even my father congratulated me several times.
“We had moments but it really hasn’t hit me cause as much as I’m doing this for the money, it’s not just about the money. It’s about kicking ass and taking names but it’s a delicious deal and I’m satisfied with it … for now. I’m not done yet.”
While it’s almost expected that this level of success will transform a person into someone almost unrecognizable from who they once were, Adesanya promises he will never let that happen to him.
There’s no doubt that he enjoys the nicer things in life and his UFC career has already afforded him the kind of financial security that he’ll never want for anything else but he’s well aware that fame and fortune can be both a blessing and a curse.
Adesanya has seen so many cautionary tales when it comes to high-profile athletes that he refuses to allow himself to suffer any of those pitfalls.
Perhaps even more important are the people around Adesanya, who he says keep him accountable in all facets of his life every single day.
“Knock on wood, you won’t catch me on TMZ doing something crazy,” Adesanya said. “Because I have the right people around me. The right people who ground me. I keep my circle very tight and I make sure I’m loved.
“I’m surrounded by people who actually give a f*ck about me, who love me, who want the best for me and vice versa and I do the same for them. I’ve evolved but I keep the same energy. I said that from the jump. I keep the same energy.”
Outside the cage, Adesanya has also increased his visibility through a number of high-profile endorsements and business projects that continue to flourish.
Back in 2020, Adesanya became the first mixed martial artist to ever earn a sponsorship deal with Puma while becoming the face of their Oceania division as well as being featured in global ads around the world.
Just a few months ago, his passion for anime transformed into a voice acting role for the popular Netflix series Baki Hanma. He’s also a part owner in Engage, a clothing and equipment company, but even that went far beyond an investment strategy because he wanted to work alongside one of the founders.
“The man that started Engage, Ash Belcastro, he’s a guy that when he first approached us, I just thought he’s another guy with another idea,” Adesanya explained. “But when I really got to know him and felt him and he stuck around, I realized this guy’s not just looking to make a quick grab. He’s actually really passionate about what he does.
“Ash will talk to you about stitches or laces or zippers for f*cking an hour. I can talk about it for like five or 10 minutes but he will ramble on about the lacing in the gloves, this and that, cause he’s passionate. I don’t care what you do in life, f*cking you’re a trash collector, if you’re passionate about something, it’s infectious and his passion is infectious.”
Of course, the person Adesanya trusts most in the world is always by his side even if he’s not present during every press conference or sitting in his corner during fights.
The man he’s called “Dadesanya” — his father Oluwafemi Adesanya, an accountant by trade, keeps a close watch on his son and that’s something Israel never takes for granted.
“I’m so glad I have one of the smartest men with money behind me,” Adesanya said about his father. “Rest in peace to Khabib [Nurmagomedov’s] dad. He was a guy that was with his son, cornering him, training him, building him up for fighting.
“I’m glad I have the smartest man I know with money my dad behind me, training me, building me up on how to flip my money the right way.”
If he’s victorious over Robert Whittaker in the UFC 271 main event Saturday, Adesanya’s profile will only grow larger and it’s likely the promotion will make an even bigger push for him now after he signed this new deal with them.
That might be overwhelming for some fighters but Adesanya has been predicting this kind of success since the day he first joined the UFC roster.
Obviously, Adesanya will never pretend to be infallible but addressing his mistakes and correcting course is why he’s confident that once the spotlight dims and the crowds empty the arena he’ll still be proud of the man he sees staring back at him in the mirror.
“I’m not saying I’m perfect,” Adesanya said. “I’m not a f*cking saint. I’m just a person. There’s no good or bad people. They’re just people and people are capable of great good and great evil. Yeah, I have my flaws. I have things I’m not proud of. I have a past as well. But I learn from my mistakes unlike some people. I actually learn from my mistakes and I never repeat them again.
“That’s why I’m on the path that I’m on and also what I said before, I have the right people around me who love me and want the best for me.”