Israel Adesanya might not be a household name just yet outside the world of MMA, but give it time. The talented UFC fighter is currently moving up the ranks of the combat sports world. While Adesanya’s success almost seems predestined at this point, that wasn’t always the case.
The fact is that he came from rather humble beginnings that nearly forced him to quit martial arts. Let’s take a closer look at Adesanya’s upbringing and story, and how his Mom almost made him give up the one thing he was better at than anything else because he destroyed the family home.
Israel Adesanya’s childhood
Adesanya hails from a country not many UFC fighters come from: Nigeria. After being born there, his family moved to New Zealand. Adesanya said that he was bullied there as a child.
When he became a teenager, he started training as a kickboxer. From there, he made the transition to MMA. Adesanya later joined the UFC, where he’d find significant success as a fighter.
He won the interim middleweight belt with a 2019 victory over Kelvin Gastelum. He also defeated champion Robert Whitaker to win the division’s overall championship.
Adesanya clearly used the bullying of his youth as fuel for his fighting career. But he also faced another brutal opponent in New Zealand that he’d never faced before coming there: racism.
Facing racism in New Zealand
Adesanya was also the victim of horrible discrimination when he got to New Zealand. As the young fighter tells it, it was there where he’d first experience racism. According to the New Zealand Herald, children confronted him with racist taunts that became extremely difficult to stomach. More than anything, he was confused by it. He explained in the interview:
“I really didn’t realize me being black was a problem, until I got to New Zealand…I’m like, ‘Why are you being mean to me, why can’t you be kind?’
“My first week in school, there was a kid who was being a d*ck to me, he lived down the road, he kept riding by my house with his friend telling me, ‘Go back to your own country black’…I didn’t understand it. It was so foreign. I didn’t even know this guy, why was he being so mean to me?”
Fortunately, the discrimination Adesanya faced didn’t stop him from becoming a successful MMA star. But what did almost stop him, very early on in his life and career, was his own mother.
Why Israel Adesanya’s mom forced him to give up martial arts
According to an interview with FanSided, Adesanya said he lost his ability to learn martial arts thanks to some bad behavior around the house. Like many kids his age, he liked to roughhouse at home.
One time, he went a little too hard and ended up paying for it. When he was eight years old, his mother made him stop going to Taekwondo because of his actions in their domicile. He told FanSided:
“I was kicking everything in the house and one time I did a stupid backflip off the couch and broke my arm. I got into a lot of trouble for that… My parents are the biggest UFC fans now. They watch every single UFC card even if I’m not on it. They’re happy with what I’m doing. I don’t have to rub it in their face but they know what’s up.”
Luckily, his parents didn’t hold him out of martial arts for too long, as they would have robbed the world of one of its great fighters. Now, they seem to be big fans of Adesanya’s craft and fully support him in his quest to be the best.