Israel Adesanya is a professional mixed martial artist (MMA), kickboxer and former boxer who has won championships in all three disciplines. He is currently signed to the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), where he is the Middleweight Champion. As of April 12th, 2022, Adesanya is ranked third in the UFC men’s pound-for-pound rankings.
While Adesanya’s accomplishments certainly make him a stand-out in the sport, it’s perhaps his passions outside the ring that make him one of the most entertaining fighters within it. Although Adesanya’s professional career requires him to smash, pound and grab his opponents, in his spare time, he enjoys kicking back and watching his favorite anime series from him. Whether it’s Naruto or Avatar: The Last Airbender, Adesanya is obsessed with all things anime-related. From his series of tattoos of his most beloved characters to incorporating classic anime moments in his fights from him, Adesanya continues to raise the flag for fans across the globe.
Israel Adesanya’s Past and Nickname
Israel Adesanya was born in Lagos, Nigeria in 1989. Ten years later, he would relocate to New Zealand with his family, who hoped that their children would receive a more well-recognized education in this country. Throughout high school, Adesanya was not interested in sports but instead discovered a love of Japanese anime and manga. Throughout this period, Adesanya has commented that he felt like an outsider and was consequently bullied because of it. The mistreatment he experienced would spur him on to pursue martial arts later in life.
In May 2010, Adesanya made his debut as a professional kickboxer; however, by 2012, he had begun his mixed martial arts career. After several impressive fights, amassing an 11-0 record, it was announced that Adesanya had signed a contract with the UFC and would make his debut by going up against Rob Wilkinson in February 2018.
While Adesanya pursued fighting as a career, he never gave up his childhood obsession with anime and remains a self-described weaboo. He would later coin his own nickname, “The Last Stylebender,” to reinforce his passion for the cartoon medium and how it has influenced his ideas on martial arts.
On his now notorious moniker, Adesanya has said: “I coined that name from the TV series Avatar. I just related so much to the message and the characters in the show. Aang, the lead in the show, […] had to realize that he was an avatar by mastering all the elements, and I feel the same way in this realm like I have to master all the elements in martial arts to realize that I’m the Avatar of this world.”
Israel Adesanya’s Anime Tattoos
Adesanya’s love for anime has led him to get his favorite characters and anime symbols tattooed onto his body. On his right arm of him, Adesanya has placed an image of Toph from Avatar: The Last Airbenderwhile on his stomach, he has combined two popular anime symbols: “The ocean and moon spirit from the Avatar series and the Nine-Tails seal from Naruto.”
Adesanya has stated that he draws “strength from characters that aren’t even real” because they are more relatable than “some of the great leaders of our time.” He believes that his love of anime and the tattoos that he adorns give him a strength that others do not possess in the ring.
Israel Adesanya’s Anime Fighting Moments
While it would be almost impossible to recount every anime reference that Israel Adesanya has made, both within and outside the ring, there are certainly some that stand out more than others. In November 2018, Adesanya faced off against Derek Brunson and gave a shout-out to one of his all-time anime heroes, Naruto, by performing a summoning jutsu between rounds.
Using ninjutsu has become a key characteristic of this UFC fighter’s style, which he uses to build up his focus and create a performance for the fans. When questioned about why he uses ninjutsu, Adesanya commented: “To everyone that keeps saying that my hand signs are fake. Look, I’ve been drilling these for a long time. These are not fake hand signs, these are for weeaboos, all the anime nerds, you don’t understand […] It’s for my chakra, to infuse them and make sure that I can channel it in that moment.”
In February 2019, Adesanya was pitted against one of the UFC’s greatest legends, Anderson Silva, who still holds the record for the longest title reign in the sport’s history at 2,457 days. During the weigh-in, Adesanya showed off his now infamous Rock Lee pose, which Anderson coincidentally responded to by stoically folding his arms just like Gaara did in Naruto episode 48
By October 2019, Adesanya would go up against Robert Whittaker at UFC 243 for the middleweight title. As his opponent’s pre-fight introduction was being announced inside the Octagon, the Stylebender opened an imaginary book and began to mime writing something down. While this would confuse many of the spectators present at the fight, Adesanya later explained that he was writing Whittaker’s name in his own personal Death Note.
After defeating the middleweight champion, he explained in a post-fight press conference that: “I have a shinigami with me. And I just had to write his name because I knew — he’s not gonna last. I just wrote his name in a Death Note. Those who know the rules of the Death Note, they know. There’s a certain timeframe. After your name’s written in the Death Note, the shinigami will get you.”
For any anime fan, seeing someone as passionate about the medium as Israel Adesanya is a joy to behold. While many might not expect a boxer, particularly one of Adesanya’s caliber, to enjoy what has often been considered a stereotypically “nerdy” pursuit, it doesn’t seem to have stopped him so far. Adesanya has flown in the face of convention and continued to hold a flag for weeaboos around the world.
Adesanya continues to fight to this day to create iconic anime-influenced moments for everyone to enjoy. Whether it’s his display of ninjutsu or discussing anime references in his post-fight conversations, it appears that Adesanya is unlikely to stop giving shout-outs to his favorite anime characters from him. Hopefully, viewers will finally see a fight where another competitor plays along with Adesanya’s antics so that fans can watch this self-proclaimed nerd duke it out against someone also in the know.