Israel Adesanya’s utterly bonkers kickboxing record clearly put him in good stead for his run as UFC middleweight champion.
Having decided to start taking MMA seriously at the age of 20, it did not take long before Adesanya realised he had quite the talent.
In New Zealand, it’s almost a right of passage to enter an eight-man tournament called King in the Ring. It pits some of the best fighters against each other in a gruelling competition that starts and finishes on the same night providing the ultimate test of skill and endurance.
“It’s the peak of kickboxing success,” Dan Hooker has said of the event that began in 2011. “It’s the first step – and certainly the pinnacle of getting nationally recognised.”
To win the King in the Ring, you must win three three-round fights – something Adesanya pulled off three times.
The Last Stylebender lived up to his nickname in all three contests, combining boxing and kicking to crush his opponents.
No one could get close, first competing in the King in the Ring in August 2014 at cruiserweight when he beat Slava Alekseychik by unanimous decision.
That would be his last UD victory of the tournament, going on to destroy Pati Afoa and Jamie Eades by knockout in the semi-final and final.
That saw Adesanya claim victory in Auckland for the first time but he would be back a year later in April 2015 to fight again.
This time, he would dominate even further, beating Kim Loudon by technical knockout in the quarter-final.
On the same night, Adesanya left Mark Timms dazed by beating him via TKO in the second round before another resounding victory over Afoa in the final, again by TKO.
His domination in Auckland did not stop there and he moved up a weight division to take on the heavyweights – with resounding success.
Later that same year in 2015 in October, Adesanya was back and kicked off his first kickboxing bout at heavyweight level with a TKO win over Nase Foai.
That included an astonishing kick in the first round that exemplified all of Adesanya’s strength and mobility.
In the semi-finals, he took on arguably his biggest – in literal size – opponent in Dan Roberts.
A towering Australian with muscle to back him up, he lasted all of 36 seconds before Adesanya planted a brutal left jab that left Roberts on the canvas.
To an ever-adoring crowd, the Lagos-born fighter pulled out his signature celebration by laying across the ropes with his feet up as if to say – job well done, who’s next?
As it turned out, it would be a rematch with Eades, whom he knocked out in the first round of the first King in the Ring final he reached in August 2014.
It was a much-closer fight, though, this time with Eades taking Adesanya the full three rounds.
But after knocking him down three times – including a beautifully-executed kick in the second-round – the judges gave the fight to Adesanya.
That made it three out of three King in the Ring tournaments for Adesanya, who has since gone on to become a two-time UFC middleweight champion.
Though he lost his belt in his most recent UFC bout against Sean Strickland, Adesanya still built up a reputation as heavy kicker with a big range, standing at 6ft 4in.
Adesanya’s next fight is yet to come to light, though UFC 300 could be a possibility and he may take on current king at 186Ibs Dricus Du Plessis.
UFC president Dana White has promised fireworks for the event.
Staying true to his roots is important to the 34-year-old and he was back in Auckland to watch a King in the Ring. He was blocking every kick and making every strike in his mind and was probably tempted to get back in the ring and improve his jaw-dropping kickboxing record of 75 wins and five losses.