Israel 'Izzy' Adesanya fighting Marvin Vettori. Credit: Getty Images
A Tāmaki Makaurau fight gym and Māori fighters' campaign for serious punishments for coward punches got an international endorsement last night when UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya held on to his title - and dedicated his win to a fellow fighter killed only weeks ago.
Adesanya went on to call out the Prime Minister, demanding she change the law to punish coward punches.
Adesanya had defended the gold against an old opponent, 'The Italian Dream' Marvin Vettori in front of a raucous Arizona crowd at UFC 263 last night.
Izzy stands tall again. Credit: YouTube/UFC
Not only that, fellow fighter Brad 'Quake' Riddell claimed a victory over ranked lightweight Drew Dober in the main fight of the prelims, which won Fight Of The Night, taking a US $50,000 bonus as part of it. He is now four from four since joining the UFC in late 2019.
Both fighters dedicated their wins to their late City Kickboxing teammate Fau Vake, who was allegedly attacked from behind on May 16 and later died in hospital on May 23 from injuries sustained from the attack.
Māori fighter campaign
Māori UFC fighters Dan Hooker and Kai Kara-France, City Kickboxing and the wider combat community in New Zealand have been vocal about coward punches since it happened, creating a petition for harsher penalties of such attacks.
On June 8, four men were charged over the incident that happened on Symonds Street in Auckland. Only one of the men, aged 29, was charged with manslaughter, and all were given name suppression.
During his post-fight interview with UFC commentator Joe Rogan, Adesanya paid special tribute to Vake, placing the title on the ground and bowing in respect.
"Fau Vake, Fau Vake, Fau Vake, I love you man. This fight, I dedicate to you Fau.
"Even in his last sparring with me, he whooped my ass, so I have to give him credit. I'm never going to get that one back but you whooped my ass on your last sparring."
Riddell also paid tribute to his former teammate in his post-fight interview.
"I was never going to lose this fight," Riddell said. "I had a driving force that was bigger than me and I'm very, very grateful that I still get to walk on this planet.
"The walkout song might have seemed a little bit weird but that was his walkout song.
"That was my tribute to his family because unfortunately, he'll never get to make this walk, but I miss you Fau and I hope you're proud."
"We're backwards in a lot of things."
Adesanya talks to the press. Credit: YouTube/UFC
In the post-fight press conference, Adesanya spoke directly to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and the NZ government about the lack of a punishment in law for coward attacks from behind.
"Australia created a really harsh penalty for people who blind shot people. You'd expect New Zealand to do the same thing too. But when the bill got proposed, it got passed over. For what reason would you want to pass on a bill like that?
"I don't wanna get political but I expect better from the government. I just know right from wrong, that was f****** wrong what they [the attackers] did to my boy.
"Jacinda, I don't know who else is in your cabinet, you know it was wrong, you know exactly what to do. I don't know what puppet master is pulling the strings but you're the leader of the country.
"You handled the mosque shootings like a f***** champ. Can you please do the same with this s*** too?"
"We need to run that back in Auckland."
Izzy tells it like it is. Credit: YouTube/UFC
Their first fight three years ago was a close one. This time, Adesanya made it clear that he was a cut above his opponent Marvin Vettori this time as the judges scored it 50-45 to the champ.
Vettori, who was fighting to become the first Italian UFC champion, tried a similar tactic from their previous bout in trying to take Adesanya to the ground frequently. However, he was only able to execute four of 14 takedown attempts. Adesanya blocked them, despite having a background primarily in kickboxing. Adesanya even got out of what would have been a match-ending rear-naked choke at the last second and had some ground and pound of his own for the challenger.
This, together with keeping his distance, constant calf kicks, head movement, and good combos, gave Adesanya all he needed to clinch the victory. It's where he goes to now that is the next question.
"The ol' mozzie, my arch-nemesis, what's his name? [Robert] Whittaker, 'Bobby Knuckles.' We need to run that back in Auckland, in my territory this time," Adesanya said.
That's because Israel Adesanya won the middleweight title from Māori UFC fighter Robert Whittaker back in 2019 in Melbourne.
Whittaker, as of late, has been on a winning streak back to the top since his fateful loss to Adesanya, and hopes to get back in the title scene in his next fight should it happen.
Whittaker definitely heard loud and clear, as he tweeted out to the champ moments later.