A tale of two Israels
Before we move onto the troubles, let’s start with a tribute to New Zealand’s newest world champion, UFC middleweight interim world title holder Israel Adesanya.
Newsroom has been hot on Adesanya since we first fired up the site just over two years ago. We’ve profiled his background extensively, and followed his journey, often through the eyes and words of our combat sports analyst Mike Angove – a man who was fittingly in Adesanya’s corner for Sunday’s historic victory.
In fairness, there was little genius involved in picking the freakishly talented kickboxer as an athlete to watch.
Brash, bold, striking to behold and with fighting skills that appear to have come straight out of an X-Box, Adesanya had superstar stencilled all over him from the moment he first wandered into a gym in Rotorua.
His assault on the UFC has been mesmerising and calculated; for years he lay in the long grass like an apex predator awaiting the perfect moment to strike. He resisted calls to sign a low-level contract with the global MMA giant, honing his skills and growing his legend, knowing the prize buck that was the UFC wasn’t going anywhere any time soon.
The Kiwi’s eventual assault on the UFC’s middleweight division has been nothing short of a blitzkrieg. Following a spectacular debut in Perth in February last year, Adesanya lined up opponents and knocked them down at a furious pace; his six fights in the space of just 14 months an almost unheard of feat in a sport where the level of brutality typically requires lengthy periods of recuperation between visits to the blood-soaked Octagon.
The clinical dispatching of the legendary Anderson Silva just nine weeks ago set up Sunday’s interim title tilt against the beastly, downright scary Kelvin Gastelum.
Adesanya discovered very quickly that the Mexican American bulldog Gastelum was an entirely different proposition to anyone he had faced previously. He spent the first round simply trying not to get decapitated by Gastelum’s wicked power punches.
The Kiwi’s varied, pinpoint strikes turned the fight his way in the second round, and by the end of the third he was in front, although just barely.
The contest swung wildly when Gastelum connected with a kick to the back of Adesanya’s head, wobbling the Kiwi and forcing him into survival mode. With a round to go it was anyone’s fight, with momentum favouring the American.
Adesanya’s moment of truth had arrived. Beaten, bleeding and on the back foot, could he summon the will to prove beyond all doubt there was no shortage of substance behind a man his opponent had labelled a “hype machine”?
As is often the case in MMA, Adesanya’s masterful fifth round display was equal parts thrilling and horrifying. It was not for the squeamish.
A flush right hand to Gastelum’s chin rendered the until-then indestructible warrior partially defenceless, and Adesanya set about dismantling his opponent with precision strikes. Three times in the final minutes he sent Gastelum crashing to the canvas, reining vicious blows onto his prone opponent’s skull for good measure.
The contest was over, and should have been stopped. The only reason it wasn’t was because Gastelum’s incredible efforts over the previous 24 minutes had, somewhat perversely, earned him the right to take a horrendous battering in the final seconds so that he could hear the final bell.
Some reward, that.
Gastellum half-heartedly raised his hand when the decision was announced, but his rearranged face told the story. For Adesanya, the victory means, almost impossibly, that an even more fearsome assignment awaits.
The interim title he captured was a means to ensuring the UFC’s middleweight bandwagon could roll on while the outright world champion, Kiwi-born Australian Robert Whittaker, recuperates from bowel surgery.
Slightly curiously, the looming transTasman showdown pits an Australian of Maori descent, who was born in Middlemore Hospital, against a Kiwi who was born in Lagos. There shouldn’t, however, be any divided loyalties. Whittaker has always identified as Australian, while Adesanya describes himself as “Kiwi as fxxx”.
Slightly disappointingly, Adesanya’s bio during Sunday’s broadcast was accompanied by a Nigerian flag. A social media post by Angove stated the UFC had been unable to produce a New Zealand flag graphic as had been requested.
Given the resources at the UFC’s disposal, and the frequency with which Kiwi fighters now appear on the promotion, that explanation is a little hard to swallow. In any case, Adesanya was introduced as fighting out of Auckland, New Zealand, and was referred to as a Kiwi throughout the broadcast.
You can’t fault Adesanya for acknowledging his roots, nor for wanting to access a potential fanbase of 190-odd million Nigerians. But, as he frequently acknowledges, via some uniquely Kiwi linguistics, his is a talent born of Africa but forged in New Zealand.
Adesanya’s language, which tends towards the, er, colourful, is part of his charm. His frequent use of the C-word, primarily to express admiration for fellow humans, is a classic case of a guy who has mastered the art of using deeply offensive language without really offending anyone.
Meanwhile, across the ditch, the Sultan of Sydney, Israel Folau, has somehow achieved the opposite.
Outrageously polite and courteous, Folau is about as likely to curse as he is to star in a gay porno.
As this column has noted before when Folau expressed his views during Australia's gay marriage debate, he’s a lovely chap. Unfortunately, he seems unable to prevent himself from sinning on social media.
Folau’s recent doubling down on a previously expressed belief, that non-heterosexuals are among a large number of souls with various foibles who are doomed to eternal damnation, has proved to be a bit of an own goal.
Given he’s not really wanted any more by rugby or league and wasn’t much chop at Aussie Rules, that’s unfortunate - as football would have seemed to be one of the few viable options for continuing his incredible sporting career.
Folau, unfortunately, is a victim of bad timing. Had he produced his recent tweets, say, 40 or 50 years ago, his views on homosexuality would have been accepted as fairly orthodox. Happily, many societies have evolved to the point where it’s not okay to condemn people for their sexuality.
Folau, of course, is entitled to express his views, just as the Australian Rugby Union is entitled not to employ someone they see as undermining their sport’s desire for inclusivity.
Divorce, then, is surely the only option.
Having been through the ringer once already, Folau must have known that his digital utterances were self-sabotaging.
His message might be deplorable, but that he felt compelled to deliver it at a significant personal cost is kind of admirable.
That’s almost certainly the message he would not have received from the real victim in all of this – Michael Cheika.
This column would have given up a proverbial procreation aid to have been a fly on the wall when the Wallabies coach received the news that his lone world-class match-winner had ritually disemboweled himself on Instagram. Again. In a World Cup year.
One can only hope that Cheika is receiving the support he needs; that he’s receiving phone calls and texts not only from journalists, but from those close to him just wanting to, you know, see if he feels like popping out for coffee or a walk on the beach.
Sadly, what Folau doesn’t seem to be able to comprehend is that there are real life consequences - beyond his own sporting martyrdom - to his actions.
Perhaps this direct appeal might help.
Israel - liars, fornicators, adulterers and failing rugby coaches are people, too. When you cut us we bleed. We know you’re just trying to help save us from ourselves. But, mate, trust us when we say, yours is the sort of help we could quite happily do without. Save it for church. And save yourself.
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