The decision by Nigeria-born, New Zealand-based UFC Middleweight champion, Israel Adesanya to pick kickboxing as a career did not go down well with his mother at the initial stage because of the danger associated with the sports. But the entire family has since embraced it. His father, Mr Femi Adesanya, a chartered accountant and his mother, a trained nurse, spoke with The Guardian TV in a virtual interview from their base in New Zealand during the week.

How was Israel while growing up?
Mr Adesanya: He was just like the average Nigerian kid. He was very playful, nothing spectacular about him really. You know, sometimes he could disagree and say I don’t want this or that, in our family. We allow our children to express themselves in whatever form they want to. If they don’t want something, we could have a debate about it. He was very respectful and family values for him were paramount. He looked after his siblings, wouldn’t allow anybody mess up with them; he was just like any other kid really.

Mrs. Adesanya, do you have anything to add to what your husband has said?
Just like what he has said, Israel was just like any other kid growing up. Very playful, and he liked to dance at any opportunity. He likes his siblings a lot and was a very respectful boy.

So, while he was growing up, did he look like someone who would grow up to be a fighter?
Mr. Adesanya: I’m gonna tell you straight away, no! Unless you annoy him, he wouldn’t fight anybody. He wasn’t much of a sportsman in school. You know how you see some guys who played football or basketball in school or whatever. Throughout his school days, Israel wasn’t a sportsman.

At what point did Israel decide he was going to start fighting and what was your reaction?
Mr. Adesanya: The objective for him wasn’t to be a fighter, but rather he started going to the gymn for fitness so that he could defend himself because he was getting bullied a lot. And according to him, the gymn led to a competition where somebody pulled out and that was how he came in. He loved it, and so he started kickboxing at that point. But not that he decided right from time that he wanted to be a fighter. No.

To answer your question of how we felt when he told us he wanted to be a fighter: He was studying Bachelor of Computer Designs, and when he was in year three, one morning, he just said he was leaving the house to travel to Auckland to pursue his fighting career. Of course we were devastated because there wasn’t much money in it. Maybe they were given $100 or $200 after kicking themselves for 15 minutes. The money won’t even be enough to buy pain killers and other medications to take care of them. My wife cried and I didn’t see any future in kickboxing because it wasn’t a popular sport. But Israel was determined to go. When we saw the determination, you know it was in the morning, and he had already packed his things to go. We decided we were going to plan properly for it. We had to arrange for accommodation and some other things. So we had a deal, and after three or four weeks, when his accommodation and other things were sorted out, Israel moved to train with his current manager who has been there right from the beginning. The rest is history.

Mrs. Adesanya, let me come to you. When Israel said he was taking up fighting, did you have to go to start watching videos to learn about kickboxing? And if you did, did you get scared for him?
From inception without watching the videos because of my profession as a nurse, I knew the kind of injury associated with fighting sports. So it was very scary and I actually didn’t want him to do it, but like my husband said, his mind was made up and we had no choice but to support him.

When Israel got his first win, how did it make you feel? Did it make you happy you supported him? What was your reaction?
Mr. Adesanya: Firstly, we weren’t even there because he kept the initial fights from us. The first one that we got to know about was not too big, but it was well advertised on radio and TV. But we didn’t go. He did very well and everybody was saying Israel Adesanya did well. We felt very bad that he was there fighting and we didn’t go. We live about six hours drive from Auckland, so it wasn’t as if we were close and we didn’t go. Look, you know we Nigerians. Maybe now, we support our children to do all kinds of sports, but 10 years ago, if your first son tells you he’s gonna be fighting and you are a chartered Accountant and your wife is a registered nurse, a lot of us would say what’s wrong with you?

So, that was the mentality. But after that first fight, we made up our minds at that point that win or lose we have to support our boy. It looks like this is what he wants to do and that was how we started following him.

Israel exudes a lot of confidence; where did he get it from?
Mr. Adesanya: Well, we are confident people, so I would say he got that from us. I would say I’m a risk taker. If I wan to do something and I make up my mind, I would go for it. I’m not afraid of failing. If I do well, that’s for the best, if it goes the other way, no regrets. That is the kind of mentality I have. My wife, I don’t want to say she’s stubborn, but she’s a strong woman.

I can say that Israel got a bit of his confidence and maybe his stubbornness from Mrs. Adesanya?
Mrs. Adesanya: You can say that again!

Mr. Adesanya: I would say whatever she wants to say, she would say it as long as she is on the path of truth and she is convinced that what she’s saying is the right thing. The same thing with me. I speak my mind and that’s the same thing with Israel. What you see in Israel is what you get. He doesn’t pretend. He would just do as he pleases as long as he is comfortable doing what he is doing, he would go ahead and do it.

Now, when Israel is in the octagon fighting and you’re watching him taking all of those punches and kicks, how does that make you feel? I’ll come to you Mrs. Adesanya?
Mrs. Adesanya: Well, initially as a mother, you feel the pain and its always very scary, but as time goes on, I mean, its just like other sports, just hold your breath and pray that he doesn’t get injured.

How about you Mr. Adesanya?
Mr. Adesanya: Maybe initially, I was worried but nowadays, I just look at it like another sport, and the fact that Israel is good at what he does makes it less stressful for me. But sometimes, my wife still gets stressed despite all the fights she has witnessed. I think I have absolute confidence in him that he can take care of himself. He knows the signs of the sport, which is you hit and not get hit at. Of course, they hit him sometimes, but not as much as he hits his opponents. Most times, he hits his opponents more than they hit him. Even if they hit him, most times, those punches don’t land at critical locations. And because he is a good striker, his punches connects more at the appropriate places like the chin, the head, and stuffs like that where it can have maximum impact. So I just take it like a normal sport nowadays, not too worried.

You’re almost sounding like his coach, you seem to know much about it; that’s interesting!
Mrs. Adesanya: He’s part of the team now.

Prior to his last fight, Israel put on a T-shirt that had your face on it. How did that make you feel?
Mr. Adesanya: Of course, it makes me proud that he wore the T-shirt. That was a T-shirt that somebody designed and gave me, so we decided to make extra ones for the family. I never knew he was going to wear his. Look, I just bless God he is a humble boy who appreciates the efforts of the parents. Who knows that the family, not just mom and dad, have invested so much in him psychologically, spiritually and financially in supporting him. He is just a blessing to us. I tell you, Israel made my heart to swell when I saw the T-shirt. My friends were sending pictures for me to see myself on Israel’s shirt.

That was just wonderful.

Mrs. Adesanya, you got a car too. How did that make you feel?
Mrs. Adesanya: Of course, I was happy that Israel got that for me. I’m not surprised because he is a kind of boy that is always appreciating his parents, his siblings and his family at large. I was happy, but not surprised.

Mr. Adesanya: Maybe, I should just chip this in. Actually, my wife getting a car and him honouring me is not a disservice to me. He got me a BMWX4 two years ago before my wife even got her own.

So she was just jealous and requested for something bigger than my BMW. If you go on Israel’s page in May 2019, you will see it there.

So, its all fair and square now!
Mr. Adesanya: But someone would be looking for T-shirt now!
Interviewer: She deserves it!

Let’s talk about his siblings. As the first of five kids, what’s Israel relationship like with his siblings?
Mr. Adesanya: You know kids would always be kids! They would fight one minute and at the next, it’s like they never fought. That happens in every family so our’s was no exception. Sometimes, they may disagree over who watches programmes or who plays what with the computer. You know these are things that happened growing up. His relationship with every member of the family was superb. That’s the word. Israel is a complete gentle man. Forget about what you see in the octagon. When you relate with Israel outside of that octagon, you would be surprised at the kind of human being he is. Very kind, considerate, I would say kind to a fault.

I can actually confirm that because the last time he was in Nigeria, we had a brief meeting and he was quite considerate despite all the stress he was going through going for interviews and all of that, he still made out time to talk to The Guardian. His manager wanted him to leave but he was like let me do this. So I can say yes he is quite a considerate and kind person.

Mr. Adesanya: Thank you!

Now, let’s go to his last fight. You’ve always seen him win, but this last one didn’t go his way and the way we all expected. How did that loss make you feel?
Mrs. Adesanya: The outcome didn’t really make us feel bad because we were happy about his courage. He went to challenge a division ahead of him and he put in his best and in sports, you either win or lose. It’s true he has been on a winning streak but this one didn’t go his way. But we actually salute his courage for going to challenge a division ahead of him. Overall, we still love him and he is still our champion.

Mr. Adesanya: Let me just say this. For the casuals, they might say Israel lost, but if they really look at it, it was like the David and Goliath situation. One was large while the other was small. As my wife said, it took a lot of courage and supreme confidence in ones abilities to challenge someone who is 20 to 25kg heavier than him. And I don’t know weather you watched the fight. But anybody that watched the fight would see that if Jan Blachowicz did not succeed in taking Israel down with the weight resting on him, there was no way he could have won. He was gased! Go look at round 3. Even one hour after the fight, go and watch the post-fight interview, it is there on YouTube: UFC259 post-fight interview Jan Blachowicz. One hour after the fight, he was still panting like he just came out from the octagon. Jan was exhausted! Whereas, Israel was without injuries, and I tell you this. If not that Israel was injured, Jan would not have probably taken the win.

If you read about the medical suspensions, you would see that he had ankle injury, which he sustained from kicking Jan repeatedly. But Israel is not the type that would say I was injured during the fight and that was why I lost. Yes he lost and he took it in good faith. No shame because he went to fight a Light heavyweight when he is a natural middleweight. He is held high, and we’re very proud of him. We dare to be great. No venture, No Gain.

Definitely we are still also proud of him because that was a great move to go to an upper division to fight the champion of that rank. So after that fight, who was the first to speak to him, and what did you say to him?
Mr. Adesanya: He called us straight away because he knew that we would be dying for information. Then immediately, he called his other siblings. Not just call, but video call actually. He showed us his face and we were laughing. He was just his usual self. He knew he had to do that. Probably if he had won, he would had gone about his business but he knew we would be dying to know the situation after the fight most especially because he lost. We just wanted to be sure he was alright.

So, Mrs. Adesanya, were there things you said to him to encourage him when he called?
Mrs. Adesanya: I just told him that no matter the result, he is still our champion.

Israel is still grounded in the Yoruba culture. How come he hasn’t lost his Nigerian values?
Mr. Adesanya: It’s a matter of interest. You see, Israel is a unique individual. He can never forget Nigeria. There is still the tattoo of Nigeria right there on his chest; he loves his country. He is grounded in the culture. Sometimes even me after leaving Nigeria for 20 years, I wonder how he keeps up. You know in this age of internet, all the slangs ”sho mo age mi ni; even me, I never heard anything like that. He connects well with home, and how he does it, I don’t know. He speaks the language very well, he hasn’t forgotten.

How about his siblings, are they also like that?
Mr. Adesanya: Not really. If you speak the Yoruba language to them for example, they understand but they are going to reply you in English. They were very young when they left Nigeria. I think two of them were three years, one was a year old and the other was five. So they weren’t well grounded in the Yoruba language. So I think that’s the reason.

Let’s get personal now. Israel is grounded in the Yoruba culture. Are you looking forward to him picking a Nigerian wife?
Mrs. Adesanya: First, I’m very liberal with all my children. They have left the country for almost 20 years now. When I say I’m liberal, I mean it’s their choice because I’m not going to live with them. So I’ve told them I don’t really mind. As far as they are happy, that’s the most important thing because they are the one going to live with the spouse and not us. So whatever makes them happy, makes us happy.

Mr. Adesanya, would you like Israel to take a Nigerian wife?
Mr. Adesanya: I don’t really care. What matters is love. If he finds a Nigerian girl, and they find love, goodluck. It’s his choice; I don’t care about those things. What I care about is he and the girl loving each other.

Now, when Israel is not fighting what does he do when he comes around to the house?
Mr. Adesanya: When he comes to see us, all he does mostly is just train, eat and rest. Then sometimes, if he has commitments, or engagements with sponsors, or interviews; he is just a very busy person, let me put it that way. He’s got many sponsors demanding all kinds of things such as brand posts, granting interviews, doing fotoshoots, videoshoots and stuffs like that; he is unbelievably busy.

I hope New Zealand is not like UK where you have the press trailing you everywhere you go with cameras placed around your house?
Mr. Adesanya: No. “It’s not about us, and we try our best. Now, here in New Zealand, people are well behaved. Even when he goes out, the press don’t really worry him. Rather, it’s the fans, who always wants to take pictures with him or have conversations. So sometimes, it can be overwhelming but generally speaking, people are well behaved here.

Growing up, was Israel doing house chores and also when he comes around now, does he still do house chores?
Mrs. Adesanya: All my children grew up doing house chores and they all have their responsibilities and even now when they come home for holidays, they still help out wherever it’s needed”.

Interviewer: I like that!

Israel carries the Nigerian flag proudly despite all of the bad press coming out of the country. How does it make you feel?
Mr. Adesanya: Tell me which country doesn’t have bad eggs! It’s just unfortunate that sometimes, we overemphasis the negatives in Nigeria. I haven’t seen a country where there are no fraudsters unless you can tell me which country doesn’t have fraudsters. But in Nigeria, we make it look like that’s what everybody does. We have incredibly talented people in Nigeria. The bad eggs are in the minority. But unfortunately, they give the country a bad name. So, other well-meaning Nigerians needs to try their best and raise their heads high and be proud of the country. Are we going to say there are no fraudsters in the UK or America? I mean, having good and bad people is just part of life. So, we need to team up with the good people to project the good image and that is what Israel is doing. He wouldn’t say because some people are soiling the name of the country he wouldn’t carry the flag. He is very proud to be a Nigerian. I am very proud to be a Nigerian.

Interviewer: Thank you very much for that.

What message do you have for Israel’s fans out there?
Mr. Adesanya: Israel will be back. Most likely, he’s gonna fight in the middle of the year. He would be back. Look! Sometimes, people have off days. I think the last fight was just an off day in the office; that’s all I can say. If they fight again, it doesn’t mean that Jan is gonna bit Israel. I can assure you. Israel is coming back.

Mrs. Adesanya, any words for the fans?
Mrs. Adesanya: Just like what my husband said, Israel will be back, and he would be back stronger.

Interviewer: Thank you very much Mr. and Mrs. Adesanya for your time. It’s been exciting having this conversation with you. I wish you the best of luck. I pray and believe Israel would continue to make you, his siblings, and the entire country proud!

Mr. and Mrs. Adesanya: You are welcome.


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