‘He thought I was stuck in my ways’
Eugene came over to Thailand a couple of times to train Israel for fights, so I began working more closely with him. I soon realised that I did really well every time I fought with him, as he was teaching me so many new things.
Eugene will tell you though, he was pretty dubious about whether I’d be able to improve or change my style. I’d been fighting the same way for so long, the way I’d taught myself, and he thought I was stuck in my ways.
But I took Eugene’s advice on board and I think I surprised him. We had some really good fights together, including one against an icon of Muay Thai, John Wayne Parr. When Israel got picked up by the UFC in 2018, I moved back home to work more closely with Eugene.
I didn’t reach the UFC until he wanted it to happen. Eugene makes sure his fighters don’t make that step until they are ready. That’s why he likes his fighters to go out and test themselves before he starts working with them. He wants to see what they’re made of first.
Dagestani fighters are overhyped
Jamie Mullarkey gave me a mean fight for my UFC debut in Melbourne last year. It wasn’t an ideal display of my skill, but it was a good demonstration of how I’m always prepared to go out on my shield.
I got the win that day, but I’d prefer to fight a different game. That’s what I’m focused on doing this time against Magomed Mustafaev, at UFC Auckland on February 23.
This will be my second fight at 155 pounds, and I’m carrying myself a lot lighter and more efficiently now, so I’ll have an easier time with the weight cut.
I’m going to bring the storm against Magomed. He’s dangerous, hits hard and he’s experienced. The UFC is trying to test me with this one, but I’m more than ready.
A lot of fighters in the division don’t want this fight. They say they’ll fight anyone, but when Magomed gets put in front of them they don’t want a bar of it.
I just see it as an awesome challenge. We know he’s good but he’s nothing exceptional. He’s human, and we’ve seen him lose before, to Kevin Lee.
People play up the reputation of Dagestani fighters too much. Everyone knows that Khabib Nurmagomedov is a freak, Magomed is tough and Zabit Magomedsharipov is pretty good as well, but they’re all beatable.
This is the job we signed up for. I don’t understand why people stress out so much about fighting them.
When I was living in Phuket, teaching and training at Tiger, I bumped into heaps of fighters from Dagestan. There’s the odd freakish standout here or there, but the rest of them aren’t any more special than your standard fighter from any other country.
It’s like someone saying that if you walked into City Kickboxing every single fighter would be as good as Israel Adesanya. It’s just not true.
Magomed called me out for this fight and I just said, ‘Cool, let’s do it’. I have no idea why he wanted me though. One day he just started making all these posters with me and him on them, saying we were going to fight.
I was pretty buzzed out about it at the time, because I wasn’t 100 per cent sure who he was. Then I saw that his last fight was against my mate, Rafael Fiziev from Tiger, who he caught with a spinning back kick.
When I looked a little deeper I also saw that he beat another guy I used to train with, Piotr Hallmann from Poland. I realised that I’d seen Magomed fight before. I just hadn’t been able to put a face to the name.
Maybe he’s got a vendetta against guys from Tiger Muay Thai or something. I heard he’s looking for tough opponents to earn another shot against Kevin Lee. Whatever his reason for calling me out is, I’ve just taken it as a compliment.
I’m looking forward to another war.
The takeover is inevitable
It’s great to see the UFC finally coming back to New Zealand for the first time in three years. People don’t understand the level of fighting we have in this country.
The hardest kickboxing fights I’ve had have all been in New Zealand. We have monsters in stand-up fighting, and now in MMA as well.
I’ve got wrestling practice at City Kickboxing later and I always get the same guy, BJ. Man, he is horrible to wrestle. He’s like a diesel engine that just keeps going. There are plenty of guys on our team like that. They are the ones who make sure that there’s never an easy day in the gym. It’s always competitive.
A lot of them deserve to be where we are, fighting in the UFC, but they just haven’t had the chance yet.
The other night at sparring we had 80 people. That’s how Eugene likes it, everyone thrown in together. He wants novices and amateurs sparring professionals, and we like it that way as well.
There’s nothing like sparring someone who doesn’t know their own rhythm yet. If they don’t fully know what they’re doing yet, how are you going to figure it out. It keeps you guessing and learning how to make reads on the run.
In the UFC, I’m following in Israel, Dan and Kai’s footsteps. They’ve showed me what I’ve always thought to be the case; all those people who ever blew up on the world stage as fighters, they’re all human.
All the big names in MMA, they’re no better than anyone in our small country. We’re better, and we’re proving that now.
The takeover is inevitable.