Why Did Israel Adesanya Carry a Chinese Flag? Everything About the UFC Champ’s Stint in China: Kickboxing Record, Nickname and More

Published 09/06/2023, 10:19 AM EDT

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Most of the UFC fans had the promotion’s middleweight champ, Israel Adesanya’s back during the entire “real African” debate. But at UFC 290, ‘Izzy’ might have turned a number of them against him with his remarks. This also had his UFC 293 opponent, Sean Strickland, debunking ‘Izzy’s’ claims of being a real African. He pointed out that ‘Izzy’ had spent a number of years of his life in China and even carried the Chinese flag for the walkouts to his fights.

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Well, most fans might know that there’s some truth to Strickland’s words. As Adesanya has himself accepted a number of times, he has spent quite a considerable amount of time in ‘Middle Kingdom’. It’s also a fact to note that Adesanya gained massive fame and became a known face after defeating the Chinese fighters of Chinese promotions. Gradually, his buzz in China rose to such levels that several combat sports fans of that time might have mistaken him for being born and brought up in China.

Is Israel Adesanya Chinese?


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If ‘Izzy’ was actually born and brought up in China, he could have never claimed himself to be a “real African”. The current UFC Middleweight king, Israel Adesanya, was born in the Nigerian city of Lagos in the year 1989. But, ‘The Last Stylebender’ didn’t get to enjoy the stay in his home country for long. His family relocated to Rotorua in New Zealand when he was just ten years of age.

via Getty

The introvert ‘Izzy’ found solace in martial arts and took up kickboxing as his primary genre. He found it so appealing that he even dropped out of his ongoing Bachelor of Science in Computer Design degree and went on to become a professional kickboxer. But the ‘China’ chapter of his life began when his awesome prowess in the local promotions of New Zealand caught the eyes of bigger promoters in China.


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Israel Adesanya: A kickboxer in the regional scene in China

Most combat sports fans might be aware of the term ‘journeyman.’ It is often used to denote a fighter who has been brought over by a promotion to lose to the ones they intend to promote. This is exactly what the Chinese promoters saw ‘Izzy’ as when they first brought him over to China in 2011. But the results of the fights turned out to be quite the opposite of their beliefs.

Adesanya, the ‘journeyman’ showcased entire domination over his Chinese opponents. He even ramped up an undefeated record of 5-0 in ‘Wu Lin Feng’, the first Chinese kickboxing promotion he fought for. His often innovative and entertaining style also made him a noted figure among Chinese kickboxing fans.

In his appearance in an interview with Emilio Urrutia, a ONE Championship veteran and retired MMA fighter, ‘Izzy’ revealed how his status started to rise after showcasing his superb in-ring prowess.

He mentioned, But they realize they can’t f*ck with this guy. So they signed me on the team, gave me think the biggest contract for any foreign fighter they’ve given and yeah it was a good time“.

This motivated Adesanya to keep improving and also earned him a ferocious nickname. Chinese kickboxing fans now called him ‘The Black Dragon’. And the ‘Dragon’ seemed to be breathing an all-consuming fire inside the fighting ring.

Israel Adesanya’s amateur kickboxing record of 32–0 and the Kunlun fights

Although there are pretty limited sources to support this, they say that ‘Izzy’ ramped up a stunning 32-0 record in his amateur kickboxing career. ‘The Last Stylebender’ reportedly had his first amateur fight under Muay Thai rules in the year 2008.

After turning professional, Adesanya didn’t limit himself. He also enrolled in the 80kg division of the ‘Kunlun Fight 2’ promotion and competed in their tournament for the championship. However, this is where he picked up the first defeat of his professional kickboxing career. ‘Izzy’ lost the thoroughly close semifinals of the tournament against Simon Marcus via a split decision in the extended round. Despite the loss, he continued to fight even though circumstances were less than ideal at times.

The challenges ‘Stylebender’ faced in China


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Apart from his opponents, ‘Izzy’ has also revealed that his journey of becoming a kickboxing phenomenon in China had its own share of troubles. In the same interview with Emilio Urrutia, the current UFC Middleweight champ also revealed how the Chinese had also subjected him to some “dirty s*it”.

Adesanya also narrated how a promotion in China once allotted him a locker room with appallingly bad hygiene. He remembers that the washroom had a disgusting odor of “pi*s” coming out of it. But, he also saw these moments as the building blocks that had created the superbly tough individual we know him as.


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This is a brief account of the early fighting days of Israel Adesanya in China. All the above incidents shaped him as a fighter and led him to carry the Chinese flag in some of his fights. Do you think Adesanya could have become what he is today without his achievements and trials in Chinese promotions? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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Written by:

Souvik Roy


One take at a time

Souvik Roy is an exceptional UFC writer with an impressive portfolio of over 500 articles at EssentiallySports. The young writer did not allow speech impairment to come in the way of his love for writing and covering fights. As a keen observer, Souvik's passion for MMA was sparked when he discovered the UFC after being introduced to WWE.
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Edited by:

Abhishek Das




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