UFC 248: Israel Adesanya v Yoel Romero - Charting the middleweight champion's rise

Ahead of a highly anticipated middleweight title fight against Yoel Romero, we chart Israel Adesanya's rise in UFC.

Israel Adesanya

Israel Adesanya celebrating his win over Robert Whittaker.   -  Getty Images

Israel Adesanya has taken UFC by storm and will aim to send his stock sky high against Yoel Romero on Saturday.

Former two-weight kickboxing champion Adesanya will make the first defence of his middleweight title against 42-year-old veteran Romero at UFC 248 in Las Vegas.

A lithe, nimble athlete with pinpoint striking accuracy and an 18-0 record in MMA, the 'Last Stylebender' has proved he has the ability to be one of the leading names in the sport.

We chart Adesanya's rise from UFC debut to the leading man in the 185-pound division.

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"The new dog"

After 11 stoppages in as many fights to start his MMA career, Adesanya made his UFC bow against Rob Wilkinson in Australia in February 2018. He was forced to defend against the takedown regularly in the opening round but came into his own in the second, landing 42 significant strikes – a right uppercut followed by a knee drew blood from his opponent – to get an overwhelming stoppage. In his post-fight Octagon interview, he sent out a warning: "Middleweights, I'm the new dog in the yard, and I just p***** all over this cage."

Moving up

Within the next five months he added the scalps of Marvin Vettori and Brad Tavares – both by decision – before facing his toughest test in sixth-ranked middleweight Derek Brunson. A pair of brutal knees to the head left Brunson groggy, and Adesanya capitalised before the first bell. A straight right dropped Brunson to his knees and the referee called a halt to the fight following a follow-up left. Next came a chance for Adesanya to test himself against an all-time great.

Beating Spider

Adesanya was clearly feeling comfortable in UFC by the time he came up against former middleweight champion Anderson Silva, who was making his first appearance in the Octagon in two years, at UFC 234 in Melbourne. The bout ended up headlining the main card when Robert Whittaker pulled out on the day of his title fight with Kelvin Gastelum and underwent surgery. Adesanya looked at home going up against an MMA legend, displaying his trademark showmanship en route to a unanimous-decision victory that proved he was ready for a title shot.

He's got Gas-telum

A date with Gastelum at UFC 236 and a chance to become the interim middleweight champion was next, and the duo delivered what was widely regarded as one of the fights of the year. Gastelum was more aggressive in the opening round but Adesanya was on top by the end of the third. After landing some heavy blows to seriously hurt Adesanya in the fourth, Gastelum was blown away in the fifth and only just made it to the final bell. The 'Last Stylebender' displayed incredible stamina in the championship rounds to take the belt.

And new...

Adesanya clearly was not fazed when it came to a middleweight unification bout against Whittaker at UFC 243 in Melbourne - the 30-year-old's walkout began included some flashy choreography and back-up dancers. He wasted little time in dispatching of the Australian, who was saved by the bell after being dropped by a right uppercut at the end of the first. A stunning left hook got the stoppage in the second round and Adesanya celebrated by climbing the cage and proclaiming: "I told you so. I did what Romero couldn't do in 10 rounds. I did it in two." He will now be hoping to make another statement against the Cuban, who has lost three of his past four fights - including two against Whittaker - and failed to make weight in two of his three previous shots at a middleweight belt.

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