How Israel Adesanya aspires to be like Muhammad Ali, and Rose Namajunas

Muhammad Ali became a 1960 Olympic gold medalist in boxing, when he couldn’t drink from the same water fountain as a white man. Then in 1964 he beat Sonny Liston to become the baddest man on the planet, as the US became involved in a disastrous war in Vietnam, that ultimately killed 58,000 U.S. servicemen, 250,000 South Vietnamese soldiers, 1.1 million North Vietnamese and Viet Cong soldiers, and 2 million civilians. And at the end, the US lost, after protracted, ferocious opposition to the war after kids from the middle and upper class were also called to serve.

Ali famously refused the draft and was stripped of his boxing titles, only to be ultimately exonerated by the US Supreme Court. Along the way, he became the most famous man on the planet; he used that platform to advocated for black empowerment, an extreme sect of Islam, and ending the war.

New UFC interim middleweight champion Israel Adesanya too wants to use his prominence to effect positive change. But he’ll tell you, he’s not The Greatest.

“Ali is on a different scale than everyone else,” said Adesanya to Kevin Iole for Yahoo Sports. “It’s not that I’ve modeled myself after him, because he is a great, but I aspire to be like him. He’s done so much for culture. I plan on doing a lot for culture. The times he was living in were very rough for black men. It still is, but not like it was then. And he made huge impacts on so many aspects of culture. I don’t compare myself to anyone because I am going down my own path and blazing my own trail. I have things I want to do and I see the bigger picture and this championship will help me to achieve those things.”

“For me, I don’t care too much about fame, even though as a kid, it’s what you think you want. I’ve been quoted many times as saying, ‘F@$% fame, but I like the perks.’ One of the perks is a platform, and I will have a platform. What I want is for people to actually listen to me and understand what I’m saying. Because I look a certain way and I dress a certain way, don’t assume what you think I’m about or what I’m going to say.

“One of my main messages that Rose Namajunas got across after she won her belt is being nice, being kind. I don’t know if people understand what being nice feels like. They think they do, but be nice to people not just that you know, but that you don’t know. And here’s the thing: Being nice makes you feel good. You’re being nice to them, but it comes back and does something for you.”

“Before I got to the UFC, I knew I was one of the best in the world, but I didn’t have the ability to express that and to show that to the wider audience. I’ve known for a long time I was one of the best. I felt I was one of the best. I never hid it. I’ve never shied away from it. Now the time has come and the world is soon going to see what I have known for a very long time.”