Israel Adesanya had a good 2019. He took the torch from Anderson Silva in the Fight of the Night, beat Kelvin Gastelum for the Interim UFC middleweight belt in a fight of the year candidate, and then stopped Robert Whittaker to unify the belts.
Earlier today "The Last Stylebender" was named New Zealand Sportsman of the Year at the 57th ISPS Handa Halberg Awards, the nation's pre-eminent honors ceremony for sporting excellence. His acceptance speech, was, well, all him.
"How long do I have? [Clears throat and crowd laughs]. It's the 57th annual Halberg's," said Adesanya, as transcribed by Jed Meshew for MMA Fighting. "It's the first time combat athletes have been nominated so you know, I have to do this for the old, the combat athletes of old. Rest in Peace Jimmy Thunder, David Tua. Doug Viney sitting right there, Ray Sefo, Joseph Parker, and now Israel Adesanya.
"Kiwis, we love a good one out. We love a good fight. This is part of the culture. Straight up. We're a country of a warrior race, the Maori. This is part of our culture. If a fight broke out right now, what would you all do? You'd ignore me and you'd watch the fight. It's in our DNA. We've been doing this for so long, you guys have no idea. Welcome to the party.
"We've been doing this for so long. Way back, we've been wearing New Zealand on our back all over the world. We did it twice last year in Australia, UFC 234 and 243, me and two of my other teammates, we repeated the three-peat. And guess what, next weekend we have other people coming to our shores at UFC Auckland and we're gonna defend the land, and repeat the three-peat. Understand this.
"So for me, this really isn't for me. This is for the young generation coming up who get to see someone they can relate to, someone who is of my essence, if you will. A combat athlete that they can feel like, 'Man, my sport, like Muay Thai or Jiu-Jitsu or Wrestling is up there with the All-Blacks, the Black Caps, and the Tall Blacks, and New Zealand's top sporting teams. We're on a level playing field. Like I said, we've been doing this for a long time, so this is for them.
"And this is for my team, City Kickboxing. This is for my coach, Eugene Bareman, because without him my career wouldn't be s***. I wouldn't be here. Understand that.
"And one more thing I've got say: New Zealand we have this f-woo, censorship! Where's the swear jar? Nah, f*** it - we have this culture of tall puppy syndrome which is messed up. Coming up in this country, I've seen it so many times. When you see somebody rising you want to tear them down because you feel inadequate and you want to call it humble. I am extraordinarily humble, believe me, but you'll never know that because you never get to know me. Understand this, if you see one of us shining, whether it be the netball team, the Black Caps, the Sailors, pump them up! Embrace them! Because if they win, we win, if I win, you win! Understand that.
"And I know some of you will be a little salty, you might clap but you're a little salty, but hey, stay salty, the Black Kiwi's gonna fly all day. Shout out to myself in this mustard-colored jacket and shout out to the guy with the mustard-colored face as well. Peace!"
Adesanya fights Yoel Romero at UFC 248 on March 7 in Las Vegas, NV.