It’s too early to tell whether or not Israel Adesanya will transcend from the MMA world… and it could be very difficult… but the UFC won’t mind…
Israel Adesanya has had an incredible couple of years. He only signed with the UFC back in February 2018. Now, less than two years later he’s an undisputed champion. Nobody has managed to achieve that quicker than ‘The Last Stylebender.’ He’s clearly a phenomenal talent, but where does he go from here?
Right now a lot of people in the MMA world are talking about how he can be the next Conor McGregor. What does that even mean? Sure, Adesanya is in a position to become high-profile, but it looks very unlikely that he’ll break into the mainstream in the same way that McGregor did.
However, the UFC might not actually mind if Adesanya doesn’t reach superstar levels of fame. McGregor and Ronda Rousey have proven that you can’t contain someone who is that well known. The UFC is all about control and right now Adesanya is primed to be exactly what they want.
Adesanya has said that he wants to be the first $100 million athlete in the UFC. Firstly, that’s never going to happen. The only way he makes that kind of money is if he switches to boxing. He also needs to get momentum behind him and become a star on his own terms. Right now he’s not the same cultural force as the divisive Irishman.
‘The Last Stylebender’ is a draw. The attendance records at the Marvel Stadium in Melbourne were record-breaking. 57,175 people were there to watch Adesanya beat Robert Whittaker. That’s 1000 more than the previous record, held by Ronda Rousey’s shock defeat to Holly Holm.
However, stadium numbers don’t translate to live viewership. There’s a reason why Conor McGregor has never headlined a stadium in his native Ireland as he promised. Las Vegas and New York are just too lucrative for the UFC to have their major events anywhere else. This isn’t kissing the Irishman’s butt. They’re cold hard facts.
UFC 243 saw a live gate of $5,478,345. This is definitely a very strong figure, but it’s lower than UFC 189 which saw McGregor fight Chad Mendes. Don’t forget that this fight was drawn up on a week’s notice. Incredibly, the event still managed to mobilise a live gate of $7.8 million. McGregor’s fight against Eddie Alvarez holds the record of $17.7 million.
Furthermore, the Irishman previously sustained an ACL injury against Max Holloway. This saw him miss 10 months of action, yet he still managed to maintain momentum. Irish fans were literally taking out bank loans to watch him fight in Ireland. One of McGregor’s masterstrokes was mobilising his nation behind him. Perhaps it’s due to his mixed heritage, but Adesanya has nowhere near that much domestic support.
Meanwhile, the Irish support cannot be underestimated in the US front. Ireland and the United States have a long history, with many US citizens incredibly proud of their Irish heritage. The UFC responded by having McGregor build up his US fanbase by fighting in Boston twice on his way to becoming a star. Furthermore, he appeared on numerous chat shows like Jimmy Kimmel and Conan O’Brien, before even winning the interim title.
Adesanya will find it much more difficult to break into the American mainstream. However, this might not actually bother the UFC. As McGregor’s fame grew, he became much more difficult to control. Now in the ESPN era, the UFC doesn’t need to rely on one superstar. They’d be as happy to spread the love with four or five stars of lesser fame who they can consistently promote and get behind. Enter Jorge Masvidal and Nate Diaz.