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3 Things To Know About ESPN’s Cover Story: UFC’s Israel Adesanya's Dotun Akintoye profiles "The Last Stylebender," who is "the most exciting person we could be writing and thinking about in MMA right now."

The latest multiplatform ESPN Cover Story on UFC Middleweight Champion Israel Adesanya debuts today, giving fans unprecedented access to the champion’s life and process. At UFC 248 in Las Vegas, undefeated Adesanya defends the UFC Middleweight Championship against Yoel Romero (Saturday, 10 p.m. ET, ESPN+ PPV). general editor and writer Dotun Akintoye profiled the Nigerian-born New Zealand resident Adesanya, nicknamed “The Last Stylebender.” Adesanya – who debuted in UFC in February 2018 – got his start as a dancer, and he incorporates performance art into his exciting bouts.

Below, Akintoye shares tales about how the Cover Story entitled “The UFC’s Next Big Thing” came together.


  • I think we had had our eye on Israel for a few months. But after what he did at UFC 243, against Robert Whittaker, we decided he was the most exciting person we could be writing and thinking about in MMA right now. He became a Cover Story finalist very quickly from there, and we were lucky enough to make it happen.
  • The most surprising thing I learned in profiling Israel: There’s a radically egalitarian spirit at Israel’s gym, City Kickboxing, which I think I only gesture toward in the story. It’s a place without hierarchies, in terms of money and notoriety, or aptitude, or gender. It was startling to watch the champ on the floor grappling with a mother of two while her daughters sat in a corner of the gym finishing English homework.
  • There are about 10 seconds of the TV feature that depict me sitting down to write the story. It took about an hour to shoot that. It was an hour that involved a great deal of learning to hold my hands a specific way – all of which felt completely unnatural to me until I’d turn and look into my producer’s [Jennifer Karson-Strauss] screen and see what she was seeing.


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