Israel Adesanya sat down with Craig Jones on a recent episode of El Segundo podcast and at one point the conversation turned to the idea of him taking grappling matches. It wouldn’t be unprecedented, as a number of top UFC fighters have taken grappling matches in the past either against other MMA veterans or elite BJJ competitors. Although Adesanya is known as a striker first and foremost, he’s been training Jiu-Jitsu for quite some time and has even been promoted to purple belt in BJJ by Andre Galvao. He actually explained how he first got into grappling over a decade ago:
“Proper one, not YouTube? 2010… So when I went to CKB (City Kickboxing), that same year I hopped into Jiu-Jitsu. But before that I had an MMA fight against Neroni (Savaiinaea) and then when I did that I had like maybe about two weeks of YouTube Judo and Jiu-Jitsu. I was like ‘I got this sh*t!’ and it was like an amateur MMA fight. Get in there I’m striking, striking, boom he puts me on my back. He can’t strike me so he’s hitting my body trying to get positions, I swept him a couple of times, I get back up and sweep, boom on my back. Three rounds of that and I was just like ‘f*ck!’ I got a few strikes, like a good headkick but then eventually just on my back and I just realized like ‘right I need to move here’. That’s when I was like ‘Yeah I need to move here and actually learn if I really wanna take this seriously.’ That’s when it showed me to move properly.”
It’s crazy to think that Israel Adesanya had effectively zero grappling training when he decided to start taking MMA matches, but that early loss clearly worked wonders for his career long-term. He stuck with competing in kickboxing for a while after that, but after working on his Jiu-Jitsu skills he eventually decided to take make his professional MMA debut in 2012. Adesanya spent a few years competing across multiple different kinds of combat sports before eventually deciding to focus exclusively on MMA in 2017 shortly before he earned his UFC contract.
Although he still prefers to stay standing and wins most of his fights on the feet, he’s displayed some excellent Jiu-Jitsu throughout his UFC career. He also explained how he managed to develop his grappling to such a good level:
“My way was just through Joe Rogan for Jiu-Jitsu and then I fell in love with grappling. I just felt like a natural adaptability with grappling. I just knew… I knew I was good at it and I was able to just like grasp things very quickly and apply them. Also the long limbs helped, but also they make you prone to a lot of submissions if you don’t know how to deal with them.”
That was the moment that Jones decided to ask Israel Adesanya about the possibility of him taking grappling matches in the future. Given that Adesanya has competed in boxing, kickboxing, and MMA over the years, this would be one of the few new challenges for him. Somewhat surprisingly, Adesanya is actually open to the idea if he can get the kind of matchup he wants:
“I’ll do it but like, I’ll do it with the right person… Not to try and win but it’s more to try and like, to create a show but also to like generate a buzz. Because yeah I might end up being a notch on someone’s belt but at the same time it’s not about that, it’s more about just like creating a moment.”