UFC Middleweight Champion Israel Adesanya marching against racial injustice takes our Feel Good Moment of the Year Award.
What makes a champion is objective in terms of who’s the best in each division and who has earned the belt and right to call themselves such. A champion’s fighting style and technique can leave a lasting impact on the future of combat sports, but it’s how they carry themselves away from the cage that truly shapes their legacy.
On June 1, Israel Adesanya, the champion of the UFC’s 185-pound division, marched in support of Black Lives Matter following the death of George Floyd. Floyd’s life was quite literally taken at the hands of police brutality in Minneapolis, Minnesota, sparking outrage and inspiring many people of color and their allies to peacefully protest systematic racism around the world.
Bigger than sports.
With tears in his eyes and a microphone in his hand, Adesanya spoke to the crowd of protesters gathered outside of the United States Embassy in Auckland, New Zealand.
“I didn’t have a choice. If I had a choice though, I’d still be black.”@stylebender spoke passionately during a Black Lives Matter protest in Auckland. (via @isoakavakimotu) pic.twitter.com/AsMotJMhxo
— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) June 1, 2020
“I didn’t have a choice,” the UFC Champion said, “If I had a choice though, I’d still be black.
“I’m sick and tired of seeing these faces get killed cause guess what? I see myself in them.”
Following his speech, the local City Kickboxing superstar marched in solidarity with people of all ethnicities that showed up to support the movement.
As an undisputed world champion recognized by MMA fans around the world, Adesanya didn’t have to do any of this. Yet, he did, and as human beings, that’s what fans should take away from this. The UFC middleweight champion’s actions proved he’ll walk-the-walk for matters close to his heart.
Adesanya’s year inside the cage was powerful in itself. The UFC middleweight champion handed Paolo Costa the first loss of his career at UFC 253, defending his belt for the second time in the process. However, his passion and community leadership away from fighting are what have earned him this FanSided MMA Award.