UFC Middleweight star Israel Adesanya aims to take the torch off of fellow Lee Gar native Ray Sefo when he faces his student Brad Tavares this weekend
Although UFC middleweight fighters Israel Adesanya and Brad Tavares reside at opposite ends of the Pacific Ocean, their worlds couldn’t be closer.
Eighth-ranked middleweight Brad Tavares (17-4) is set to face Nigerian-born Adesanya (13-0) on Saturday in the main event of the Ultimate Fighter finale in Las Vegas equipped with New Zealand combat legend Ray Sefo as his striking coach.
The six-time Muay Thai world champion’s resume exudes itself including an historic K-1 GP win over UFC heavyweight Mark Hunt seventeen years ago, but it’s his fighting lineage which leads him back to Adesanya through Auckland’s Lee Gar gym.
In 1975 Grandmaster Phillip Lam founded the City Lee Gar franchise, ultimately giving birth to Muay Thai kickboxing in New Zealand and with it students in Eugene Bareman (coach to Adesanya) and Sefo.
Both coaches stem from a rich history with City and Balmoral Lee Gar that includes six-time Muay Thai World champion Jason Suttie, 2007 K-1 World GP champion Doug Viney, former Muay Thai World champion Mike Angove even former news broadcaster Neil Waka who went on to become a corner man for Sefo.
Now the next era begins and with it a new dawn for New Zealand fight royalty.
“I think it’s cool because Ray is one of the greats of New Zealand throughout the years.” says Adesanya.
“He lives in Las Vegas now, he coaches these guys but people have spoken about the two us being from the same era.”
“this weekend I’m going to grab that torch, some say you pass the torch, but I’m going to grab it off them and run with it.”
The chance to go down in history representing a long line of respected fighters would be icing on the cake for Adesanya who says he’s keeping a watchful eye on current New Zealand-born middleweight champion Robert Whittaker.
Whittaker retained the title after a gruelling five-round win against Cuban Yoel Romero last month and the 28-year-old hopes for the chance to meet him.
“He had a good fight, came back from adversity multiple times.” says Adesanya
“but it’s one of those ones where I hope he keeps the belt even just until next year so I can come through and take it off him.”
But to get there he has to pass Tavares and probably a couple more fighters as well.
After five months, and only two UFC appearances, a win against the Hawaiian native will give Adesanya every chance at a top ten spot and he believes this is the only reason Tavares has a main event opportunity.
“Has he ever been a main event before? No. He’s only here because of me, because I put him here.” says Adesanya.
“If I wasn’t fighting him he would be fighting on an undercard somewhere.”
“I’m going to knock him out and it’s going to take less than three rounds.”