It was a rainy night last August when Adesanya defeated Slava Alexeichik, Pati Afoa and Jamie Eades to claim the belt and officially announce himself to the mainstream of New Zealand. Since then, the City Kickboxing product has gone 3-1 in the boxing ring, taking out the Super 8 and $50,000, as well as consecutive KO victories on Knees of Fury cards including their 50th event in Australia.
He's in incredible form and better every day, but the old wisdom says it's much harder to keep a belt than to win one. Next weekend's Trans-Tasman tournament is a shark tank, and promoter Jason Suttie says it's the first time they've had a fighter specifically request an opening match-up with Adesanya.
"Simon Maait, from Sydney, he asked for Israel first. I told him, "I can't do that", but I definitely respect it. He's the only Australian to ask for Izzy."
Another high-profile Australian, WBC Queensland Cruiserweight champion Kurtis Pegoraro, also asked personally to be on the card, despite there being no guarantee of a payday.
"There's a lot more money in Australia," says Suttie. "So the boys are usually paid a show-fee, where they get paid regardless of what happens. But these guys are texting me and asking to be on the show, saying na, they want to be like the Kiwi's and fight for the prize."
Suttie believes this is a testament to the personal touch himself and co-promoter and wife Arna Suttie have developed with the King in the Ring tournament.
"On the Sunday morning, I'm looking after the fighters. They check out at 11, fly out at 6, and they've just had a big night fighting and celebrating, so I bring them around to my home. I've fought overseas and I know what it's like getting kicked out of the hotel and walking around for hours until you can go home."
The King in the Ring tournament is run solely by the Suttie's. Jason handles the fighters. With 6 world titles under his belt, he knows a few things about matchmaking, and has total authority over who fights who and when. Jason also coaches his own stable of fighters out of Elite Thai Kickboxing, and generally has several fighters on the card. Arna handles everything else, including producing marketing material, managing social media, running the administration side of things and liaising with Sky TV as the event manager on the night. Looking after the kids is a team effort.
"I don't even know how we do it," says Arna. "It's all in-house, because we shove as much money back in to the tournament as possible. We put as much back into it as we can, and I think it shows in the professionalism of the event."
"But we always count ourselves lucky to have the fight community. We have all these people around us. When Jason takes the kids to the gym, ETK, there are these big tough tattooed guys everywhere, and they love the kids. They've all got their own babies, so they mob them when they come in."
Representing Suttie's ETK in the Trans-Tasman tournament is Pati "The Arsenal" Afoa, who one-punch KO'd fellow contender Simon Maait in a superfight at the King in the Ring 72III last November. Afoa also holds victories over two other Trans-Tasman competitors: WMC world title holder Zak Fatamaka, from Grizzly Thai Boxing, and Fortitude Thai Boxing's Zane 'The Hybrid' Hopman, who he beat in a razor-close WMC and WKBF cruiserweight title fight. All three men have had significant international experience since. Just who has improved the most may be revealed in the Trans-Tasman tournament final.
But Israel Adesanya isn't the only King in the Ring on this card. In a Trans-Tasman superfight, Adesanya's stablemate and reigning 72kg champ Blood Diamond takes on Sydney's Dirty Sanchez. Also on the card is 62kg King Sone Vannathy, who looks to avenge his upset-loss against the rising Pumipi "Caezar" Ngaronoa, not to mention a heavyweight scrap between Pane 'The Punisher' Haraki and Nato "Hard Knox" Laauli.
It's King in the Ring's most exciting card yet, and it features some of the top fighters in the Southern Hemisphere. Broadcast on Sky TV and available to stream online, there's no excuse for missing the pinacle of kickboxing promotion in New Zealand on April 11th.
"To have this many top guys in King in the Ring is humbling. It is." says Suttie. "I'm glad my wife took a liking to my sport, because it's been for the better of the King in the Ring, and as a result for the whole sport."
Chris 'Cobra' Eades (ETK North Shore) vs Jordan 'Sniper' Syme (Grizzly Thai Boxing)
Pane 'The Punisher' Haraki (Hastings Fitness Centre) vs Nato 'Hard Knox' Laauli (ETK)
Sone 'Arch Angel' Vannathy (Arch Angel Muay Thai) vs Pumipi 'Caezar' Ngaronoa (Dannevirke Bulldogs)
Blood Diamond (City Kickboxing) vs Dirty Sanchez (Full Force Gym)
Trans-Tasman 8 Man
Kim Loudon (Extreme Muay Thai)
Mark Timms (Bulldog Gym, Manly)
Simon 'Mayhem' Maait (Bulldog Gym, Castle Hill)
Kurtis Pegoraro (Corporate Boxing Gym)
(C) Israel 'Stylebender' Adesanya (City Kickboxing)
Pati 'The Arsenal' Afoa (ETK)
Zak 'Fearless' Fatamaka (Grizzly Thai Boxing)
Zane 'The Hybrid' Hopman (Fortitude Thai Boxing)