Israel Adesanya, (aka “The Last Stylebender”) is a unique individual. He has formal training in dance, a highly impressive kickboxing record, is currently one of the fastest rising superstars (if not the fastest rising) in the MMA world and is one of only two undefeated champions in the UFC at 18-0. His performance in front of the record breaking crowd, both before and during the fight, at Marvel Stadium will likely go down as a watershed moment in the history of the sport. What makes this work for Stylebender is an authenticity to his style and personality, which results in a highly effective combination of uniqueness and relatability. According to Adesanya’s coach Eugene Bareman, the middleweight champion embodies and lives this persona 24×7, whether in front of the cameras or not.
I speculate, that at the core of Stylebender’s self-confessed “internet kid” thinking, is a philosophy that he has alluded to on occasion – a metaphor borrowed from the world of gaming – the Player One philosophy. It’s an expression of the sentiment of how our life experience is uniquely ours, and a reminder not to be pay undue attention to outsider judgment.
It’s a surprisingly powerful perspective which once adopted, is wont to make you focus on what you can control while only observing and enjoying the rest. Take the controls, make your own plays – the rest of the simulation has been pre-programmed anyways.
Adesanya is in elite company. Naval Ravikant, a revered figure in Silicon Valley, a self-made high net worth individual, who spends his time with young companies, is known for imparting wisdom. (to the extent that he has been dubbed the “chief executive philosopher”), has also expressed similar thoughts.
The champion’s career thus far has been a great example of this mentality. He’s taken the fights offered to him and has been extremely active. He’s sacrificed vacation time to take fights. He’s fought through injuries. Outside the octagon he has been vocal about his opponents, his abilities, and has done his fair share of media appearances. He is a moderately polarising figure, perhaps a result of what looks like unapologetic honesty.
The Player One philosophy does not stop at merely focussing on the actions you can control. There’s another parallel that video games and real life have – the concept of “leveling up”. To illustrate this, take a look at the following.
Stylebender is 30-years-old. That’s two years older than former champion Robert Whittaker. Some people believe that he could have joined the UFC earlier. However, Stylebender has mentioned that he waited till he was ready before coming to the UFC because he knew that he would have to hit the ground running. An effective levelling up, increasing his skills and abilities, (analogous to a video game where you get bigger better weapons as well as bigger challenges the longer you play) seems to have paid off in big bonus points for the Stylebender. In 2019 alone, he’s looked better each fight he’s taken, effectively levelling up (and he started against Anderson Silva, a perennial contender for the coveted status of the “Greatest Of All Time”). Needless to say, games afford you a reset button, a chance at a do-over if you incorrectly estimated the difficulty. Real life does not and often requires foresight and judgment to navigate through, traits that Stylebender possesses and this comes through when you pay attention in his public appearances.
In recent times, Stylebender is engaging with Jon Jones on Twitter in a battle of online quips. He wants to take on Jones after defending his own championship several times, but has indicated early 2021 as the timeline by which he expects to challenge the controversial and formidable light heavyweight champion.
The Player One perspective sheds some interesting light on this as well. Firstly, Stylebender further fortifying his résumé by adding the names of dangerous middleweights to his list of accomplishments, leveling himself up as an even bigger name in the fight business, thereby increasing the stakes and the payout.
However, there’s a second kind of leveling up, relevant to this situation. Remember how Stylebender waited to join the UFC? He seems to have an eerily accurate sense of his ability at any given point in time. It is unclear if this is the result of self-reflection, some form of innate ability or whether the credit for this belongs to Eugene Bareman (or someone else at City Kickboxing). Perhaps it is some combination of the above factors. For whatever reason, Adesanya has this rare and valuable foresight. Following this line of reasoning, perhaps Stylebender knows that he may not be able to beat Jones as of today, but he will be good enough at sometime in the future. Both fighters are young and accomplished, so it’s likely that we’ll see them square off. If Stylebender is right about 2021, then it’s going to be sooner rather than later. Perhaps Stylebender knows how long he needs to finish this level. Time will tell.