WHAT. A. FIGHT
Kiwi Israel Adesanya has claimed a slice of New Zealand combat sports history, prevailing over Kelvin Gastelum in a captivating co-main event clash at UFC 236 in Atlanta on Sunday (NZ time).
In a back and forth contest for the ages, a battered and bruised Adesanya came through in the decisive fifth round to earn the nod on all three judges' scorecards and have the interim middleweight belt wrapped around his waist by UFC president Dana White.
The victory makes Adesanya New Zealand's first-ever UFC champion, although he'll still need to beat the recovering Robert Whittaker later this year to become the division's outright king.
Watch the last moments of the fifth round bellow:
"In that fifth round I found something deep," Adesanya said in the post-fight press conference. "Another level.
"I'm not one to quit. I'm strong mentally, I'm bulletproof in the brain, and I'm f**ked in the head a little bit. I just knew you're not going to break me. That was some movie type shit."
"I've been there before in training - when it's put on you by bout seven or eight guys. I knew if they couldn't break me, one man couldn't break me. At the end of the fourth round [Coach Eugene Bareman] said to go to that place.
"I don’t like to fight like that often, but you need those so you know you can go to that place."
Adesanya's five UFC wins to date - while impressive - hadn't come close to pushing him to the limits he had to reach in Atlanta.
"I found another level of that darkness… it's kind of scary to say, but I was willing to die right there.
"I looked at him across the octagon at the start of the fifth round and thought we're going to die, one of us."
"It's hard to explain. Only those who dare put themselves out there like we do will ever experience anything like that."