Nigeria’s UFC champion Israel Adesanya has been named the 2019 New Zealand Sportsman of the Year, at the 57th ISPS Handa Halberg Awards, Completesports.com reports.
The award ceremony which took place at Spark Arena in Auckland, is New Zealand’s pre-eminent honors ceremony for sporting excellence.
The award also serves as a fundraiser for the Halberg Foundation, an organization with the stated purpose“to enhance the lives of physically disabled New Zealanders by enabling them to participate in sport and recreation.”
It was an historic achievement for Adesanya as he becomes the first combat sports athlete to take home Sportsman of the Year honors since 1953, despite New Zealand’s long history of boxing and kickboxing success.
It was a phenomenal 2019 for Adesanya who first, defeated Anderson Silva with a Fight of the Night performance at UFC 234.
Then he claimed the UFC interim middleweight championship with a win over Kelvin Gastelum in the Fight of the Year.
Finally, he won the undisputed middleweight title with a second-round KO of Robert Whittaker.
His impressive performances saw him take home Fighter of the Year honors at the end of the year.
Speaking after being named Sports Man of the Year, Adesanya paid homage to his predecessors in the combat sports.
“It’s the 57th annual Halberg’s. It’s the first time combat athletes have been nominated so you know, I have to do this for the old, the combat athletes of old. Rest in Peace Jimmy Thunder, David Tua, Doug Viney sitting right there, Ray Sefo, Joseph Parker, and now Israel Adesanya.
“Kiwis, we love a good one out. We love a good fight. This is part of the culture. Straight up. We’re a country of a warrior race, the Maori. This is part of our culture. If a fight broke out right now, what would you all do? You’d ignore me and you’d watch the fight. It’s in our DNA. We’ve been doing this for so long, you guys have no idea. Welcome to the party.”
Adesanya is set to defend his title at UFC 248 on March 7th in Las Vegas, NV. against Yoel Romero.
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