By Levi J Parsons
MELBOURNE, Feb. 8 (Xinhua) -- Just two days before the biggest match of his life, rising mixed martial arts (MMA) sensation Israel Adesanya told Xinhua how his experiences in China played a vital role in his growth and development as a fighter.
Set to take on Brazil's Anderson Silva -- one of the sport's most legendary competitors -- at UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) 234 in Melbourne this weekend, the winner of the bout has been promised the next middleweight world title shot.
Considered the ultimate proving ground for the globe's fiercest martial artists, Adesanya has raced up the rankings since joining the UFC one year ago, picking up four impressive wins with two by way of knockout.
Nicknamed the "the last stylebender," the 29-year-old Nigerian-born New Zealand citizen is regarded as one of the best strikers in MMA for his ability to seamlessly blend a variety of striking styles with ruthless power and precision.
Now on the cusp of establishing himself as one of the sport's best with an unbeaten record of 15-0, Adesanya explained on Friday how his time living and competing in the birthplace of martial arts helped shape his career.
"China was good for me because I was able to fight constantly," he said.
"I quit my job on September 4, 2013 and the next day I was on a plane to China and I was there for about ten months and during that time I just racked up fights."
"At one point I fought four times in one month because my style is not one where I stand and bang and get hurt and can't fight for months. I fight smart. So I was able to rack up fights and gain a lot of vital experience."
But as well as gaining experience inside the ring, Adesanya said that the attention he received from Chinese fans also allowed him to prepare for life in the spotlight.
"I was a big black guy in the middle of China and most people thought I played basketball," he joked.
"But at one point I fought in stadium with a capacity of 60,000, so I was able to get used to big fights and people staring at me."
"It got me ready for all of this, so I'm really grateful for the time I had there and I will always cherish those moments."
Known affectionately to Chinese fans as the black dragon, the 193 centimeter athlete still remains eager to return to China in the near future.
Able to speak Mandarin, Adesanya said "when the UFC goes back to China I will probably headline the event."
"My Chinese was a little bit better when I was there because if you don't use it you lose it, so maybe I should have had a Chinese girlfriend and I might have kept it up along the way," he laughed.
Seen as a key market for the sport, China and the Asia-Pacific region has become a hotbed of MMA talent in recent years.
As well as Adesanya, Sunday's fight card at Rod Laver Arena will also feature Australian middleweight world champion Robert Whittaker against U.S. challenger Kelvin Gastelum and Chinese bantamweight Wu Liji "The Beastmaster" against hard-hitting American Jonathan Martinez.
Excited about the rapid growth of the sport in the region UFC President Dana White told Xinhua, "it's all about creating talent, it takes time, it takes money and it takes effort," he said.
"When we first came over here to Australia there weren't a whole lot of people training here in mixed martial arts and now Australia has a world champion and some real talent coming out of this place and a really strong fanbase."
"In China we are currently building a performance institute that is three times bigger than the one [at our headquarters] in Las Vegas," he added.
It's expected the state of the art training facility in Shanghai will be officially opened sometime in the middle of 2019.