Israel Adesanya wows with powerful speech after winning Sportsman of the Year at Halberg Awards

Publish Date
Friday, 14 February 2020, 12:24PM

UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya was named Sportsman of the Year at the Halberg Awards last night, making him the first combat sport athlete to win the award since 1953.

But the Nigerian-New Zealand MMA fighter immediately stole the show with his powerful acceptance speech, calling for an end of the "tall poppy" culture in our country.

"This isn't really for me," he began his speech. "This is for the young generation coming up who get to see someone they can relate to, someone of my essence if you will, that they can see a combat athlete ... is up there with the likes of the All Blacks, the Black Caps, the Tall Blacks.

"New Zealand, we have this ... culture of tall poppy syndrome, which is messed up.

"Coming up in this country I've seen it so many times.

"When you see one of us rising, you want to tear him down, because you feel inadequate and you want to call it humble.

"I am extraordinarily humble, believe me, but you'll never know that, because you'll never get to know me.

"Understand this, if you see one of us shining – whether it be the netball team, the Black Caps, the sailors – pump them up, embrace them, because if they win, we win. If I win, you win.

"Understand that."

READ MORE:
• Sonny Bill Williams hits out at Instagram after photo of him praying before rugby game was removed
• Air New Zealand staff farewell the All Blacks with powerfully passionate haka at Auckland Airport

Adesanya's last fight was when he knocked out Robert Whittaker in a unification bout at UFC 243 in Melbourne last October.

Adesanya claimed the honour ahead of Tom Walsh, Scott McLaughlin and Kane Williamson.

 

Adesanya's full speech
"How long do I have? [Clears throat amid laughter]. It's the 57th annual Halbergs. 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 Māori. 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.

"We've been doing this for so long. Way back, we've been wearing New Zealand on our back all over the world. We did it twice last year in Australia, UFC 234 and 243, me and two of my other teammates, we repeated the three-peat. And guess what, next weekend we have other people coming to our shores at UFC Auckland and we're gonna defend the land, and repeat the three-peat. Understand this.

"So for me, this really isn't for me. This is for the young generation coming up who get to see someone they can relate to, someone who is of my essence, if you will. A combat athlete that they can feel like, 'Man, my sport, like Muay Thai or Jiu-Jitsu or Wrestling is up there with the All-Blacks, the Black Caps, and the Tall Blacks and New Zealand's top sporting teams'. We're on a level playing field. Like I said, we've been doing this for a long time, so this is for them.

"And this is for my team, City Kickboxing. This is for my coach, Eugene Bareman, because without him my career wouldn't be s***. I wouldn't be here. Understand that.

"And one more thing I've got say: New Zealand we have this f- woo, censorship! Where's the swear jar? Nah, f*** it - we have this culture of tall poppy syndrome which is messed up. Coming up in this country, I've seen it so many times. When you see somebody rising you want to tear them down because you feel inadequate and you want to call it humble. I am extraordinarily humble, believe me, but you'll never know that because you never get to know me. Understand this, if you see one of us shining, whether it be the netball team, the Black Caps, the Sailors, pump them up! Embrace them! Because if they win, we win, if I win, you win! Understand that.

"And I know some of you will be a little salty, you might clap but you're a little salty, but hey, stay salty, the Black Kiwi's gonna fly all day. Shout out to myself in this mustard-coloured jacket and shout out to the guy with the mustard coloured face as well. Peace!"

Halberg Awards winners
Supreme Award:
Silver Ferns (Netball)

Team of the Year:
Silver Ferns (Netball)

Para athlete/team of the Year:
Sophie Pascoe (Para swimming)

Sportswoman of the Year:
Lisa Carrington (Canoe racing)

Sportsman of the Year:
Israel Adesanya (Mixed martial arts)

Coach of the Year:
Dame Noeline Taurua (Netball)

Emerging Talent:
Alice Robinson (Ski racing)

NZ's Favourite Sporting Moment:
Silver Ferns win the World Cup (Netball)

Sport New Zealand Leadership Award:
Dame Noeline Taurua (Netball)

Hall of Fame inductee:
Sid Going (Rugby)

Lifetime Achievement Award:
Yvonne Willering (netball)

 

This article was first published on nzherald.co.nz and is republished here with permission.