The Influence Of Pop Culture And Anime In MMA

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Israel Adesanya Anime in MMA
ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - SEPTEMBER 24: Israel Adesanya of Nigeria interacts with media during the UFC 253 Press Conference on September 24, 2020 at Yas Beach on UFC Fight Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)

Anime in MMA is one of many motivators and influences, from athletes of previous generations to parental figures who have given their children something to fight for. Another specific influence that has only recently become commonly discussed, is pop culture in mixed martial arts. Though many people look at subjects such as comic books and cartoons as “nerdy” and “childish”, many athletes of today utilize their knowledge of such things in and out of the octagon. Join me as I discuss the motivation behind some of the world’s greatest martial artists.

Israel Adesanya – Anime

We start by talking about one half of the UFC 259 main event, middleweight champion Israel Adesanya is popularly known for his love of Japanese cartoons not only his knowledge of it but also using styles from certain shows in his faceoffs and even in the cage. One example of this would be when he wrote Robert Whittaker’s name in the death note, 8 minutes and 33 seconds later “The Reapers” fate was sealed after being devastatingly knocked out crowning Adesanya as the new champion.

Another example is found in his nickname, known as “The Last Stylebender” the name draws inspiration from the anime series known as Avatar The Last Airbender, a popular series where people master the ability to manipulate elements such as earth, fire, water, etc. Another way Adesanya displays his love for anime is through his tattoos, one of which is on his stomach where he has the ocean and moon spirit from Avatar mixed with the nine tails beast from Naruto. He also has his favorite character Toph tattoed on his arm.

His best display of channeling his inner nerd came in his face-off against Anderson Silva, not only did he recreate the legendary stance of Rock Lee from the Naruto series but “The Spider” also stood as the villain known as Gaara. In this main event bout, Adesanya charged his chakra and opened the eight gates which helped him reach a state of patience and strength, it also made him near untouchable. The eight gates is a state of spiritual capability that is incredibly dangerous and powerful and in the popular anime series Naruto, only 20% of the person’s muscle strength can stop them from disintegrating.

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MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – FEBRUARY 09: (L-R) Israel Adesanya of New Zealand and Anderson Silva of Brazil face off during the UFC 234 weigh-in at Rod Laver Arena on February 09, 2019 in the Melbourne Australia. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

In a recent interview with Stephen. A. Smith on ESPN, Israel Adesanya talked about his love for anime and how it inspires him when it comes to mixed martial arts. Stephen asked Adesanya “what level of motivation does anime provide for you?” Israel replied with “For me, it’s about the stories of certain characters from certain universes of certain shows. The protagonists or the antagonists sometimes, have a deeper meaning in their character and their story and it kinda inspires me but the main thing that got me into anime was the fight scenes, the smoothness of the animation, and the flow but what kept me was the story of the characters”. Anime in MMA is not only something that the UFC’s middleweight champion loves but some other fighters have also expressed their passion for the popular cartoon series.

Roxanne Modafferi – Anime

Another beloved fan of anime in MMA is “The Happy Warrior” Roxanne Modafferi. Roxanne has done everything from wearing a Dragon Ball wig at the ceremonial weigh-ins to telling the crowd after a victory “I went super Saiyan for you all”. Super saiyan is a form in the Dragon Ball series that makes the being tremendously more powerful, in fact, one of her main inspirations of being in the fight game is to show the world that anime is cool. Although her acts of passion for the Japanese cartoons mainly revolve around Dragon Ball, she has said that her favorite anime is actually Naruto. Another type of pop culture she enjoys is Power Rangers.

Benson Henderson – Comic Books

Outside of anime in MMA, another inspiration drawn from pop culture is comic books. The one known as “Smooth” is unknowing to some, actually a massive fan of comic books even being compared to Mr. Fantastic from the Marvel comic book series after showing amazing flexibility in his first bout against Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone where he would nullify every attempt of the cowboy’s submissions. The former UFC lightweight champion has a massive comic book collection from x-men to other sci-fi stories, he spent 3 summers in a row in a library reading about the Marvel comic universe and has said that the un-realistic fight scenes just inspire him to push past his capable limit. His trademark axe kick is his most notable move inspired by his comic book knowledge.

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SEATTLE, WA – DECEMBER 08: Benson Henderson (white shorts) kicks Nate Diaz (bottom) during their lightweight championship bout at the UFC on FOX event on December 8, 2012 at Key Arena in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Along with solidifying calf kicks in the octagon for future generations, Bensons arsenal shows patience and incredible timing all inspired by his main passion outside of mixed martial arts, he got to the top of the sport by not only fighting the very best but doing so with a toothpick in his mouth. To this day before every bout, Henderson visits a comic book store and catches up on the latest issues of his favorite series. His favorite character is the mutant Shatterstar, a genetically engineered warrior who has enhanced physical capabilities for being a gladiator on the planet Mojoworld.

Khalil Rountree JR – Music

Outside of comic books and anime in MMA another pop culture that inspires many is music, Khalil Rountree Jr is very open about his love for hip hop group Brockhampton even walking out to a song of theirs and hanging out with members after training. One member of the boy band Ciarán McDonald, also known as Bearface has previously made joking comments on Rountree’s Instagram where he said “No one has more fights than me, bro, let’s run it”. The highlight of Khalil’s career came at UFC 236 where he comfortably beat Eryk Anders in a unanimous decision, he showed an amazing display of Muay Thai which was perfect for him after spending so much time in Thailand.

After highlighting former and present champions along with other stars from the UFC and Bellator, our discussion of inspiration from pop culture and anime in MMA comes to an end. The number of fighters that have drawn things from certain books, shows, and music is a sort of nostalgic reminder to show that no matter how old you get, inspiration can be found in anything.


Follow me on Twitter @LeoJJohnson20 and follow @OTHeroicsMMA for more great content! And don’t forget our Instagram, overtimeheroics_mma. Come discuss this and much more at the Overtime Heroics forums!

Featured Image Credits to Embed from Getty Images

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