Israel Adesanya | Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC
Israel Adesanya is one of the most dominant fighters in the world when he steps into the cage and he might be its greatest showman outside of it as well.
Though his uneventful win over Jared Cannonier this past Saturday at UFC 276 failed to spark much excitement, “The Last Stylebender” left a strong impression on viewers anyway with a walkout that paid homage to WWE legend The Undertaker. Adesanya showed full commitment to the bit, never breaking character and reminding us that the worlds of MMA and pro wrestling will always be inextricably linked.
Making it even better? WWE boss Vince McMahon and company bigwigs Stephanie McMahon, Triple H, and Nick Khan were sitting front row to soak it all in. Say what you want about Adesanya’s methodical in-cage style, the time and effort he puts into making a memorable moment on his walk to the octagon are second to none.
— UFC on BT Sport (@btsportufc) July 3, 2022
At cageside, commentator and freshly inducted UFC Hall of Famer Daniel Cormier declared it the greatest entrance he’d ever seen, a lofty statement given some of the incredible pre-fight moments authored by MMA’s biggest and brightest names.
Such a claim cannot go unchecked, so it’s time to take a stroll down memory lane with MMA Fighting’s Shaun Al-Shatti, Alexander K. Lee, Steven Marrocco, and Jed Meshew as we compare Adesanya’s latest theatrics to the best in UFC history.
Sinéad O’Connor performs as part of Conor McGregor’s walkout at UFC 189
Conor McGregor – UFC 189 – July 11, 2015
Al-Shatti: Adesanya’s riff on The Undertaker was cool, but let’s not be prisoners of the moment here. Hell, I wouldn’t slot it even as the best Adesanya walkout. That’d be UFC 243, when Izzy pulled off an absurdly impressive dance routine minutes before pulling off an absurdly impressive knockout to unify the middleweight belts in front of the biggest crowd in UFC history.
No, for my money, we’d have to dial things all the way back to July 2015 at UFC 189 to find the answer to this question. I was in the arena for Conor McGregor’s walkout opposite Chad Mendes and I still get goosebumps remembering that night. Robbie Lawler vs. Rory MacDonald 2 had just ended with a violent flourish and we were in the midst of the single-greatest pay-per-view the UFC has ever put on. That was still the prove-it era for McGregor, well before the eventual nonsense that’d come, and it felt as if all of Ireland had packed itself inside the MGM Grand Garden Arena. So when those lights turned dark and the octagon bathed itself in tricolor, and Sinéad O’Connor rose above the crowd like a ghost out of the mist and belted out her first few live notes of The Foggy Dew — good lord, I’m getting chills all over again.
It was the type of spectacle we simply don’t see from the UFC — not before UFC 189, and certainly never since. The fact that McGregor nearly burned the whole damn building down just a few minutes later doesn’t hurt either. That was a magic time in the sport’s history. So as rad as Adesanya’s ode to a WWE legend was, it’s not even in the same stratosphere of discussion.
Akihiro Gono – UFC 94 – Jan. 31, 2009
Lee: There have been bigger, more bombastic, more poignant entrances in the UFC, but no one ever made that walk to the octagon quite like Akihiro Gono.
By the time Gono debuted in the UFC, he was already 13 years into a career that would span three decades, and had a reputation for being, shall we say, unorthodox when it came to his presentation. Even in the always entertaining Japanese MMA scene, Gono’s flashy entrances stood out, so when it was time for him to make a proper go of it in North America, there was the hope that he would bring some of that signature sauce with him.
Sure enough, Gono’s first two fights in the UFC saw him strut his stuff, first donning a fancy suit and wig for his debut against Tamdan McCrory, and then having his cornermen join in on the impressively choreographed act for his second fight against Dan Hardy. But it was at UFC 94 that he would truly let his freak flag fly.
For his fight with Jon Fitch — one of the best welterweights in the world who was coming off of a championship fight with Georges St-Pierre — Gono wore a dress. A glittering dress. His whole team did.
In an act of sheer joy and love, Gono and his team took their time dancing their way through Vegas’ MGM Grand Garden Arena, looking all the world like they were ready to open for Cher on the other side of the strip. The choreographed routine put a smile on everyone’s face, which is pretty amazing given that your average MMA fan at the time was probably not expecting to see anything like that.
When he made it to the octagon, Gono removed his dress, wig, and shades to reveal his trademark zebra-stripe briefs, and then he had to put on the pair of shorts he was actually going to compete in. Imagine any of this happening during the UFC’s current apparel-deal era? Dana White would have a conniption.
Like with Adesanya, the fight itself did not live up to the entertainment of what preceded it as Gono wound up getting Fitch’d for three rounds. It would be his last fight in the UFC.
I honestly can’t tell you if this is objectively the best entrance I’ve ever seen, but I do know that it’s the one I’ve watched the most and that has to mean something.
Honorable mention to Joanna Jedrzejczyk coming out to Shallow at UFC 231 in Toronto. I was actually in the building for this one, and when that song came on to herald the entrance of one of the greatest fighters in my lifetime, I may or may not have openly wept.
Kimo Leopoldo – UFC 3 – Sept. 9, 1994
Marrocco: Because I believe the “best” in MMA often means “weirdest,” and because I’m writing this very late at night, there’s no better walkout I see to get this discussion started than the walkout of one Kimo Leopoldo.
“Managed” by the besuited Joe Son (inventor of the fictional Joesondo and later a horrible piece of crap human), Leopoldo was, according to Clyde Gentry’s book No Holds Barred, “an ex-gangbanger whose life had been spinning out of control.” He moved to Huntington Beach, Calif., home to many an early future UFC star (and one future politician) in hopes of playing college football. Instead, he met Son, a Christian extremist, and got Jesus tattooed across his stomach. He was billed as a third-degree black belt in taekwondo and a traveling minister; according to Gentry, he was in fact a street fighter who’d trained with Son for one day.
“My purpose here is to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the whole world,” Leopoldo told cameras in his promo vignette.
Introduced by a pair of placards helpfully labeled as quotes from the Holy Bible, Kimo walked into the arena with a cross on his back. This was not some small cross. According to Gentry, Son told the UFC it was “special training equipment” to conceal its form before his entrance at UFC 3. From the way he lumbered, it seemed like the creative team had perhaps miscalculated the poundage on the completed piece. To make things worse, he wore a black cloth over his head that appeared to obscure his vision; Son cleared the way to make sure folks in the cheap seats didn’t get a face full of balsa wood. Another teammate gave him a spot on the vertical post and kinda leaned it on the cage apron before someone came to their senses and got it out of there.
Standing across the octagon to greet Leopoldo in all of his devotion was none other than Royce Gracie. Were he the same size, the young Brazilian might have mopped the floor with his neophyte opponent. But Leopoldo proved surprisingly competitive and pushed Gracie to the point where the two-time UFC tournament champion was forced to withdraw from the tournament despite submitting Leopoldo.
So Leopoldo had terrible taste in friends, but he did manage to get props banned from future ring entrances, and he did give a legend a tough time in the octagon.
Genki Sudo – UFC 38 – July 13, 2002
Meshew: Oh, y’all thought I was going to keep this UFC only? Ridiculous! There have been a handful of good UFC walkouts ever. It’s an organization that smothers creative energy. This is like debating, “What is Smash Mouth’s best song?” Not exactly a deep well to draw from.
If we were going to restrict a “best entrance” debate to one organization, it obviously should have been Pride. Fireworks, smoke machines, and Lenne Hardt screaming fighter names like Michael Chandler begging for a title shot make for a litany of great choices. There’s Kazushi Sakuraba’s iconic Super Mario walkout at Pride Final Conflict 2003 against Kevin Randleman that was so good it had Randleman applauding. There’s Anderson Silva’s undeniable Pride 22 walkout to Don’t Stop ‘til You Get Enough by Michael Jackson, where he was decked out in the MJ fit dancing his ass off, with Wanderlei Silva getting into the groove behind him as well. There’s literally any Wanderlei entrance, where despite the rest of the sporting world’s best efforts to make Sandstorm lame, “The Ax Murderer” turned it into a thrilling portent of extreme violence. Any of those would knuckledust any offering from the UFC, but sadly none of them are the best, because none of them are by the hero, Genki Sudo.
Oh, you like choreographed dance numbers? Genki’s got you covered. You like people carrying heavy s*** to the cage? Well how about Genki being borne to the ring on a litter like the king he is? As for McGregor, I have nothing for that because Genki Sudo doesn’t hate his fans so he would never subject their ears to the off-key warbling of Ireland’s second-worst export.
It’s hard to find videos of all of Genki’s entrances, but there are plenty of compilations out there for newer fans to go back and check out, and they’re well worth your time. Every entrance is different. Every entrance is great. Every entrance makes your heart sing and validates why you are staying up to ungodly hours to watch fistfights on the other side of the world. His best one, for my money, is the entrance for his final fight at Dynamite!! 2006, what with the aforementioned litter, the outfits, and the pageantry, but really, there’s no wrong answer. His walkouts are like his philosophy on life: all one.
Fortunately, Genki actually fought three times in the UFC, and even though they are far from his best entrances (again, the UFC is where creativity goes to die) I’m still going to choose one of his because even if they may not be his best, he is still undeniably THE best. So give me his walkout at UFC 38 where he dressed like Mortal Kombat’s Raiden and wore a Tengu mask (a bit Adesanya would steal almost 20 years later at UFC 263).
In terms of walkouts, Genki Sudo is the man by which all others are judged. Put some damn respect on his name.
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