Mixed Martial Arts: Kiwi Israel Adesanya among star-studded ESPY Award finalists

Israel Adesanya confronts Anderson Silva at UFC 234
Israel Adesanya confronts Anderson Silva at UFC 234. Photo credit: Photosport

Kiwi mixed martial arts exponent Israel Adesanya has been nominated for a prestigious 'ESPY' award - the first time the sport has been recognised in its own right.

Previously, MMA has been combined with boxing in an 'ESPY Best Fighter' category, but the 2019 edition sees that award split into separate classifications.

Nigerian-born Adesanya, 29, is acknowledged as a rising UFC star, who is now just one step away from a world title, after his defeat of American Kelvin Gastelum for the interim middleweight belt in April.

He is now undefeated in six UFC fights and will next get a shot at the crown held by Sydney-based Kiwi Robert Whittaker, tentatively scheduled for October.

His opposition for the ESPY consists of UFC heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier, flyweight and lightweight titleholder Henry Cejudo, and women's bantamweight and featherweight champ Amanda Nunes.

Cormier was only the second man - behind Conor McGregor - to hold two belts at the same time, when he defeated Stipe Miocic for the heavyweight strap at UFC 226. He successfully defended that against Derrick Lewis at UFC 230.

Cejudo became the latest double champion, dethroning flyweight king TJ Dillashaw in January, then securing the vacant bantamweight title against Marlon Moares in June.

Nunes is the only woman to hold two belts, after beating Raquel Pennington for the bantamweight title in May 2018 and Cris Cyborg in the featherweight division in December.

The awards, hosted by American comedian Tracy Morgan and featuring most of the world's top athletes, are determined by fan voting and will be handed down on July 11 (NZT) in Los Angeles.