New Zealand not ready to accept UFC fighter as Supreme Halberg winner - Israel Adesanya

It's New Zealand sports night of nights, but one of the contenders to take out the Halbergs' Supreme Award says the public isn't ready for a combat sports athlete to win.

UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya thinks the ongoing stigma around the brutal sport means he and coach Eugene Bareman could be overlooked.

But Adesanya couldn't care less, with his primary task preparing for a first title defence in Las Vegas next month against Cuban sensation Yoel Romero. 

Regardless, 'The Last Stylebender' believes the night will end as it began - without a Supreme Award and with his sport still shrouded in negativity, seen by some as being as dignified as roosters fighting in a pit.

"Oh, they're cock-fighting with their penises," Adesnya told Newshub. "We are a country forged by a warrior race in the Māori.

"There's fights every other day, look at high school, look at intermediate school."

Adesanya conquered the UFC's middleweight division with his title win over Robert Whittaker last year.

Yet despite the Nigerian-born fighter being the most googled New Zealander and his chosen sport being one of the fastest growing sports in the world, Adesanya doesn't think the New Zealand public fully understand its impact.

"To them [the general public], it's just another bar brawl. There is a lack of education around what we do and what it takes for us to achieve greatness."

But former Halberg judge Brendan Telfer says the current crop tasked with selecting Thursday night's winners need to open their eyes.

"It's not the job of the judges of the panel to pass moral judgement on the ethics of a sports rules and regulations," he told Newshub. 

The perceived violent stigma is a clear indicator to Adesanya that another deserved finalist will win the gong.

"I might not be the image they want to portray for New Zealand Sportsman of the Year," he said.