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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Israel Adesanya, MMA star, narrowly avoids drunk-driving conviction

Israel Adesanya (Facebook)

By Natasha Frost

Just weeks after being charged with driving under the influence in Auckland, New Zealand, last year, Israel Adesanya, a former two-time middleweight mixed martial arts champion, sought to project humility and remorse.

He immediately pleaded guilty, issued a public apology and declined to seek “name suppression,” where the news media is banned from publishing a defendant’s name, a common practice in New Zealand for the famous or moderately well known facing legal trouble.

These factors, along with what Adesanya described as the likely and disproportionate negative effects of a criminal conviction on his high-profile career, prompted a judge last week to dismiss the charges.

Judge Peter Winter of the Auckland District Court instead ordered Adesanya to donate 1,500 New Zealand dollars, or around $900, to a charity; suspended his driver’s license for six months; and ordered him to enroll in a drunk-driving cessation program by the end of 2024. Adesanya had previously been charged with, but not convicted of, driving while his license was suspended.

Hours later on Wednesday, Adesanya risked undoing some of the court’s goodwill by mocking prosecutors to his 8.5 million Instagram followers.

Adesanya posted photographs and videos taken from within the court — an illegal action in New Zealand — as well as video footage of a police prosecutor, against a soundtrack of a popular and offensive song by American rapper Big Sean. The posts were later deleted.

The police in New Zealand said they were aware of the posts and would “liaise with the Court, which is responsible for security, about any next steps.”

In an Instagram story posted Thursday, Adesanya ruminated on the importance of staying humble and avoiding making excuses. “Don’t feel entitled to anything,” he said. “Even me, I had to remind myself of that.”

Adesanya, who was born in Lagos, Nigeria, but who has called New Zealand home since he was 10, is among MMA’s brightest sparks — but, at 34, his star is waning. He has fought just four times in 14 months, and he described himself as being in “the back end of my career” in a recent YouTube video.

Adesanya was charged in August with drunken driving, after his blood alcohol level was measured at 0.087%. (The legal limit in the United States is 0.08%, and in New Zealand, it is 0.05%.) He told police he drank two cocktails with dinner.

The charge holds a maximum penalty in New Zealand of three months’ imprisonment and a fine of up to 4,500 New Zealand dollars, or around $2,800.

But a conviction, Adesanya said, would be disproportionate — probably costing him hundreds of thousands of dollars in endorsements and abruptly curtailing what has been a sparkling career representing New Zealand on the world stage, as his lawyer had argued.

“I’m sure you have learned from this,” Winter told the athlete Wednesday. “You would not want to be placed in this position again, as you realize.”

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