Home Movie Reviews ‘Stylebender’ – Review
‘Stylebender’ – Review

‘Stylebender’ – Review


There’s no more intriguing figure in the modern-day fight game right now than Israel ‘The Last Stylebender’ Adesanya, and he finally reveals his story in the deeply reflective and emotional documentary Stylebender.

An intimate look at Israel Adesanya, the Nigerian-born New Zealand-based MMA champion, which goes beyond the ring and delves deep into an unlikely fighter’s journey. Exploring themes of masculinity, bullying and even the healing power of dance, this documentary is a poignant examination of the complex, exciting and sometimes controversial person known as ‘The Last Stylebender.’

The world of professional sports creates a canvas for figures of immense stature, personality, conflict and grit, and in the current day fight arena of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, there’s no one more interesting, controversial or infamous than Israel Adesanya, the Nigerian born New Zealand based MMA champion who has won over a legion of fans with skill and technique earning him the name, ‘The Last Stylebender’. Director Zoe McIntosh’s Stylebender is his story, and this documentary filmmaker presents an incredibly layered and nuanced character study of one of the most intriguing men in sports today. McIntosh brings real empathy to capturing Adesanya’s story, and she creates a space in which the fighter can be completely and honestly open. You feel the care she has brought to this documentary, making it a rewarding watch.

Stylebender makes for a raw watch, but not in the way you’re anticipating. This is not a hard-hitting, brutal story but rather a very intimate and open portrait of a new kind of athlete. Adesanya doesn’t revel in the full-on glow of Alpha Male masculinity; he’s a far more open and vulnerable person. Ultimately, he’s himself and is true to his own thoughts and feelings. Whether that be in the cage or in his life out of it, he is a completely authentic person, and Styledender allows audiences to get an inside look into his actions and thoughts and, more importantly, his emotions and feelings. The young fighter is a complete contradiction to what a regular person would think a fighter to be, but that is what makes him so incredibly interesting to watch. In every frame of this documentary, he is uniquely himself.

Zoe McIntosh’s film offers audiences a more intimate portrait of Adesanya, and we learn of his troubles with bullying as a child, his escape and the freedom gained through the medium, and his search to reconnect with his past and drive for the future. Stylebender gives credence to Adesanya’s immense ambition, but also the talent that he has to back up his drive and fight in the case. With 27 matches, 24 wins, and being a two-time UFC Middleweight Champion, Adesanya is still a fighter in the absolute prime of his career, and he’s got plenty more moves left in his kit for his next fight.

Both established fight fans and those new to the sport will be thoroughly enchanted by this portrait of one of the most dynamic and compelling figures in the fight game, and Stylebender is unlike any sports documentary you’ve seen before.

Image: Roadshow Films