WATCH: Israel Adesanya calls out NZ's 'tall poppy syndrome' during Sportsman of Year speech

Headlines 14/02/2020

UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya has taken aim at New Zealand's 'tall poppy syndrome', after becoming the first combat athlete to win Sportsman of the Year at the Halberg Awards since 1953.

Adesanya beat Blackcaps captain Kane Williamson, Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin and shot put champion Tom Walsh to win the prestigious New Zealand award. 

The 30-year-old is one of New Zealand's highest-profile athletes, beating Robert Whittaker to claim the middleweight world title at UFC 243 in Melbourne. 

After accepting his trophy, Adesanya used his time on stage for a rousing speech and take aim at New Zealand's obsession of putting successful people down. 

"We have this culture of tall poppy syndrome which is messed up," he said. "Coming up in this country, I've seen it so many times.

"When you see somebody rising, you want to tear them down, because you feel inadequate and you want to call it humble. 

"I am extraordinarily humble, believe me, but you'll never know that, because you never get to know me. 

"Understand this, if you see one of us shining, whether it be the netball team, the Blackcaps, the sailors, pump them up! Embrace them, because if they win, we win.

"If I win, you win! Understand that."

After his speech, Adeysanya elaborated on his comments. 

"I say what I feel and I felt to deliver my message correctly, I have to be authentic. 

"Fine me, put your f**kin swear jar somewhere, I'll put in hundred dollar bills.

"It's part of our culture, it's messed up. If I see my friends looking good, I'm like 'man, you're looking good in that jacket', not 'look at you, you think you're the man in that jacket'. 

"It's bullshit how we always try tear our own down and it's like what are you doing?"  

Adeyansaya's first title defence is scheduled for March 7, when he faces Cuban Yoel Romero at UFC 248 in Nevada.

During his speech, Adeyansaya also paid homage to all the other combat sports stars New Zealand has produced over the years. 

"It's the first time combat athletes have been nominated, so you know, I have to do this for the old, the combat athletes of old. 

"Rest in peace, Jimmy Thunder... David Tua, Doug Viney sitting right there, Ray Sefo, Joseph Parker and now Israel Adesanya."