UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya has done a lot in his nine-year MMA career, but the result of his most recent fight was a first for him: He lost.
Going up a weight class to challenge for the light heavyweight title, Adesanya fell short, losing by unanimous decision to champion Jan Blachowicz in the main event of UFC 259 on Saturday in Las Vegas. The loss dropped Adesanya’s pro record to 20-1 and his coach Eugene Bareman sees this momentary setback as an ideal learning opportunity.
Speaking to Submission Radio, Bareman was coy, but wanted to emphasize that once his team gets back in the lab at City Kickboxing, Adesanya could be better than ever.
“We’ve learned a sht-ton, to be honest,” Bareman said of the Adesanya-Blachowicz fight (transcription via Denis Shkuratov). “We’ve learned a sht-ton. There’s not too much that I want to talk about, what we’ve learned, I always want to keep whatever edge that we have over everybody else, I don’t want to talk about too much what we’ve learned.
“But let me just say that as much as when you’re winning you try to learn just as much as if you were in a situation where you lost, it’s never the case. Only a loss can bring out certain amounts of attention to detail, certain amounts of enthusiasm, certain amounts of excitement to get back in and fix up some of the areas and kind of rejig a few things and rethink a few things. And we’re excited about this loss, because we know the power of it. We know that if we can capture the power of the loss, we can really take things to another level, because we’ve done it many times before.”
Adesanya was coming off of a quartet of middleweight championship bouts that saw him earn victories over Paulo Costa, Yoel Romero, Robert Whittaker, and Kelvin Gastelum. At his best, Adesanya has performed like one of the most dominant champions in UFC history, but Blachowicz was with him every step of the way on Saturday and even earned a pair of 10-8 scores from the judges in the fifth round.
Though Bareman has not re-watched the fight yet, his main takeaway from what he saw live was the excellence of Blachowicz as opposed to any particular shortcomings on the part of his fighter.
“What we didn’t expect was Jan to be so standoffish,” Bareman said. “We thought he would be a lot more aggressive and we really put a lot of emphasis into our training for him to come forward and rush us a lot. When he stood there and postured with Israel a lot, we didn’t really expect that, but we were prepared for it. But I believe that made the fight a little closer than we expected it to be.”
“I think Israel performed well,” he added. “Did he perform his best? No. But did he perform terribly? No. He just had a really good opponent in front of him and a really good team who had a good strategy and who had the right answers. Israel didn’t perform terribly. A lot of that has to do with his opponent, really. So not gonna try to take any credit away from Jan. He did really well there.”
If Bareman points to anything coming up short, it’s that Adesanya and the coaches were slow to make adjustments. Otherwise, he refused to make excuses for any possible changes in preparation due to travel and COVID-19 safety protocol, and also downplayed the weight difference between Adesanya and Blachowicz noting that the light heavyweight champion’s ground superiority was due to his grappling expertise as much as his size.
“No excuses,” Bareman said. “I think the training camp went well, and the lead-up to the fight in fight week was brilliant. Nah, I don’t. There’s no excuses here. This is the thing, man, when you lose, it doesn’t happen in this sport nowadays, but sometimes you just lose and you just have to take it. And we are as a team internalizing it, and we’re being humble about it and taking it like a loss, like you should do. It doesn’t happen enough in this sport. People kind of refuse to accept a loss, but we’re accepting it we’re looking to take what we can out of it.”
The immediate plan is for Adesanya to return to middleweight, where has successfully defended an undisputed UFC title twice. Several key matchups will be resolved soon at 185 pounds featuring contenders Whittaker, Costa, Kevin Holland, Derek Brunson, Darren Till, and Marvin Vettori.
Should Adesanya clear out this next crop of challengers, Bareman sees a scenario where he and Blachowicz duel again.
“We’re competitive, Israel’s ultra-competitive,” Bareman said. “Israel will go down and clean up and dominate 185 for a while. And then I do see Jan as being quite a long-reigning champion. I think we’ll definitely chase Jan again. He’s a worthy opponent and he’s beaten us and he’s a worthy opponent. I can’t exactly predict the future, but we will definitely come hunting for the Polish power again.”
For Adesanya’s next middleweight opponent, Bareman sees Till as the front-runner with a win over Vettori on April 10, with Whittaker right behind him should he defeat Costa on April 17.
Adesanya won the UFC title with a second-round KO of Whittaker at UFC 243, so Bareman finds the fresh challenge of Till to be more intriguing.
“There’s no Marvin Vettori, there’s no Paulo Costa,” Bareman said. “There’s Darren Till, so Darren Till needs to win. And Robert Whittaker, because he’s one of our brethren. He’s one of our brothers, he’s a kiwi. There’s two fights and then what do we do? Jan wins a couple, we win a couple, I don’t know. That’s just me throwing stuff out there. … Middleweight, the problem with middleweight at the moment is Israel has got himself into a position where he’s cleaned it out a little bit. So there’s Robert, who’s right there and who’s trudging his way back, who’s grinding his way back. But Darren Till is the front-runner there.”
“Darren Till is,” Bareman continued when asked why he considers Till to be ahead of Whittaker in the contenders’ line. “How is Robert the front-runner when, you know, I don’t want to say bad things about Robert, but it wasn’t a competitive fight. Like, he didn’t touch us. So how is that the front-runner for the next fight? The fight wasn’t competitive. The front-runner for us is the biggest challenge, and at the moment it seems to be that Darren Till could have a style that possibly gives Israel a few problems.”