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Rafael Cordeiro sees other middleweights ‘as tough or even tougher’ than Israel Adesanya ‘because they haven’t showed any weaknesses’

Marvin Vettori lost a close split decision to future middleweight champion Israel Adesanya in 2018.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Three years after sharing the octagon with Israel Adesanya, “The Italian Dream” Marvin Vettori wants to achieve his ultimate goal and become Italy’s first UFC champion. Kings MMA leader Rafael Cordeiro, who was in Vettori’s corner that night and returns to Glendale for the rematch at Saturday night’s UFC 263, is confident that they will dethrone “The Last Stylebender.”

“This is a fight he has asked for a long time and I think he’s had great evolution since the first one,” Cordeiro said in an interview with MMA Fighting. “Both fighters have changed a lot. Israel has his merits, but there’s a lot of things in his game that we will try to exploit now.”

Adesanya was 12-0 as a professional MMA fighter when he fought Vettori at UFC on FOX 29, winning a split decision after hard-fought 15 minutes. Since then, “The Last Stylebender” has beaten the likes of Anderson Silva, Kelvin Gastelum, Robert Whittaker, Yoel Romero and Paulo Costa in an incredible run at middleweight before coming up short in a light heavyweight bout with champion Jan Blachowicz.

Blachowicz managed to win a decision against Adesanya with well-timed takedowns three months ago, and some wonder if the middleweight superstar had enough time to fix that opening in his game. Whatever the case is, Cordeiro expects “a war” just like their first encounter.

“[Fighters] will always try to get better even in a short period of time like three months,” Cordeiro said. “If he had time to fix that or managed to fix what he thinks he has done wrong, [the Vettori rematch] will tell the story. We’re going into this fight to tell a new story, forgetting what happened in the first one, exploring Marvin’s qualities and knowing we also have qualities on the other side [of the cage].”

“Great challenges are what makes athletes and I see Israel as a great challenge at the moment,” he continued, “but there are other guys in this division that are as tough or even tougher because they haven’t showed any weaknesses and they are hungry. Israel has been in some battles and showed many holes against Romero, Anderson and Kelvin. He won, yes, but has showed many holes in his wrestling, striking and takedown defense, and those are things you have to exploit. We knew how to explore that, and we believe Marvin can come out the champion on Saturday.”

Cordeiro had two chances to handle Adesanya his first loss in MMA, coaching Vettori in 2018 and Kelvin Gastelum a year later, but refuses to make it personal.

“[Adesanya’s] only split decision wins were against my students,” Cordeiro said. “The split decisions he’s had, the ones that left some doubt, were against Kelvin and Marvin, so he knows we’re coming in hard on him just like we know he’s coming in strong as well, and that’s what makes things interesting. But the score is back to zero now. It’s another opportunity to fight a great champion, and our goal is to come out with the win this time.”

“I believe that fight could have gone either way,” he said of the first match. “Had Mavin taken him down early maybe he would have gotten an advantage, I don’t know. It is what it is, it was meant to be that way. We lost that fight by split decision and now we’re coming back to try to get the victory.”

Vettori earned a shot at the middleweight gold after racking up five straight wins since that close loss to “The Last Stylebender” in 2018, including decisions over Jack Hermansson and Kevin Holland. Cordeiro sees the Italian star as a “very talented kid” who already has “the mindset of a champion,” and vows to “erase that doubt on who won really that first fight” with the UFC 263 rematch.

The experienced coach wouldn’t go in details as to what he has planned for Vettori at UFC 263, whether or not they will take a page off Blachowicz’s book and make Adesanya spend 25 minutes working on his takedown defense.

According to Cordeiro, that’s not the only hole in Adesanya’s MMA game.

“Marvin has good striking and has no problem [standing and trading with Adesanya],” Cordeiro said. “He’s calm, he attacks and counters. He has one of the best counters in this division so it will be interesting to see him against someone of Israel’s caliber to test him as well.

“We know about Israel’s firepower and kickboxing, but he has a lot of openings in his defense and we will test that in this fight. It’s a MMA fight and there will be a lot of punches, kicks, wrestling, grappling. It’s a five-round fight that will demand a lot from both and that’s why we’re working a lot on his cardio. It’s not the best fighter that wins a fight anymore, it’s the best athlete. Cardio is as important as muay thai, jiu-jitsu, wrestling. We’ll push hard for five rounds, doing what we know from start to finish.”

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