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Eugene Bareman surprised Robert Whittaker didn’t ‘risk the biscuit a bit more’ against Israel Adesanya at UFC 271

Israel Adesanya coach Eugene Bareman is too polite to engage in the type of insults that accompany post-fight social media chatter. The furthest he’ll go on the opinion that Robert Whittaker beat his charge, UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya, is to question the smarts of the UFC 271 scorer.

The vast majority of media outlets scored the bout for Adesanya this past Saturday at Toyota Center. Even more importantly, the three judges octagon-side delivered 49-46, 48-47 and 48-47 tallies for a unanimous decision. Yet there was a small, but vocal contingent including Whittaker who questioned if the champ had done enough in the rematch.

“I might have a bias, but I think 4-1’s a good assessment,” Bareman responded Monday on The MMA Hour. “At a stretch, I don’t see it, but 3-2. To give Robert the fight, you’re going into a space where you’re teetering with just not being intelligent.”

Whittaker did deliver a different performance this past Saturday, one Bareman said left Adesanya with a mental block that made his performance a little more tentative than desired – and the fight a little closer than hoped for. The hesitancy lowered Adesanya’s output on attacks from the right side, said Bareman, and decreased the champ’s dominance.

“There’s a couple of things that I asked him to do,” Bareman said. “You could see he was struggling with Robert waiting so much, and all the waiting was making Israel a little bit anxious to be aggressive. ... I asked him to throw what are called false leads. They’re not feints, but they’re pretending to go in so that you can see what Robert’s intentions are a little bit more.

“Some right hands, when you throw the right hand, but you don’t really commit to it – something to just draw out what Robert was going to give, so Israel could see it, and when he actually wanted to attack, he could be a lot more confident. But sometimes, you’re not always able to translate what’s going on with the corner. He did it a little bit, but not as much as he should.”

One thing Adesanya’s behavior wasn’t, Bareman said, was a tell for an injury to his right hand. During the broadcast, play-by-play commentator Jon Anik revealed a text message from longtime UFC color commentator Joe Rogan – absent from the event due to a reported “schedule conflict” later called “bullsh*t” by UFC President Dana White – that speculated Adesanya’s right hand was broken.

“It wasn’t about a broken hand,” Bareman said, pointing to his head. “It was up here.”

The biggest surprise for Bareman of the night was the late-fight approach of Whittaker. After the challenger was dropped in the first round and hobbled by leg kicks, Adesanya’s coach expected the ex-champ to up his intensity in the final rounds. Instead, the fight proceeded largely at the pace it had for the previous 15 minutes.

“Me and Israel and the coaching team predicted that he would wait a lot more,” Bareman said. “We basically thought it would be a more even mix of him having spurts of aggression and waiting. And it was exactly that, instead of last time, he was maybe all a lot of aggression and pushing forward . ... What surprised us more is as we thought the fight was slipping away from Robert, we thought he would risk the biscuit a bit more, but he seemed very content to not come after it as aggressively as we thought he might at the start of each round. Maybe that’s got to do with his corner and where his corner advised him.”

Ultimately, Bareman was satisfied with Adesanya’s performance given the circumstances this past Saturday night. He hopes the champ will return to the octagon in June as part of a 2022 campaign to fight four times. A significant challenge is in the rearview mirror for the second time.

“I’m not going to say that that was one of his more outstanding performance, but he got the job done convincingly, so I’m happy with it,” he said. “I’m not going to say it was a whitewash, because I think Israel could have done better. I think defensively he was good, he could have used a little bit more offense.”