Israel Adesanya’s first foray up to 205 didn’t go his way, but that doesn’t mean it was idea, at least not according to his coach.
Adesanya attempted to become the eighth fighter in UFC history to win titles in multiple divisions when he jumped up to 205 pounds in March 2021 to challenge Jan Blachowicz for the light heavyweight title. Unfortunately for Adesanya, things didn’t go his way — Blachowicz handed the middleweight champion his first professional loss and sent him back down to the 185-pound ranks.
However, just because it didn’t work out doesn’t mean that Adesanya or his team regret the decision.
“Absolutely not,” Adesanya’s head coach Eugene Bareman said Wednesday on The MMA Hour. “That was an opportunity that presented itself, and the only thing that I would regret now — and Israel would regret it too — is if we hadn’t taken that opportunity. We’d still be sitting here today thinking what could have been. At the end of the day, what benefit was there to not taking it? An undefeated record? Who cares about an undefeated record? The biggest benefit now, in hindsight, is that Israel is a much better fighter because of that loss. That sort of inevitably happens, that’s a common thing with fighting.
“Israel was able to bounce back from that fight far better than what he’d have had to had he just carried on fighting Paulo Costa. It’s essentially what gave him the motivation and the strength to push him to the next level against Paulo Costa and against Marvin Vettori and now against Robert [Whittaker]. So nothing bad came out of that fight, in my opinion.”
While losses can be a difficult hurdle to clear for undefeated fighters, if only by introducing doubt where none may have existed before, Adesanya had no such issues. He won his bounce back fight against Marvin Vettori last June with ease, taking every round on all three judges’ scorecards.
In fact, Bareman believes that the loss to Blachowicz has helped elevate Adesanya’s game.
“People talk about that aura of invincibility — that exists for the opponents, but sometimes that exists for the fighters as well,” Bareman said. “Sometimes they need a very big reality check to understand that there are vulnerabilities, they do have vulnerabilities, and there’s no such thing as invincibility in this sport. Sometimes it’s a key ingredient that you need [in order] to push yourself to another level. When you’re already talking about aggregating really small percentages, sometimes you need big things like that to push some more gains out of you. I think that’s essentially what it did.”
Adesanya will get another opportunity to show those gains on Saturday when he faces Whittaker in a middleweight title rematch at UFC 271. After that, Adesanya, who just signed a new multi-fight deal with the UFC this week, is expected to continue his middleweight title reign, likely against the winner of Jared Cannonier vs. Derek Brunson, which co-headlines UFC 271.
However, Bareman says eventually “The Last Stylebender” will want to take another run at a second title, and when he does, they will be better prepared this time around.
“We set a goal, and goals don’t just disappear because you fail at them,” Bareman said. “How many instances in history has there been a goal and no one reached it the first time? I believe it’s still in Israel’s heart and mind that he wants to chase that next weight division up. We’ll take the lessons from the first attempt and transpose them in the second attempt.
“The only thing I’d have done different from that fight, which we found out in hindsight wasn’t an option — I would have built Israel into a 205er, a proper 205er. But we made a calculated guess that we could beat Jan at our walking around middleweight weight, and we did that because we didn’t want to put on muscle and then reduce Israel back down to middleweight, which we knew was always going to happen.
“So the only thing I’d do different, and the only thing I’ve taken note for the future, is that if we went to 205 [again], we’d build our body into a 205 fighter as opposed to a middleweight taking on a 205er.”