Alexander Volkanovski and Israel Adesanya both fell short in their bids to become two-division champions, and their coach Eugene Bareman knows why.
Following Volkanovski’s decision loss to Islam Makhachev at UFC 284 — a win would have given Volkanovski titles at 145 and 155 pounds — Bareman appeared on The MMA Hour to share his thoughts on why the featherweight champion didn’t leave Perth, Australia, with a second belt. It’s a conversation that Bareman is familiar with, given that City Kickboxing’s Israel Adesanya also went up in weight during his middleweight championship reign in 2021 to challenge Jan Blachowicz for the 205-pound belt and also lost a decision.
“The obvious answer is there’s weight divisions for a reason,” Bareman said. “You’re never going to be able to get around that fact so you are always going to be fighting a bigger, stronger man. When you go up a weight division, it really comes down to have you got enough skill to offset the strength and weight advantage. That’s what it’s about. That was the same thing with Israel and it was the same thing with Volk.
“I would have to say, with the benefit of hindsight, that both those guys probably suffered from the same fate in terms of they just weren’t quite skilled enough to offset a size advantage if you look at how both those fights panned out. That’s just how it is sometimes. People like Israel and Volk, they can win the title and then have two fights and retire, or they can just stay in their division and just rule their division forever, but that’s just not in their nature. They just don’t have it in them to be satisfied with where they are. They just always look for the bigger and bigger place, the place that can push them a little further, the place that can challenge them the most and that’s a unique characteristic. They’re the one percent of the one percent.
“They’re not the champions that are just going to stay there and be satisfied. They’re going to take the biggest fights. Who’s the biggest fight? You guys say Pereira’s the biggest fight, we’re taking Pereira. You guys think Jan’s the biggest fight, we’re taking Jan. They just have it inside them, that’s how you become great. That’s how you become legendary and they just have that inside them.”
The UFC 284 main event was a tightly contested affair, with both fighters flashing their striking prowess and Volkanovski showing incredible grappling defense against Makhachev’s highly vaunted wrestling attack. In the end, Volkanovski didn’t muster up enough offense to convince the judges to give him enough rounds, though he feels that he did enough to win rounds 2, 3, and 5.
Bareman, admitting bias, said he scored 1, 2, and 5 for Volkanovski after re-watching the fight, but added that Volkanovski could have done more early on.
“I think Alex alluded to it himself after the fight, he probably gave Islam a bit too much respect too early, so 1 and 2,” Bareman said. “I don’t know if there’s a way around that, you always have to approach a fight very cautiously. You’ve got to figure out a guy first, that’s our M.O., that’s kind of how we approach the fight, so I think Alex just wishes that he had got in his comfort zone a little earlier and he was able to push the pace a little bit earlier, but he was kind of a cautious frame of mind early, which he eventually got out of but he probably needed to get out of that a bit earlier to make this fight definitive.”
With Bareman acknowledging the uphill battle that Volkanovski faces should he attempt a permanent move to lightweight, it’s no surprise that he’d like to see the featherweight champion return to his division and rattle off a few more title defenses. Volkanovski doesn’t have to look far for a challenger as Yair Rodriguez claimed an interim featherweight belt with an impressive win over Josh Emett at UFC 284.
Bareman isn’t looking for an easier challenge either, as he sees Rodriguez as a legitimate threat to Volkanovski’s reign.
“If you’re asking me — and it’s never my decision, it’s a team decision — go back to ‘45,” Bareman said. “Obviously, there’s a fight that’s sitting right there. I don’t know what Islam’s doing, if he’s going to fight soon, or if he’s fighting twice a year, I’m not sure what his plans are. We have a fight locked in if Alex wants it and it’s a very difficult fight, in many ways a much more difficult fight than the one we just had, versus Yair. I think that’s a challenge and I think he should probably take it.”