Eugene Bareman is used to seeing all kinds of antics from Israel Adesanya, but the fighter’s walkout at UFC 287 left him a little perplexed.
Adesanya’s coach appeared on The MMA Hour to discuss the circumstances surrounding his incredible revenge knockout over Alex Pereira, starting with an entrance that had Bareman and his team wondering if maybe something was off with “The Last Stylebender.”
“He did some things in that walkout that were a little bit uncharacteristic, I haven’t seen him do,” Bareman said. “I could see in his face, I could see the way his face was and some of his mannerisms. I could see the way that he was greeting the crowd and he even went and saw some of our training partners before he went into the cage, he never does that. There were some things there that I was like, ‘Man,’ and one of our other coaches we looked at each other and we were like, ‘Oh s***, are we OK here?’
“So I went up to [Adesanya], looked him in the eye, I said, ‘Stay calm.’ I think he might have even smiled because in his head, he still was calm, but he just wanted to do a little bit more. He just wanted to put this little bit extra, he felt he needed a little bit something different before he hopped in the cage. So once we locked eyes and we had that kind of mutual agreement that he was in the right place, he was in the same place even though he was exhibiting different behaviors, then we were cool and we moved on. I think that is what he’s laughing at.”
Managing Adesanya to a victory against a rival that had hounded him across their kickboxing and MMA careers was no easy task and there were several key moments where Bareman’s words may have influenced the outcome.
Bareman whispered “You’re a mastermind. Remember, you’re a mastermind” to Adesanya as the fighters were announced in the cage, a phrase he reminded Adesanya of to keep him on track in the face of a strategic shift.
“We knew that we had to take more risks in this fight, and all our job we worked Israel diligently, relentlessly in a particular area of the fight where he was in danger, but we tried to mitigate this much danger,” Bareman said. “We knew that we were giving Israel more opportunities to take advantage of some of Pereira’s flaws, but to do that we had to put him at more risk than we were usually comfortable with. In that process, Israel gets himself excited. He’s like, ‘Man, this is going to be a great fight because you guys are going to put me in the fire in this fight.’ He was saying this eight weeks ago, ‘You’re going to stress out in this fight because look at the game plan you guys are giving me. You’re going to stress out in this fight.’ I’m not going to stress out. Why would I stress out?
“Everything you do is going to be safe. I like to remind him that that’s not what we’re going after. We’re going after cool, calm, and collected. Just because we’re putting you in the firing line a little bit more, that doesn’t mean we’re asking you to let all your animal instincts take over and become some mindless, crazy fool. Even though you’re in the heat, you still have to be clear-minded and focused and that’s all that was. It was just a reminder, ‘Hey, this is a game of intelligence. This is not a game of you’re going to close your fist as hard as you can, bite your mouthguard down, and just try to knock this guy out.’ I just wanted to remind him about that and that’s all that comment was about.”
Bareman liked what he saw in the first round against Pereira and, sure enough, all three judges scored the round for the challenger. Adesanya had also been winning their first MMA fight on the cards before falling to Pereira’s strikes early in Round 5.
This time, it was Adesanya who found the finish, knocking Pereira out in the second round with a pair of hammer right hands as Pereira swarmed him against the fence. Earlier, Bareman had told Adesanya, ‘He’s falling for everything, Iz,’ a prompt for the fighter to open up his offense.
“When you want a fighter to lead more, to fire off first, you need the opponent to constantly be thinking that they’re ready to fire so that it becomes really difficult for you to actually figure out when he’s actually going to lead,” Bareman said. “All I was doing was instilling confidence in Israel that Pereira has no idea when you’re going to go. That’s what that means when I say that. That means, when you’re ready to lead, Pereira has no idea you’re leading or feinting, he doesn’t have a clue, and that was just instilling confidence that Israel can take the lead back, which was a big part of our plan.
“Pereira does not know the difference between when you’re leading and feinting and that was just me communicating that to Israel.”
Adesanya can finally claim bragging rights over Pereira after losing to him at UFC 281 and in two previous kickboxing contests. Their rivalry dates back to 2016 and the two have fought in China, Brazil, and twice in the U.S. (New York and Miami).
When Bareman had a chance to celebrate the moment as Adesanya received medical attention after, he acknowledged that it was almost surreal for them to have achieved their long sought-after goal.
“The happiness that we felt when it happened and in the cage but with the added — because you’re by yourself — with the added feeling of relief,” Bareman said. “You don’t really get a chance to reflect on that in the cage because there’s just too much going on, but when you get to an area where you’re just by yourself you have the happiness, but then you also have the weight off your shoulders and that’s a different feeling to the happiness and you’ve combined the two.
“So me and Israel, when we had that moment, we were together in the tent, just us two and the doctor, we hugged each other again and you could just feel the happiness, but it coincided with the relief. It’s just a feeling of weightlessness, like finally, we traveled the world fighting this guy and tried to beat him and finally we’ve done it. It’s like a weightlessness, like you’re floating.”