Since the wild turn of events in the middleweight division, many have taken shots not only at Adesanya’s overall résumé and legacy, but his head coach, Eugene Bareman. UFC play-by-play voice Jon Anik, who called the action for Strickland’s massive win, was asked about those reactions.
Anik believes it’s tough conversation to have, but a fair one — more so on the Adesanya side.
“Now he’s lost two of three fights, right? So to those who have long wanted to sort of denigrate his middleweight legacy, this gives them ammunition,” Anik told MMA Fighting. “It really does look like this is a setback for his career, and one that he can certainly come back from, but this is less a statement about Eugene Bareman than it is about Israel Adesanya.
“Eugene Bareman’s track record is proven, even if he’s not your favorite human being in the world. That man is a revelation and has done wonderful, wonderful things in a part of the world that makes it really hard to realize that type of UFC championship success, and I’m not trying to give him all the credit. But if there was anything resembling an MMA Hall of Fame, that’s one of the coaches, that’s a first-ballot guy.
“For me, Izzy’s a first-ballot guy, of course, as well, and I think he is one of the greatest middleweight champions of all-time, and I do believe that he can really build from this. But the nature of this singular result is such that this is a big legacy type setback depending on how he comes out the other side. And I don’t know that there are any other ways that you can spin this thing.”
“That’s why I don’t think he deserves an immediate rematch,” Anik continued. “He is not some long-reigning champion in this situation. He is a first-time defending champion in this situation, and he deserves a lion’s share of the credit for the UFC’s pay-per-view success, really over the last half decade, because he has always been the guy. And I am close with his family, I’m close with his sister, I gave his mom a hug [after the fight], but I do think legacy-wise, you have to look at a Sean Strickland loss, right now at this stage of his career, as being the setback that it is.”
Following the loss, Adesanya briefly appeared at the UFC 293 post-fight press conference to say that he lost to the better man on the night before turning it over to Bareman to answer questions.
When asked if there was one question he could ask Adesanya in the fallout of the UFC’s return to Sydney, Anik would aim things more toward Adesanya’s activity and how much of a toll that may have had.
“What extent has the championship schedule taken its toll? Is that a factor at all? Because there’s a lot of us out there, call it informed speculation, suggesting that this schedule is not sustainable,” Anik said. “And there could be factors just in terms of the preparation that have nothing to do with the schedule, and he could be so dismissive of my narrative and say, ‘Dude, we kickbox twice a week, man, and you’re just not on to something there.’”
“Perhaps that’s not the most burning question from the fan base, [but] for me, that is the most burning question for [Amanda] Nunes and [Valentina] Shevchenko, for Izzy [following their losses]: Did it eventually take its toll?”
As far as Adesanya’s future goes, UFC CEO Dana White has shown interest in a rematch; he indicated Adesanya wasn’t really himself in the fight with Strickland.
Anik wouldn’t be surprised if Adesanya takes some well-deserved time off after competing in eight championship fights over a three-year span, but he also isn’t ruling out a championship fight for the multi-time champion upon his return, even if the title is defended at least once before that happens.
“So, unlike Izzy in this particular instance, Aljamain Sterling is that long-reigning champion in terms of that immediate rematch, but I do think there are parallels to be drawn in these two situations, because I do think it stands to reason that Izzy and Aljo both will fight for the belt in their next fight, but the belt will be contested before they realize that opportunity,” Anik said. “I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Izzy lay back for a little bit, focus on the documentary and allow that belt to be contested one time. Allow [for] Costa and Chimaev [to happen at UFC 294]. Let’s make sure all these fights happen, right?
“And, ideally, in a perfect world for Izzy, I think you have this middleweight championship be on the line before Groundhog Day, ideally January, maybe you do this thing in December if Sean O’Malley isn’t ready to go. So I think for Izzy, that would make a lot of sense. And even if he were to return to UFC 300, which I think is tracking for April, in a championship setting or not, I think that makes a lot of sense. But I think, more often than not, when you lean into that time off, even if it’s not developmental time, it can bear fruit.”