Israel Adesanya’s rivals know that the UFC’s middleweight champion can lose now, but does Marvin Vettori have the recipe to pull it off?
At UFC 259 in March, Adesanya suffered the first loss of his pro MMA career when he moved up in weight to challenge light heavyweight champion Jan Blachowicz. He lost a unanimous decision to Blachowicz, but now returns to 185 pounds (where he remains undefeated) to defend his own belt against Vettori.
The two meet at UFC 263 next weekend, three years after their first encounter that Adesanya won by split decision. It was a competitive fight and with Vettori going on a five-fight win streak since that loss, the stage is set for the Italian standout to get another crack at “The Last Stylebender.”
Adesanya’s coach Eugene Bareman spoke to Submission Radio about what will be different this time around as far as how each man has developed over the past few years. There has been a noted lack of trash talk from the normally verbose Adesanya, which Bareman says is intentional as he doesn’t expect to get into Vettori’s head this time around.
“I think emotionally and mentally, I think Marvin’s matured a little bit since their fight,” Bareman said . “So I think that’s gonna be a less of a factor in this fight. I think definitely Israel was able to call on getting Marvin a little bit emotional in some points during that fight, and using that to his advantage, but I don’t think that’ll be as big a factor this time. I just think he’s emotionally a more mature young man than he was when he fought Israel the first time.”
Discounting those intangibles, Vettori appears to be a compelling matchup for Adesanya given that his strong grappling game could act as a foil for Adesanya’s famed kickboxing. When Adesanya lost to Blachowicz, it was the Polish champion’s wrestling that helped him to seal the deal in the later rounds.
Bareman respects Vettori’s wrestling, but wonders how the challenger stacks up to Blachowicz.
“I mean, you’ve got to understand that Marvin has taken Israel down before, and Israel clearly won that fight where Marvin took him down,” Bareman said. “Will Marvin be able to do the things that Jan did because we haven’t addressed them? Ask yourself that question.
“Is Marvin as good as Jan, the light heavyweight champion of the world? Ask yourself that question. It’s an interesting game of thought, because he’s from a very good team and a very good coach and some very good coaching staff and training partners. And we enjoy a good battle with those guys. So we’re prepared and we’re looking forward to it.”
Adesanya is 4-0 in UFC middleweight title fights so far (including one interim title bout), with wins over Paulo Costa, Yoel Romero, Robert Whittaker, and Kelvin Gastelum. Vettori doesn’t have the name value of those fighters, but was the next man up according to Bareman.
“Israel wanted to fight,” Bareman said when asked how the Vettori fight came together. “We were obviously hoping to fight Robert. We were wishfully thinking that maybe Robert would be willing to do a quick turnaround, but in my mind, I knew Robert’s just not a quick turnaround guy. So I knew it was gonna be Vettori. And Israel really wanted to fight.
“This fight’s happening because of Israel, not because of Marvin and Marvin getting himself to a certain position. His last fight, I know that the people in charge, the people that push the buttons in the UFC were not happy with his last fight. And that’s just how the the UFC is. They don’t want to see someone just lie around and hug someone. They want to advance people that excite them and excite the crowd, and Marvin didn’t do that.”
With more desired matchups with Whittaker and Darren Till potentially down the road, Bareman says that Adesanya is still highly motivated to defeat Vettori a second time. Part of that motivation is due to the close scoring in the first fight, and part of it has to do with the perspective provided by the recent death of longtime City Kickboxing teammate and friend Fau Vake.
“I know Israel would like to be more clinical with this win and make it a lot more definitive,” Bareman said. “So that’s the motivation factor. But one of the things we always emphasize in this gym, is you have to love what you do. The only way to be successful in this sport is just to absolutely be obsessed and love fighting. And that’s what Israel is. And he just wants to fight. And sometimes you don’t get the ideal scenario that you need to fight. But sometimes you just love fighting so much that you just want to do it. And it doesn’t need to be too much motivation behind it.
“It just needs to be an understanding that we’re not around forever. Case in point our friend [Fau Vake]. Life is frail. The frailty of life is amazing. Like, you can be here one minute and gone the next. And if we’re able to do something and enjoy it while we’re still here and breathing, then maybe we should just do it. And that’s what it’s about.”