Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC
UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya faces Whittaker for the second time when he defends his title in Saturday’s headliner at Toyota Center in Houston. In their first encounter, Adesanya knocked out Whittaker in the second round to become undisputed champion and keep his undefeated record intact. Since then, Adesanya has tasted defeat, losing a unanimous decision to Jan Blachowicz at UFC 259 in a failed attempt to win a second UFC belt. In the build up to the fight, Whittaker suggested that Blachowicz showed “the blueprint” on how to beat Adesanya, one which he intends to use.
Bareman, though, doesn’t believe him.
“I actually think that’s a bit of a red herring from their team,” Bareman said this week on The MMA Hour. “I don’t think they’re gonna do that. I think they understand the athlete that they have in front of them. They understand Robert’s attributes, and they’re not the same as Jan’s, and to suddenly transpose one blueprint from one particular fighter to another is a terrible approach.
“I have a lot of respect for their team, they’re a very smart team, and I don’t expect them to do that. I think that’s there to kind of throw us off, to be honest.”
“The Blachowicz Blueprint” is not the only storyline coming into UFC 271 though. Whittaker has said that he’s in a much better place mentally this time around than he was heading into their first fight, and fans have pointed to his subsequent string of victories as proof not only of this, but that Whittaker’s skills have gotten better in the past two years.
For his part, Adesanya doesn’t buy into this narrative, and neither does Bareman.
“I think that’s a narrative that’s being pushed,” he said. “I think there is improvement, but maybe not the degree that the media is pushing, and I think that’s what Israel is alluding to. We definitely see improvement, but we obviously have three more fights to add to his body of work, and those three fights have highlighted some of the previous weaknesses we knew about, but there’s some new vulnerabilities that we’ve seen in those three fights that we weren’t particularly noticing or aware of in the previous body of work. So yeah, we see the improvements, but we see other vulnerabilities as well. It goes both ways.”
Bareman’s skepticism about the narratives surrounding the rematch doesn’t extend to his expectations for Whittaker’s performance on Saturday night. Bareman said both he and Adesanya realize that in the first fight, Whittaker did not show his best. This time around, they expect him to do so.
“The truth is, I think we managed to get Robert out of there early before he showed his full potential,” Bareman said. “I think everyone on the team, including Israel, believe he has more to show than that and that’s what’s kinda motivating him. He knows that Robert’s probably a better fighter than what he showed that night in Melbourne, and rematches are hard. Israel’s been involved in a few rematches himself and he knows that you always train twice as hard and you leave no stone unturned. He knows that’s what Robert’s done, so it’s in turn forced us to pretty much have the toughest camp that Israel’s had all these years.”