UFC 248: Eugene Bareman on Israel Adesanya's champion legacy, Yoel Romero, Jon Jones

Mixed martial arts savant Eugene Bareman has never shied away from making a bold statement.

Before Israel Adesanya's UFC debut against Rob Wilkinson back in February 2018, the City Kickboxing boss unflinchingly predicted his star student would "without a doubt" become middleweight champion one day.

With that box ticked, Bareman - after a trademark prolonged pause for thought - offers up a new, even loftier prophecy as a replacement.

"I'm going to say Israel can, if he so chooses, be the most dominant middleweight world champion of all time," Bareman tells Newshub.

"Up there with, obviously, Anderson Silva, who's not a person I like to reference, because of his sketchy past." 

Brazilian great Silva is considered the benchmark by which - not only the division - but all world champions are measured.

Although his legacy was tarnished by a one-year drugs ban, Silva's seven-year reign as champion, which included 16 consecutive wins, was a staggering streak of dominance that exists in a galaxy of its own.

Adesanya defeated his long-time idol by unanimous decision at UFC 234, albeit during the inevitable downward career slope of 'The Spider'. Regardless, the torch has undeniably been passed, especially given Adesanya's success since.

"Most title defences, that's how you solidify yourself as a great champion," says Bareman.

The first step on that epic journey begins in Las Vegas on Sunday (NZ time), when Adesanya faces his maiden title defence against Yoel Romero in the main event of UFC 248.

The 43-year-old Cuban stepped in as the challenger, after a bicep injury forced Brazilian Paulo Costa to make way at the front of the queue.

Bareman and Adesanya in action at training.
Bareman and Adesanya in action at training. Photo credit: Instagram/@itskiwirob

Third-ranked Romero may enter his bout with Adesanya off two losses, but his reputation precedes him. The former wrestling world champion and Olympic silver medallist is cut from a unique cloth, literally born and raised for a life of sanctioned combat. 

He may never have held a UFC title, but a victory over Romero - a freakish athlete with the physique of a Batman villain - carries a special brand of gravitas.

"This is a different human being," says Bareman.

"This isn't a Paulo Costa or a [fellow contender] Jared Cannonier, this is a person who was born and then bred to do this. There's such a big difference there.

"This is a person who came up in communist Cuba, and - as early as possible - identified as an athlete and bred towards wrestling. This is a man whose entire life, he's been bred for this. 

"He's basically a thoroughbred. Fighting one of these guys is a lot different to fighting someone who's picked it up in their teenage years or early adulthood."

UFC 248: Eugene Bareman on Israel Adesanya's champion legacy, Yoel Romero, Jon Jones
Photo credit: Getty/Newshub.

The 17-4 Romero obviously has losses to his name, but in each of those four defeats, you could make a legitimate case that the result went the wrong way.

Combined with the fact that he's never been stopped in the UFC, and a huge carrot dangles before the undefeated Adesanya and his team.

"It's not the challenge of beating him, because he's been beaten quite a bit," says Bareman. "It's the challenge of beating him in a particular way that excites us - and that's overwhelmingly convincingly. 

"Alex Volkanovski v Max Holloway, shutout style. Whitewash - that's what we want to do. 

"It'd be a massive statement, because nobody's been able to do it.

"We just think that there are things there that we, in particular, can take advantage of that nobody else has, because they haven't seen it or they haven't been that athlete, or whatever it may be.

"We just think there's a path there for us to show the world something different and that's what interests us about this fight."

Unwilling to elaborate any further for obvious reasons, you get the sense that Bareman has relished every moment of plotting Romero's downfall.

And with the seemingly unstoppable momentum that his stable of City Kickboxing fighters carry off another 'three-peat' at UFC Auckland, his cautious confidence is completely understandable.

"It's a puzzle that nobody else has been able to convincingly solve," he grins. "But we might not be able to do that, we might just scrape through. 

"That's the great thing about fighting, that's why it's so intriguing. 

"It could be another fight like Gastelum, where it comes down to the wire. We have to be prepared for anything, we're not under any illusions that were going to run away with the fight."

And for all the talk of a potential super-fight with light-heavyweight champion Jon Jones, Bareman believes that - in many respects - Romero presents the higher degree of difficulty for Adesanya.

Adesanya's opponent, Yoel Romero.
Adesanya's opponent, Yoel Romero. Photo credit: Getty

The American - arguably the greatest mixed martial artist of all time - and Adesanya have traded jabs in interviews and on social media since the eve of UFC 243.

"[Jones] isn't a different breed of man, this is just a man with all the frailties any man has. 

"Yoel's a different breed of man. Jon's just a guy that makes a lot of mistakes and tries to make up for them.  

"In many aspects, [Romero] is a much bigger challenge than Jon." 

Jones says Adesanya is "scared". Adesanya says he'll "hunt Jones down". 

Bareman says, when it comes to raw fighting ability, there's no comparison between them.

"Skill for skill, pound for pound, Jon can't even touch Israel. If they were naturally the same size, it's no contest.

"Jon is a challenge, not necessarily because of his skills, but because he's a big man... he's huge. His biggest advantage is his physicality. 

"On a skill-for-skill basis, it wouldn't be comparable, at least not for people that knows what they're talking about."

Few coaches - if any - construct a better fight blueprint than Bareman these days and taking into account how fallible 'Bones' has looked in recent outings, the idea of Adesanya beating him doesn't seem unreasonable, even at heavyweight.

But that's a conversation for another day, once Adesanya has his chance to clean out an ever-increasing list of middleweight contenders.

Until then, Bareman will be in his lab and you can almost guarantee he already has the gameplan for Jones brewing. 

But how does he ensure he's always improving as a coach, the same way his fighters are?

"It's tons of watching tape, its experimentations too, but it's talking to other knowledgeable people as well.

"We wouldn't be successful, if I didn't have a bunch of guys like that, who I could get in the trenches with and start bouncing ideas around with, and that really opens minds and opens up creativity."

Expect to see some of the duo's finest work yet on display at the T-Mobile Arena, Vegas, this weekend.

Join us for live updates of Adesanya v Romero from 4pm Sunday