Kiwi middleweight champion Israel Adesanya has no interest in a rematch with Robert Whittaker and will instead jump a weight class for his next bout, claims head trainer Eugene Bareman.
After his evisceration of Paulo Costa at UFC 253 last month, Adesanya called out Jared Cannonier as his next challenger, confident the American would make light work of Whittaker at UFC 254.
But the NZ-born Aussie earned a comfortable decision win at 'Fight Island' to cement his No.1 contender status, spoiling Adesanya's showdown with Cannonier.
City Kickboxing sensei Bareman says Adesanya has no desire to face Whittaker again, after beating him convincingly for the title last October, and the result now fast-tracks his plans to take on newly crowned light-heavyweight champion Jan Blachowicz.
"One good thing about Robert Whittaker winning is it sets in motion what we were intending to do anyway," Bareman tells Newshub.
"Israel has made it pretty clear to me, if Cannonier doesn't win, there's no-one else that interests him and certainly the way the Whittaker fought last time, it doesn't interest him in the same way a Cannonier fight would have.
"So he wants to go up to 205 [lb division] and see what he can do up there."
Becoming a dual-division champion would put Adesanya in rarefied air. Only four fighters have achieved the feat and all are considered among the sport's greats - Dan Cormier, Conor McGregor, Henry Cejudo and Amanda Nunes.
Adesanya has been vocal about his desire to clean out his own division, before venturing up to take on the likes of Blachowicz or settle his long-running feud with Jon Jones.
But with seven of the top 15 middleweights in his wake, and a shortage of fresh and genuine top-flight contenders, the timing seems right to test waters outside the division.
"I imagine we'll be able to get the title fight straight away, just because of the way that division was put into a little bit of a funny space, when Jon Jones vacated the title," says Bareman, a Halberg Coach of the Year finalist.
"No-one really knew what was happening, and none of the top contenders could really figure out who they were fighting or what they were fighting for."
In the co-main event to Adesanya's blitz of Costa, Poland's Blachowicz knocked out Dominick Reyes to secure the vacant light-heavyweight belt in a division that's now decidedly thin at the top.
"Now there's a pretty clear, distinct champion, it makes it a lot easier for Israel to set his goals and there are no top contenders that are working their way towards fighting a particular guy, because there hasn't been a guy," says Bareman.
"It may as well be the biggest name that Jan Blachowicz can get - and the biggest name that Jan Blachowicz can get is going to be Israel Adesanya."
And while a 'super fight' with Jones is still very much in the picture, the American's own shift up a class to heavyweight means a fight with Adesanya is more distant on the horizon.
That said, Bareman believes a bout against Blachowicz provides the ideal stepping stone to the undefeated 'Bones', who may well offer Adesanya the opportunity to capture a third belt.
"He's moved up to an ever higher weight division, which makes things a little bit more complicated than they were when that fight was going to happen at light-heavyweight," says Bareman.
"But from a coaching point of view and in terms of Israel's best interests, fighting a heavier guy like Jan Blachowicz before he goes to heavyweight is the perfect build up for that fight.
"If you're ever going to do a warm-up fight, this would be a perfect warm-up fight for the Jon Jones fight."
Bareman admits the next hurdle will be convincing UFC president Dana White to award Adesanya the shot at Blachowicz, rather than talking him into a rematch with Whittaker.
"The challenge for myself and the management team that we work with is to get that fight over the desk, signed, sealed and delivered," he says.
"Everything is a negotiation with the UFC… but a big part of what has to matter to [White] is the interest of the fighter and what Israel wants to do."
Whittaker's own casual approach to the prospect of a rematch should help that cause. In his post-fight press conference, 'Bobby Knuckles' was in no hurry to make the fight and even encouraged Adesanya to set his sights on light-heavyweight and beyond.
"I know that Dana has been pretty good at taking into account what Israel wants and we'll just be trying to get that across again."
Bareman couldn't provide any detail on timeframes, but Adesanya has committed to firstly corner teammate Carlos Ulberg in his Dana White Contender series bout in Las Vegas next month, then help Junior Fa prepare for his heavyweight boxing clash with Joseph Parker in December, likely pushing any date with Blachowicz into early 2021.
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