The man who shaped Ade­sanya

Kiwi fighter has had a cru­cial in­flu­ence in his corner, re­ports Mat Ker­meen.

Sunday News - - SPORT - ‘‘I’m tired of talk­ing, who wants to see a fight?’’

For all his flair and flam­boy­ance, it’s hard to imag­ine UFC mid­dleweight ti­tle con­tender Is­rael Ade­sanya not mak­ing a strik­ing first im­pres­sion.

But the man be­hind his rise to a UFC ti­tle shot says there was lit­tle to get ex­cited about when he watched Ade­sanya get ‘‘an­ni­hi­lated’’ in his first mixed mar­tial arts (MMA) fight a decade ago.

If Eu­gene Bare­man wasn’t such a straight shooter, it would be easy to doubt his tale of when he first set eyes on the mid­dleweight sen­sa­tion who now has seem­ingly un­break­able con­fi­dence.

Hours upon hours of hard graft in the gym with ex­treme ded­i­ca­tion from Ade­sanya and Bare­man will be re­warded with an in­terim UFC ti­tle shot against Kelvin Gastelum at UFC 236 in At­lanta to­day.

The mid­dleweight in­terim ti­tle will of­fi­cially be on the line fol­low­ing Ade­sanya (16-0) and Gastelum (15-3) both mak­ing the 185lb (83.9kg) limit yes­ter­day.

Ade­sanya, who has had just five fights in the UFC af­ter mak­ing his de­but in Fe­bru­ary, 2018, tipped the scales at 183lb (83kg) and Gastelum 184lb (83.4kg) but it’s the Nige­ria-born Kiwi who has a sig­nif­i­cant height and reach ad­van­tage.

He’s talked a big game all week as he fights to be­come the first New Zealan­der to win a UFC ti­tle

but Ade­sanya – who re­ceived the big­gest re­cep­tion from the crowd at the weigh-in de­spite be­ing the co-main event for Max Hol­loway and Dustin Poirier’s in­terim light­weight ti­tle bout – was ready to get down to busi­ness when he ad­dressed the crowd.

‘‘I’m tired of talk­ing, who wants to see a fight?’’

Thou­sands of fans yelling Ade­sanya’s name is a far cry from his first ama­teur MMA fight in Auck­land a decade ago.

As a favour to a kick­box­ing friend, Bare­man agreed to corner a kid who had come up from Whanganui.

It was a his­toric night with Bare­man cor­ner­ing the fu­ture UFC star for the first time but it wasn’t mem­o­rable.

‘‘It was a ter­ri­ble fight. He got an­ni­hi­lated,’’ Bare­man told Stuff.

But with his ath­leti­cism and long body, Ade­sanya showed some signs of promise.

Bare­man shook Ade­sanya’s hand, handed on some ad­vice and said good­bye – not ex­pect­ing to see him again.

But around six months later, Ade­sanya – who had packed up his life into a car and driven more than five hours from Whanganui – ar­rived at Bare­man’s City Kick­box­ing gym in cen­tral Auck­land. Bare­man, who prefers to stay out of the lime­light wher­ever pos­si­ble, de­scribes that trip as a ‘‘life-chang­ing de­ci­sion’’. When he ar­rived, Bare­man told Ade­sanya he was wel­come to train there but set him free to try out a few other Auck­land gyms first.

‘‘That’s how fight­ing works. You’ve got to find the right gym for the per­son­al­ity.’’

But Ade­sanya felt he clicked best with City Kick­box­ing and soon re­turned. It wasn’t long be­fore Bare­man saw some­thing special.

‘‘That mo­ment came when he had his first kick­box­ing fight for the gym,’’ Bare­man said.

‘‘He fought a guy that was much more ex­pe­ri­enced than him and he took the guy apart and while he was do­ing that he was en­ter­tain­ing the crowd.

‘‘That’s when I thought man this kid is re­ally tal­ented.’’

At that point, it be­came clear that Ade­sanya was ca­pa­ble and had the de­sire to reach the UFC and long-term goals and plans were nut­ted out be­tween the pair.

For all of Ade­sanya’s nat­u­ral ath­leti­cism, none of his suc­cess has come by ac­ci­dent. It was built on a metic­u­lous and, at times, painstak­ing foun­da­tion of hard work on ev­ery MMA dis­ci­pline.

‘‘I’m more proud of him for what he’s achieved out­side of the ring. It takes a lot of work to get to this point but he keeps on putting in,’’ Bare­man said.

Ade­sanya went on to carve out suc­cess­ful ca­reers in kick­box­ing and box­ing as he built ex­pe­ri­ence to­wards the ul­ti­mate goal of UFC. He amassed a re­ported 75-4 pro­fes­sional kick­box­ing record and was 5-1 as a pro­fes­sional boxer.

Bare­man and Ade­sanya turned down the UFC al­most two years be­fore his de­but to keep de­vel­op­ing and gain more ex­pe­ri­ence.

‘‘It didn’t hurt us ei­ther be­cause we were able to keep build­ing value and we had some­thing to take to the ta­ble when we went back to the UFC.

The pair are now hope­ful they will have the mid­dleweight in­terim belt to take back to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble for Ade­sanya’s next fight and if he does lift the belt in At­lanta it is likely that next fight will be a uni­fi­ca­tion bout with New Zealand-born, Aus­tralia-based UFC mid­dleweight cham­pion Robert Whit­taker.

* Mat Ker­meen trav­elled to At­lanta with as­sis­tance from UFC.

GETTY IM­AGES

Is­rael Ade­sanya lands a kick on Brazil’s An­der­son Silva dur­ing their Mel­bourne bout in Fe­bru­ary.

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