Despite being arguably the closest person to Israel Adesanya in his fight camp, City Kickboxing head trainer Eugene Bareman couldn't identify from cageside what many observers called out after his fighter's loss to Sean Strickland at UFC 293 on Saturday.
"There's a very small percentage, less than 1% [that know the sport], they thought that something [was] off with Israel a little bit, that I couldn't see," Bareman said to Submission Radio following the title fight. "Because I was too involved, I was too in it. Sometimes you need an outside perspective looking in."
Adesanya has now lost two of his past three fights -- both losses ending with him dropping the middleweight title. He fell three places in ESPN's pound-for-pound rankings to No. 7.
"It's all good," said Adesanya via X. "I hate losing but I love living ... and I'm thriving. Hang out with the family first, and then I'll address the people. But right now, I got to put me first."
Adesanya has been one of the most active fighters in the sport, having fought in five title matches in 19 months. That amount of activity has raised the question of whether Adesanya was his best self in Sydney.
"You have nights like this sometimes," Bareman said. "The thing is what makes these fighters the best in the world and these teams the best in the world, is because they don't have these nights often. But we had one. And we had one because Sean and his team, they were just better tonight. They were better than us. Like, I just can't really sugarcoat that."
Bareman, who spoke on behalf of Adesanya at the UFC 293 postfight news conference, said he asked UFC matchmaker Mick Maynard right after the fight if they could have a rematch with Strickland the following weekend. Given a bit of time to cool off from the event, Bareman later identified the upcoming winter season for a possible return by Adesanya.
"Realistically, end of the year, start of next year," Bareman said. "I said one week because that was more me eluding that the game plan is still there, it still exists. There's some mental things there that we can quickly adjust in a week and get back in there and see a completely different fight.
"Whether Sean's able to impose those mental blocks that he put on Israel, I don't know if he'd be able to do that again. We can turn that over real quick. [Alex] Pereira, we couldn't have turned over in a week. We needed time, we needed to adjust, there was details we needed to look at."
Those mental blocks allowed Strickland to outperform Adesanya in an area that many believe "The Last Stylebender" does the best in MMA: striking. Yet in UFC 293's main event, Strickland outlanded Adesanya 137-94 in significant strikes, including 85-22 in head strikes. Strickland's win was similar to Adesanya's two other UFC defeats, as the Nigerian fighter was outstruck in all three losses within the promotion.
"[Strickland] did what a lot of fighters aren't willing to do: He put himself in the heat," Bareman said. "He put himself in the heat, so he can get off his own heat. Every fighter talks about this, and the ones that do, [and] are brave enough to try and do it, have been punished by Israel -- which is part of the reason why a lot of them don't do it.
"I said this prefight: If there's one guy that's going to come through the heat, get Israel to open up in front of him, it's going to be this guy. He seems like that guy, and sure enough, he was. Israel couldn't find the button this time. Even the accumulated damage wasn't good enough for Israel to make up ground on Sean. He couldn't find the button, he couldn't find the right positions to punish Sean. It ended up being a long night for Israel."
Whether or not Adesanya gets an immediate rematch with Strickland has yet to be determined, but UFC president Dana White sounded intrigued by the idea.
"No, I think you do the rematch, absolutely," White responded during his postfight news conference when asked if Adesanya would get a nontitle fight next. "The rematch is interesting.
"When you think about it," White continued, "you're going into the Pereira fight -- such a big fight -- and you've been in there with this guy so many times, and then you overlook Strickland."
Dricus Du Plessis, who had to withdraw from the title fight against Adesanya due to injury, has already made a case for himself to fight Strickland next for the belt. Similarly, the winner of UFC 294's co-main event between Khamzat Chimaev and Paulo Costa could make a similar claim. Jared Cannonier, who was the backup fighter for the UFC 293 main event, could make a case too, as he beat Strickland last December.
Bareman believes his fighter's status means he should be able to cash in first.
"This is the biggest star in the sport, arguably," Bareman said. "Top three. You can count Conor [McGregor] out; he doesn't participate in the sport anymore. Who you got? The best buddies, [Jon] Jones and Adesanya. When you're this big in the sport, what argument is there? If anybody has an argument, put their fighter forward.
"The fact is, Israel has been a long-serving member of the sport, for this company. He makes the company a lot of money, and he's gone out of his way for this company, so he deserves the rematch. If there's an argument against that, I won't know about it. I won't read about it."