Kiwi UFC champion Israel Adesanya has ruled out another middleweight title defence this year in order to help fellow gym member Junior Fa prepare for a boxing fight with Joseph Parker.
When he does return to the octagon, it could be in an attempt to become a dual title holder.
Fresh out of quarantine, City Kickboxing founder and trainer Eugene Bareman told 1 NEWS in an exclusive interview the “team first” mentality the gym lives by has been applied to help Fa as he looks to pull off the biggest upset in New Zealand boxing history.
Bareman told 1 NEWS Adesanya had planned to defend his middleweight title once again on December 12 against American fighter Jared Cannonier – just one day after Fa’s scheduled bout with Parker.
“Me and Tristram [Apikota] – who are integral parts of Israel’s coaching team, we’ve been there for every fight – have committed ourselves to Junior,” Bareman said.
“And fair enough, it’s Junior’s time in the limelight now.”
Fa and Parker’s promoters announced earlier this month the two long-time Kiwi rivals will finally settle the score on December 11 at Auckland’s Spark Arena after winning two fights each against the other as amateurs.
With Adesanya no longer needing his attention, it gives Bareman and City Kickboxing eight more weeks to focus on Fa.
“Although Israel wanted to fight in December, he does not want to fight without his coaching team so he’s going to have to push his timetable out to fight in early next year.”
Bareman added Adesanya was fine delaying his next appearance in the octagon for Fa though.
“We’re a team – if you have to move because another fighter is in the limelight, then Israel is more than happy to move aside so Junior can get his fight done.
“That’s just how you operate as a team.
“Without hesitation, Israel is like, ‘yes, there's big money involved but there's big money involved for Junior as well. This is the biggest pay day, it's the biggest fight of Junior's life’.”
As they have done in the past, Adesanya and Fa will work together as sparring partners for the upcoming bout against Parker.
“Junior is someone who’s helped Israel throughout his whole UFC career. He’s been there, they’ve done rounds together.
“So without hesitation, Israel stepped aside.”
Adesanya looking up, not ahead
The Nigerian-born fighter’s delay could be a blessing in disguise if his team get their way though, with Bareman revealing that instead of waiting to fight Cannonier next year, Adesanya is now looking to chase a shot at the light heavyweight title early next year.
“Cannonier was the option for this year but we’ve taken that option off the table,” Bareman said.
“Now we want to fight next year and our preferred fight next year is at [light heavyweight].”
1 NEWS asked if the move up a division was for an immediate title shot against light heavyweight champion Jan Blachowicz, to which Bareman said while it wasn’t guaranteed, it was their “preferred option”.
“If we have to push it to next year, then our preferred option, the fight that we are going to try and negotiate to the best of our ability is going to be at 205 [pounds] for the title.”
Bareman said he’s not sure how UFC will react to their proposal.
“That’s our job though – to try and push that narrative as far as we can.”