UFC 276 features two pivotal middleweight bouts for the future of the division. UFC Middleweight Champion Israel Adesanya will defend his title against Jared Cannonier. In the main bout, Alex Pereira, former Glory Kickboxing champ, takes on Sean Strickland, a rising competitor in what many believe could decide the next champion for the title of middleweight. Eugene Bareman is Adesanya’s head coach and he disagrees with Pereira.
“The purist in me is of the opinion that — it’s the most coveted prize in the sport. You’ve got to earn it,” Bareman told Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour. There are some things that you must do in order to reach this position, and I don’t feel like he has done them yet. It’s not like he has the kind of resume you’d put on the wall to say “This man’s ready for the fight for the title.”
“Strickland has taken a little longer and beat the better caliber opponents. I believe that if he wins it will be a great fight. But at the end of the day, the team, we’re focused on the fight that’s in front of us. It’s not something we think about. It’s not something I think about too often. That’s just off the top of my head.”
But while Bareman may be cool on the fight, Adesanya appears interested. Though Pereira’s MMA accomplishments are limited, he does own two wins over Adesanya in kickboxing, including a brutal KO in Adesanya’s final kickboxing bout before he moved to MMA full time. At a press event this month, the middleweight champion said that should Pereira get past Strickland this Saturday, he would love to have the trilogy in the octagon, and Bareman admits that his fighter will certainly jump at the opportunity to avenge his losses.
“I think Izzy would be fine with it,” Bareman said. “Izzy will be happy to do it… He’s a fighter. He lost to Pereira, albeit in another sport, but he probably wants to get that back. That’s naturally what all fighters want to do.”
It also seems to be the UFC’s goal. Pereira fighting in Adesanya’s featured fight on the same card creates an opportunity for the UFC to arrange their fight, should either of them win. And given the groundswell of support the bout has among fans, Bareman acknowledges that, in this instance, meritocracy might take a back seat to the will of the people.
“Without putting too much thought into it, that’s what I would have thought everybody thinks,” Bareman said about Pereira not deserving a title shot. “But it seems to me that there’s a narrative that the winner should get the next title shot, and sometimes that’s what you need. It takes just a handful of people to get it going, some people spreading it around and the momentum builds and becomes something .”
UFC 276 takes place this Saturday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.