Israel Adesanya and Eugene Bareman fell to their knees and embraced one another in the centre of the UFC octagon, clutching the interim middleweight championship between them.

Emotion spilled over inside the octagon at Atlanta's State Farm Arena in April after Adesanya's unanimous decision win over American Kelvin Gastelum. A fight that will likely go down as one of the best in UFC history, the interim belt was on the line for Adesanya and Gastelum as division champion Robert Whittaker had been sidelined by injury. The winner claimed the interim title and a future bout against Whittaker for the undisputed championship.

So, while Bareman enjoyed being in the moment, he didn't let it last longer than necessary.

For the City Kickboxing head coach, that meant 12 hours later his focus was on an Oceania blockbuster between Adesanya and Whittaker for the undisputed title, which will go down at Melbourne Marvel Stadium this weekend.


"At the end of the day it's called the interim belt for a reason," Bareman says. "The belt's there, but it shouldn't really be there.

"Israel wanted to enjoy that success of winning that fight for a while, but I want to put that behind us as fast as I can and move on to the next fight."

Adesanya, who improved his record to 17-0 against Gastelum, soaked up his moment and displayed his UFC gold with pride. But soon after the interim champion returned to Auckland from a trip to take his title back to his native Nigeria, the shiny new belt was left dumped in a box at the gym with various other titles won by teammates in other promotions across the globe over the years.

"It's hard to come into a challenger's mindset when you're always strutting around with the belt," Bareman says.

"For me, I knew we had made a mental transition to focusing 100 per cent on being the challenger for this next fight."

It wasn't just around the gym that it was clear Adesanya had channelled the mindset of a challenger ahead of the October 6 fight. His online presence showed a similar switch and at a press conference in Melbourne in August, when he and Whittaker posed side by side for photos, Adesanya put his title down so that he would be photographed without it.

"That wasn't necessarily driven by me; that was driven by Israel. At the end of the day, Israel needs to go in there with a challenger's mindset. When the time is right we'll come in there as the defender, but for this fight we're the challenger."

Adesanya(17-0) and Whittaker (20-4) will meet in the main event of UFC 243 at Melbourne's Marvel Stadium on Sunday (NZ time) in what will be the biggest combat sports event Oceania has seen. Of the 11 bouts on the card, all but one will feature a fighter from Australia or New Zealand with a total of 12 local athletes scheduled to fight.

Kiwis Dan Hooker, Israel Adesanya, Brad Riddell and Luke Jumeau will fight at UFC 243. Photo / Photosport
Kiwis Dan Hooker, Israel Adesanya, Brad Riddell and Luke Jumeau will fight at UFC 243. Photo / Photosport

City Kickboxing teammates Dan Hooker and Brad Riddell will also fly the flag for New Zealand, alongside Adesanya and Luke Jumeau - who fights out of Hamilton's Core MMA.

On the main card, Hooker meets the UFC's No6 ranked lightweight Al Iaquinta in the co-main event while welterweight Jumeau kicks things off with a bout against Brazilian Dheigo Lima. Riddell makes his UFC debut in the lightweight division as part of the early preliminary card.