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UFC 271: Conor McGregor’s coach likens Israel Adesanya to Irish megastar

Conor McGregor’s coach says Israel Adesanya boasts the same “fast brain” that took his megastar charge to a pair of UFC titles, and is predicting the middleweight king to again knock Robert Whittaker cold on Sunday week.

Among the most respected voices anywhere in combat sports, John Kavanagh is tipping Adesanya to finish Whittaker during their hyped UFC 271 rematch in Houston, Texas on February 13 (AEST).

The US blockbuster represents the first time the trans-Tasman rivals have clashed since 2019, when Adesanya kayoed Australia’s first UFC champ and claimed gold before almost 60,000 fans in Melbourne.

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Currently in Australia promoting Alta — a new, in-gym Mixed Martial Arts training program — Kavanagh says that while he’s a massive Whittaker fan, he expects a KO win for the New Zealander who “is like Neo in the Matrix, seeing everything move slowly”.

“And I hate saying it,” McGregor’s coach said of the knockout prediction.

“But gun to my head, you force me to choose, I think Israel gets it done within the time limit.”

Coach John Kavanagh with Conor McGregor
Camera IconCoach John Kavanagh with Conor McGregor Credit: Supplied

Asked why Adesanya would again prove so convincing in this clash between two of the greatest UFC middleweights ever, Kavanagh described the 32-year-old champ a “range master”.

“He’s a fighter who just seems to be able to stay on the edge of range,” the coach explained.

“Some guys, they just have an ability to stand where your punch, it bends a hair on their nose — that’s as far as you can reach.

“But then they take a half-step in and crack you.

UFC 271

“It’s like that great scene from when Conor fought Eddie Alveraz for the lightweight belt (at UFC 205).

“If you watch the slow motion replay at one point, you can see Conor moves his head back a fraction and Eddie’s punch literally just moves his nose.

“Then Conor shifts into that position where he can light him up.

“You don’t see a whole lot of guys who have that ability.

“And I know in Conor’s case, he’s been measured by neurologists and has what they call a fast brain. He’s got the unusual ability of having a certain level of hand-eye coordination, an understanding of distance and range.

Camera IconRobert Whittaker chases Israel Adesanya during UFC 243. Credit: News Corp Australia

“And I believe Israel is of the same ilk.

“He’s in the Matrix, seeing things slower than the rest of us do.”

With McGregor currently tipped for a July Octagon return, coach Kavanagh has travelled Down Under to promote Alta, an innovative 20-week MMA training program taught in-gym and set to officially launch across Australia later this month.

After being badly beaten up as a teenager, Kavanagh turned to MMA and now, through the Alta program, wants to introduce thousands of Aussies to the sport that “saved me”.

But as for Australia’s first UFC champ?

Asked how he expected Whittaker to approach the rematch, Kavanagh pointed towards the only blemish of Adesanya’s career – his UFC 259 decision loss against light heavyweight champ Jan Blachowicz.

On that occasion, the heavier Blachowicz was not only able to take Adesanya down, but then keep him there as he ground out a genuine UFC upset.

“And some fans will say the fight exposed Israel’s weaknesses,” Kavanagh said.

“But I disagree.

“I’d say that was not only a ‘styles make fights’ situation, but weight making a difference.

“Yet now Israel is back in his own division, where he’s had plenty of guys try and use that game plan on him in the past – and it hasn’t worked.

“But it’s hard to believe (Whittaker’s team) didn’t look at what Jan did and not think they can do the same.

“So I do believe that will be a part of Whittaker’s strategy.

“It has to be.

“Because if it comes down to a pure striking match, Israel seems to be untouchable.

Camera IconRobert Whittaker vs Israel Adesanya. Michael Klein. Credit: News Corp Australia

“So you can only imagine Whittaker is going to make it that type of fight in the clinch, bit of dirty boxing. Then utilise his great grappling.

“But I think that’s still a tough mountain to climb for him.

“And I’m a massive Whittaker fan.

“I love how he holds himself. How all his skills have come from hard work, sweat and determination.

“But Israel, he looks gifted – a guy who would’ve been great at whatever he chose to do.

“And he chose kickboxing, then Mixed Martial Arts.

“So I’d be leaning toward Israel to repeat what happened in the first fight this time.”

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