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UFC 271: Whittaker tipped to KO Adesanya with Hall of Fame coach Johnny Lewis

Johnny Lewis has never been real big on the whole UFC thing.

At 77, calls himself too old school.

“And when you’ve got both fighters laying on the ground – doesn’t excite me,” he shrugs.

Worse, Lewis knows the black eye this breakout sport has given his own.

Especially Down Under.

With Aussie boxing, the old trainer has said before, increasingly falling “victim” to that travelling roadshow all blood, steel and genuine contest.

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Yet just recently, you should know our nation’s greatest fight coach has been disappearing inside Octagons.

Specifically, watching old fight tape of Robert Whittaker.

Which has also meant viewing Israel Adesanya.

That outspoken New Zealand megastar who, in 2019, not only took the Sydneysider’s middleweight crown via devastating KO, but is now gunning to double down in their hyped UFC 271 rematch next Sunday.

Johnny Lewis pauses a Whittaker padwork session to offer advice.
Camera IconJohnny Lewis pauses a Whittaker padwork session to offer advice. Credit: Supplied

As far as Octagon slobberknockers go, Whittaker/Adesanya II is the biggest in Australian history, which is no minor statement considering the rise of Wollongong concreter Alexander Volkanovski.

That, and the small matter of some 60,000 fans watching their first fight live.

But this one, truly, is for all the marbles, sheep stations, everything.

A blockbuster for which, currently, Adesanya is heavily favoured.

Not only with ESPN experts, fellow fighters or even press row, but also those Las Vegas bookies who have The Last Stylebender at -275.

Which is why Lewis has been looking over that old footage.

Inside a small Daceyville gym, studying Whittaker in the flesh, too.

With Australia’s greatest ever trainer, to the knowledge of almost no one, having spent the past four months devoting countless hours, and rounds, to watching, instructing, improving a man who wants that middleweight gold back.

UFC fighter Robert Whittaker
Camera IconRob Whittaker at his gym in Smeaton Grange. Richard Dobson Credit: News Corp Australia

Hired by Whittaker after meeting through a mutual friend, Lewis has been tasked with not only identifying the challenger’s mistakes from fight one, and then rectifying the problems, but also breaking down that rangy Aucklander likened to no less than Neo of Matrix fame.

“And if Rob hits him just right,” the trainer says softly, “I believe he’ll knock him out”.

Which would be some story, right?

Not only because Lewis has trained six world champions – among them genuine greats like Jeff Fenech, Kostya Tszyu and that greatest of sporting underdogs, Jeff Harding.

But also because Adesanya sits among the best strikers in the sport. A truth which suggests Whittaker’s greatest chance of victory – and only chance, many say – is to clinch, dirty box, grapple, take Adesanya down, then keep him there in a gritty, suffocating hell.

But then you hear Lewis whisper how Bobby Knuckles, he “may do a little attacking of his own”.

Which matters.

Especially when you consider that sprinkle of magic dust this boxing godfather has long carried with his spit bucket.

Robert Whittaker and Tim Tszyu during a recent sparring session in Sydney.
Camera IconRobert Whittaker and Tim Tszyu during a recent sparring session in Sydney. Credit: Supplied

With Lewis not only our nation’s greatest fight trainer, or a global Hall of Famer, but that winner who makes champions of those he guides.

A history not lost on Whittaker.

Already bunkered down in Houston this past week for his final preparations, the Aussie was happy to finally come clean on his secret workouts with the old coach, even if he struggled to find words to describe them.

“Because being in the presence of Johnny Lewis, I don’t know how to explain it,” concedes the fighter, who has also spent time this camp sparring undefeated super welterweight Tim Tszyu.

“Johnny, he just has this aura about him.

“And that aura, it rubs off on you.

“Because Johnny has absolute confidence in what he knows. What he does.

“He also makes you want to work harder, want to throw more.

“And when he says you’re doing well, or punching sharper – you know you are.”

Which again, matters.

Not only because Johnny Lewis can see a knockout.

But because, as the old trainer puts it, “Rob’s confident he can do it too”.

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