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Israel Adesanya, coach say first UFC title defense is nearly set

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Adesanya preparing for fight with Romero (1:06)

Israel Adesanya says he wants to defend his title at least three times in 2020 and that a fight with Yoel Romero is done, even though it hasn't been announced yet. (1:06)

Israel Adesanya is close to finalizing the first defense of his UFC middleweight championship in a March 7 fight against Yoel Romero, Adesanya and his coach told ESPN on Monday.

"I have my first guy on the chopping block," Adesanya said during an appearance on Ariel Helwani's MMA Show. "That's Yoel. He's the first one, and I want to defend my belt three times this year, at least."

Both Adesanya and his coach, Eugene Bareman, stressed that the booking is not yet a done deal. But they expect the fight to headline UFC 248 in Las Vegas, which already has a strawweight title fight between champion Zhang Weili and former champ Joanna Jedrzejczyk slated for the co-main event.

"There are some small particulars that have to be worked out," said Bareman, who coaches Adesanya at City Kickboxing in Auckland, New Zealand. "But we are staying positive. ... We expect to be walking down murderers' row again come March."

Adesanya (18-0), a 30-year-old native of Nigeria, won the 185-pound belt with a second-round TKO of Robert Whittaker in October. He entered that bout as interim champion, after defeating Kelvin Gastelum last April.

Romero (13-4) would be getting a title fight coming off losses in his last two fights and three of his last four. Two of those defeats came against Whittaker, one in a fight for an interim belt. The other Whittaker bout was to be for the title, but Romero missed weight for the second straight time and it was designated a nontitle fight.

The 42-year-old Cuban was a 1999 freestyle wrestling world champion and a silver medalist in the 2000 Olympics.

Adesanya's first title defense was expected to come against Paulo Costa, who defeated Romero last August to run his record to 13-0. But Costa is on the shelf after undergoing biceps surgery.

"He hurt himself, allegedly, and now he can't fight for maybe seven more months," said Adesanya. "But I'm not sitting around waiting for this wannabe to get better and then come see me. So yeah, I picked on the next guy, who no one wants to call out. And that's Yoel Romero."