Two former kickboxing opponents are set to clash in the Octagon, live from Madison Square Garden in New York City on Saturday.
Alex Pereira’s fast climb in the UFC has led him to a chance of taking the title after three UFC fights. Pereira holds two wins over Israel Adesanya. Now “The Last Stylebender” has the chance to shine after being heavily criticized for his fighting style.
Israel Adesanya has only been knocked out once in his combat sports career. The man who achieved that feat, Pereira, is Adesanya’s opponent in the main event of UFC 281.
Pereira does have two kickboxing wins over Adesanya, but the one that is getting all the lights is his knockout victory in March 2017. Despite keeping Pereira on the back foot, Adesanya ate a walk-off left hook. Half a decade later, with Adesanya cruising through the middleweight division, that knockout is the reason for this title bout.
Pereira has seven MMA fights. Without his history with Adesanya, Pereira would not be challenging for the middleweight title. Their history plays a central role in this matchup, and Pereira and his team seem to relish in reminding Adesanya about what unfolded in their second fight.
“It’s giving Costa vibes in the lead-up to this fight,” says Adesanya, who defeated Paulo Costa by TKO two years ago, making Costa regret issuing statements full of bravado prior to the fight. “Maybe they’re trying to get in my head, but I’m not even reacting.
There might be a few important reasons to believe Adesanya will be victorious. Pereira is considerably less tested in the Octagon, a realm where Adesanya has dominated and remains undefeated as a middleweight.
Also, Adesanya possesses more ways to win. Though it would represent an unorthodox route for him, an effective way to avoid Pereira’s dangerous left hook would be for Adesanya to control this bout with his grappling.
“Grappling really isn’t my thing, I like striking. But if that opportunity presents itself, then why not?” Adesanya has bulked up his frame over the past three months, which further supports the idea that he will be looking to grapple Saturday.
A chance to fight Pereira comes with an overwhelming number of positives for Adesanya, primarily benefiting from the extra motivation of a rematch against an opponent that has previously defeated him.
Pereira motivates him in a way that no other fighter in the division could. His mission for redemption has added another factor to his preparation. It’s been five years since his knockout defeat, and now, Adesanya plans to show Pereira how much he has evolved as a mixed martial artist.
“There are levels to this, and I’m going to remind him of that,” Adesanya says. “I know what he does, I know what he’s banking on. He throws that right hand to set up the left hook. His knees aren’t going to work on me. I’m not going to just stand there and take it. If he throws those, he’ll pay for it.”
Headlining a card at Madison Square Garden is a long-awaited moment for Adesanya. Yet the goal is not solely to compete at MSG. He plans to win, removing any shred of doubt still remaining that there is anyone on his level of greatness.