Adesanya's UFC 281 showdown with Pereira is about 'rewriting history'

Israel Adesanya’s UFC 281 grudge match with Alex Pereira is deeply personal… the champ is desperate to ‘rewrite history’ after being knocked out cold by Brazilian in 2017 kickboxing bout – he knows this can be a legacy-defining clash in New York

  • Israel Adesanya’s clash with Alex Pereira is a dream fight for the UFC
  • Brazilian’s rise has been accelerated by the narrative surrounding rivalry
  • Pereira knocked him out during their kickboxing days and has impressed in MMA
  • That said, Adesanya is vastly more experienced in the octagon and motivated 
  • He has admitted that Saturday’s fight is personal and about his legacy 

Israel Adesanya has stepped into the cage 24 times but none of those fights come close to meaning as much as his UFC 281 showdown with Alex Pereira. 

‘The Last Stylebender’ is famed for his calculation, elite striking ability and capacity to separate emotion from technical skill. 

But this one is deeply personal for the 33-year-old Kiwi. He will enter the octagon in Madison Square Garden knowing the man across from him knocked him unconscious the last time they crossed paths.

Israel Adesanya (left) takes on Alex Pereira (right) this weekend at UFC 281 

Adesanya would like to face Pereira in the next four fights if the Brazilian proves himself

It is an unfamiliar place to be for the champion but a dream narrative for both fans and the UFC, who have accelerated the challenger’s rise for this occasion. 

Dana White described the fight as ‘bats**t nuts’ and on paper it is a striker’s paradise. 

Adesanya is motivated by revenge for the first time in his MMA career. His defeat by Pereira in 2017 remains the only time he’s ever been knocked out. 

To make matters worse, he had Pereira wobbled in their kickboxing match prior to the 35-year-old connecting with a thudding left hook that sent his man sprawling to the canvas. 

He’d won their previous kickboxing match by decision so enters Saturday night with the bragging rights. 

But Adesanya has been so dominant at middleweight, winning all of his fights in the division and only slipping up when attempting to become two-weight champion against Jan Blachowicz. 

Pereira is the only man to have knocked out Israel Adesanya in a kickboxing match

Pereira is at a serious experience disadvantage in the octagon with only seven fights to his name. He lost the first by submission but that’s unlikely to be a worry here. 

Adesanya will want to prove that KO was an anomaly and he is the better striker.

And he isn’t shying away from just how much this one means to him.  

The Nigerian-born star told the MMA Hour: ‘This is about me and my legacy. This is about rewriting history. 

‘Even though it is history and I never chased this, this is about me rewriting a new path of history and just showing people what I can really do because, again, y’all must’ve forgot. They forget, they always forget. It’s because of this TikTok era, the attention span is so quick, they move on so fast.

‘So this is personal. For me, I’ve said less, he can do all the tennis ball videos and f****** hoverboard things he wants, but for me I’m just like, “Cool. You do you.” He has bragging rights, so let him do that, but when it’s time I know something he doesn’t. I can’t tell you.’

Pereira (right) won in his UFC debut with a jumping knee against Andreas Michailidis

‘Without me, he wouldn’t be here,’ Adesanya said. ‘Without me, he would have been exposed a long time ago. 

‘Without me – I cleared the way. I cleared the division first of all so there’s not really anyone else to fight. I cleared the way for him to get to the top.

‘I’m winning. I’m winning in life. I’m doing much better than he is and he’s building everything off me, which, if he’s ‘punching down’ what a height he’s punching at because I’m up, way up. Way up.’

That KO still lingers in the back of Adesanya’s mind but he is more frustrated at himself for failing to stick to his gameplan. 

He went on: ‘I didn’t stay true to my style. I was younger and I just let myself get influenced by outside noises and I didn’t stay true to my style. I know me. When I hurt someone – even [my brother] David was saying, “You know how to break people down” and when I’m watching fights I’m like, “Why are you headhunting? Why are you headhunting?” 

‘I was headhunting, I was only using my right hand, that’s the stupidest thing I could have done. So I didn’t stay true to my style and it cost me. That bothered me way more than a knockout.’

UFC middleweight champion Adesanya has never been beaten in his natural division

Adesanya tweeted soon after the news that he will headline UFC 281 in MSG in November

Pereira is taking advantage of his history with Adesanya in jumping in for a title shot, but the champion has just about cleaned out the division anyway. 

Adesanya’s coach, Eugene Bareman, believes it is ridiculous that Pereira has the opportunity after making his UFC debut only last year. 

He said: ‘There’s no way he gets a title shot if there wasn’t history there; it’s ridiculous. It’s just ridiculous that someone would get a title shot [so quickly]. 

‘There’s history with Israel, and the story and the UFC, hate it or love it, Dana has to promote fights. That’s one thing they do really well. They picked up this history, picked up this would be a great fight that’s going to bring a lot of eyes, and strategically push Alex so he could fight for the title.

‘We’ll have to see on Saturday if he’s being rushed too early, and if they should’ve been more patient.’

Pereira demolished Sean Strickland and has been thrown in for a title shot  

Pereira meanwhile is playing the bogeyman. He’s doing what he can to get in Adesanya’s head and remind him what happened the last time they fought, albeit in a different discipline. 

On MMA Fighting podcast Trocacao Franca, he said: ‘He knows I’m not like the other guys he fought, otherwise the results would have been different in both times we fought. 

‘He knows I’m different, and I’m proving that. I’m showing that in my three UFC fights. I’m being honest here. He doesn’t want this fight. Nobody wants. His team doesn’t want it. 

‘People close to him don’t want it because they know the risk. Is he good? Is he the champion? He’s there because he did what he did. Everybody knows my potential and sees my evolution.

Adesanya was unhappy about his performance in July despite beating Jared Cannonier

‘Right after I got in the UFC he said he would like to fight me maybe after four fights but “calm down”. He wanted [to fight me], but only after I did four fights.

‘Why? He had in his mind I could lose to someone and he would say, “Is that the guy you want me to fight?” I never believed that, but some people did. Others realize now he was bluffing. That’s not what he wants.’

Pereira has the kind of one-shot knockout power that is frightening to witness. 

He can end a fight at any moment but remains untested in MMA against the very best. 

This grudge match five years in the making should light up Madison Square Garden on Saturday night. The stakes are high for both men but there’s no doubt the pressure, expectation and demons reside with Adesanya. 

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