UFC 287's marquee bout, Alex Pereira vs Israel Adesanya, is a can't-miss! Now that we're just about 24 hours from this banger, let's dissect the action a bit.
Alex Pereira vs Israel Adesanya IV: This time, it's, like, really personal. More personal than the other three times.
For those of you that are out of the loop, let me get you caught up. Israel Adesanya is one of the best, most intelligent strikers the MMA and kickboxing community has ever seen. However, there's this one hump he just can't get over.
Let me paint the picture for you
‘Stylebender' ran through the competition at middleweight in the UFC since joining in early 2018. Things were going good for him, but then the antagonist of a previous chapter in his life emerged again. Alex ‘Paotan' Pereira. This dude is a huge, terrifying, stoic, kickboxing stud.
The Brazilian picked up a win over Adesanya via unanimous decision in kickboxing when they first met in 2016. Albeit a controversial decision, the first Adesanya vs Pereira meeting set a trend for ‘Paotan' to upset Izzy. The two met again in 2017, where Pereira would win again, this time via knockout.
Despite going 0-2 against the heavy-handed Brazilian, one could make a case that ‘Stylebender' is always winning these fights until he isn't.
Alex Pereira made his UFC debut in November of 2021; three fights and one year later, we would see the Adesanya vs Pereira trilogy match. Of course, this fight would be hosted under a martial arts ruleset, as opposed to kickboxing. So, you know, kneebars and flying gogoplatas and such.
What we saw in this fight is an MMA-embellished version of the same story — Adesanya is winning, he's showing that he's learned from the previous meeting, but Pereira has that left hand of an equalizer. Despite winning most of this fight, ‘Poatan' put knuckle to chin and hurt the champ enough for the referee to call it a day. Three up, three down, and new!
I've done myself the favor of watching all three of their contests against another. So, right before they run it back for what could very well be the last time, let's look at either fighter's keys to victory. Let's start with the challenger.
Alex Pereira vs Israel Adesanya: Adesanya's keys to victory
Stay off of the fence
Though ‘Stylebender' had more success against the fence than he didn't, this is where he was caught time and time again in the most recent fight. Adesanya did hurt Alex, nearly finishing him, at the end of the first round while against the fence. However, the Brazilian flipped the script in round five.
The then-champion was clipped with that patented left hook of Pereira, and that was the beginning of the end up Adesanya's reign as champion. Israel will need to try his best to control the center of the octagon. Not only will this open up his striking, but it's much easier to wrestle while moving forward. That is, if he wants to wrestle, of course.
Not just aggressive as in pressing forward, Izzy should show Pereira that, despite the three losses, he's still the most game fighter he has faced and might ever face. If the former champion's fight week demeanor tells us anything, it's that he's looking to beat Alex above all else.
Adesanya has been critiqued for point-fighting in a few of his previous successful title defenses; he wasn't getting the finishes he wanted, but he was winning. However, now that he's been relegated to a challenger once again, Izzy has this aura about him like he's got a fire lit. He should fight like that; winning is great, but making it seem like a mismatch could not only get the belt back, but make the final win more impressive than Pereira's three total wins.
Wrestle, wrestle, wrestle
I personally want “D1 Adesanya” to be a mythical fighter. And, seen in the last fight, Adesanya should have an edge over Pereira in the grappling department. Officially, Izza was one of four on takedown attempts. However, he accumulated over six-minutes of control time.
Adesanya may not have a wrecking ball of a left hand, but he can crack, he can learn fast, and he can wrestle. ‘Stylebender' has shown some great grappling know-how in his war against Gastelum and in his UFC debut against Rob Wilkinson, a win that has aged well.
Why not mix in the wrestling? It worked well the first time! Pereira may be expecting it a bit more this time around, but if Adesanya prepared the way we all know he can, then we could see the former champ get his belt back while better showing this wrinkle in his game.
Have fun, champ
“When I'm having fun, I'm the best in the world!”
— Israel Adesanya (@stylebender) December 26, 2021
Like he said this week, people are short-sighted. Izzy has done some very incredible things in his career, let alone his time in the UFC. Some performances could be considered “stale”, but even then, Izzy is always fighting with high-level skills against high-level counterparts.
Perhaps, ‘Stylebender' will have fun with this fight. I think that's what he'll need to do to win and give an awe-inspiring performance that not even the haters can pick at.
Alex Pereira vs Israel Adesanya: Alex Pereira's keys to victory
Kick the legs
When Pereira stole the belt from Izzy, he was able to to make the most out of his low kicks. First of all, the champ kicks like he has Francis Ngannou's arms for legs. Secondly, the accuracy is impeccable. Whether Pereira intended on hitting Adesanya's peroneal nerve or not is neither here nor there; he did, and it played a big role in the fight.
Hitting this nerve can result in the target dealing with drop-foot, which is self-explanatory. If he can do this again, great! But, if not, kicking the legs will ultimately achieve a form of the same goal: a demobilized Adesanya.
The more that the champ can predict where Adesanya will be, the more accurate that left hand will be. If Pereira can press forward more efficiently than the opposition, then he'll have more success in every regard of the fight — his punches will land more, Adesanya's mobility is mitigated, and the threat of takedowns aren't as dangerous.
Again, ‘Poatan' has his most winningest moments against Adesanya when he's pressing forward; we've seen that in kickboxing, and we've seen that in MMA.
Though Pereira has power on his side, the “kickboxing” stat bar for Adesanya and Pereira are very similar. With that being said, it's going to be hard to throw a single bomb and expect to clip a well-experienced striker like Izzy.
Pereira should throw combinations. Of course, this is a key to victory for most fighters, but it could prove to be exceptionally helpful for Pereira as he aims to make it four-up against ‘Stylebender'.
Pereira could possibly be the most stoic man in the world. However, that doesn't mean morale can be sapped if Adesanya starts taking the lead or tries to drown the champ with a grapple-heavy attack. Pereira was down and out in his last fight against Izzy, but he kept it together and walked away with the win.
It's not far-fetched to think Adesanya could start pulling into the lead of this fight, too. But, Pereira always has that power, and he can win at any possible second of the fight. The champ showed what he can do when he's down and out last time, and if he finds himself in a similar situation come UFC 287, him staying composed could be the difference between him retaining the belt and Adesanya taking it back.