Some people turn to sports as a path to a better life, or they are just naturally gifted for it. For Alex Pereira, competing was a way to escape from an addiction.
Pereira reached the pinnacle of kickboxing in 2017, capturing the GLORY middleweight championship. Israel Adesanya’s success in the UFC propelled him into a different level given the fact Pereira was the only man to ever KO “The Last Stylebender” under kickboxing rules.
The Brazilian striker, however, didn’t aim to become the world’s best when he put kickboxing gloves on for the first time in 2009.
“I drank a lot and I wanted to walk away from this addiction that is so bad for society,” Pereira said in an interview with MMA Fighting. “I thought to myself, ‘man, I wanna start practicing sports because sports saves people.’ But I didn’t know how to play soccer, I’ve never done anything until then, but I fought a lot when I was a kid, so I thought about combat sports.”
Pereira started training to “quit drinking,” he said, but it wasn’t immediate. In fact, he still was an alcoholic when he became a Brazilian national champion three years later. Eight years into sobriety, “Poatan” finally feels ready to publicly open up about it.
“It was an addiction,” Pereira said of his drinking problem. “We’re in that moment, drinking, and we say, ‘I’ll stop when I want to.’ I had that in my mind. I decided to stop, it was time to stop, but I couldn’t, and that’s when I realized it was ugly.”
The Sao Paulo native would decide to quit drinking for good, but it would only last a month. Or two months. Six months, even. It was only in his fourth attempt that he was finally able to walk away from the bottles.
“Four years into fighting, I had my whole kickboxing career planned in my mind, and I realized I wouldn’t accomplish my goals if I never stopped drinking,” Pereira said. “That’s when I made my mind and quit drinking. I haven’t had a drop of alcohol since.”
Pereira started drinking when he was 13, and believes that being a healthy kid and eating well “saved his life” from a worse addiction. Working at a tire shop, however, pushed him down the hole, since that routine led to alcohol, he said.
“I was raised in a favela, I had no expectations for my life,” Pereira said. “I would always wonder if I would be able to buy a motorcycle one day, and thought it was possible. ‘But how about a car? Maybe? I have my doubts.’ A house? No way, that was too far from a reality for me.”
Pereira lives a good life now, and jumps on a different challenge. The two-division champion in GLORY is ready to make his return to MMA at Friday’s LFA 95 in Park City, Kansas, taking on 4-4 middleweight Thomas Powell.
“Poatan” spent three months in the United States, training alongside UFC contender Glover Teixeira. His training partner loves to have a drink here and there when he’s off-camp. Pereira has no problem being around drinks anymore, though.
“It’s hard to explain,” Pereira said. “Sometimes I see people drinking and I think, ‘damn, I wish I was drinking,’ but sometimes I see them and question why can they drink. It’s weird. But I have it under control. I’m addicted to training, and I train really hard. I never go to the gym to half-ass train. If I go to the gym, I’m training hard.
“If I’m going to drink, I can’t drink one can of beer and it’s all good. I can’t do that. I have no control, so I rather not drink at all. I can control not drinking and I’m absolutely positive I won’t drink again because I don’t wanna lose everything I’ve accomplished and what I still can accomplish. I’m surrounded by good people, important people, my family, and I don’t wanna lose that — and I know I’ll lose it if I follow that path.
“People ask my mom, ‘Maria, how’s your son Alex?’, and she says, ‘He’s the pride of the family.’ How am I going out to get hammered knowing it’s wrong, that I’ll disappoint my family? People will ask my parents about me and they’ll say ‘it’s complicated, he’s drinking too much, he’s not dedicating in training anymore.’ That’s bad. I worship that, that’s what keeps me on the right track.”
Moving to the United States to train with Teixeira for his first MMA camp in five years, when he improved to 2-1 in the sport with a knockout win over Marcus Vinicius at Jungle Fight 87. “Poatan” was smashed for weeks by the UFC contender in grappling and wrestling practice, but that’s what got him ready for it.
“I believe he wants to stand with me,” Pereira said of his opponent at LFA 95. “But he’ll probably walk away from that strategy and decide to take me down. I don’t think he wants to take me down, but he’ll do it out of despair.”
Still under contract with GLORY, the decorate striker says he’s allowed to compete twice a year under MMA rules. Signing with promotions like UFC and Bellator is not an option since they wouldn’t allow him to defend his kickboxing belts in the interim, he said.
“But I was born to fight,” Pereira said, “so I’ll face the challenge in kickboxing and MMA. I’m not here to play, I’m going there to become champion.”