Former GLORY two-division champion Alex Pereira enters the UFC octagon for the first time this Saturday to face Andreas Michailidis in New York, but most of the pre-fight narrative will be focused on the fact he has two kickboxing wins over current UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya.
“Poatan” knows that, but pays no extra attention to it.
“I’m not worried, man. He’s the one that should be worried, right?” Pereira told MMA Fighting. “He knows about my potential and knows I’ll get [to the top]. When I go somewhere, I do it to become the best, just like it was in kickboxing. I’ll do everything I can to get there, and maybe he won’t even be there when I do — [if that’s the case] what do I want with Adesanya? Nothing. Is he the champion? Cool, he’s the one I want. He’s no longer the champion? I want the one that is.”
Pereira holds a 3-1 record in MMA and is 33-7 in kickboxing, with a combined 24 knockouts in both sports. He believes Adesanya will continue to reign over the 185-pound division “the way things are going now,” and that could put “Poatan” on a fast track to the gold, even if he’s not particularly in a rush.
“Look at Glover,” Pereira said, pointing to his teammate Glover Teixeira who just won the UFC light heavyweight title at age 42. “He has way more experience and is well-rounded and I still have much to learn, of course, but he’s champion at 42 and is beating up young guys. I’m 34, but I’ve still got plenty of wood to burn.”
Pereira knocked out Adesanya in 2017, a year after winning a decision over “The Last Stylebender” in China, and he doesn’t see many differences in Adesanya’s style between the kickboxing ring and the MMA world. The difference, Pereira said, “is the way his opponents behave” against him. Also, the Brazilian isn’t surprised that the champion has gone radio silent about his arrival in the company.
“He won’t talk, right? He knows my potential,” Pereira said. “He always [post videos] with his picks and stuff like that but will he talk about me? No way, he won’t. I could be wrong, but he won’t talk because he knows my potential. If he’s going to talk about me, he must say something positive because I beat the guy twice, so how is he going to talk crap about me? And if I go out Saturday and show something else, how does that make him look? It’s a bit confusing for him.”
If they do meet in an octagon one day, Pereira doesn’t expect Adesanya to shoot for takedowns despite being 0-2 against the Brazilian in kickboxing.
“He can’t take me down,” Pereira said. “He’s adapted a game to fight MMA guys, but I don’t think he’d try [takedowns] with me. And the evolution I’m having in the grappling area, when I get there, I’ll be on fire, man. He won’t even think about it. Maybe he thinks, ‘Man, smaller gloves, I’ll keep hurting him here since I’m not a strong guy. I’m fast, so I’ll use that.’ These small gloves are dangerous, but I have to be smart because he’ll be using the same [gloves].”
Pereira enters the UFC years after GLORY halted the Brazilian’s negotiations to be on the promotion’s Contender Series. In retrospect, he thinks the path he ultimately took was for the best because “I wasn’t ready” at the time, Pereira said.
“You can win and you can lose, of course, and I’ve had losses in other sports and even in MMA,” Pereira said, “so maybe that would be my chance [and I’d lose]. And now I’m ready. I’ve trained for this, and I’m entering [the UFC] through the front door.”
Training with an experienced veteran like Teixeira for a full year has gotten Pereira more than ready for a UFC debut, he said.
“When I see him taking down those guys with ease, I’m like, ‘Damn, he’s awesome,’ and it gives me more confidence,” Pereira said. “I see many strikers making the transition to MMA and sometimes they don’t do well because they don’t train takedown defense that much. And I feel I’m ready for my debut.
“If I defend 10 takedowns and knock this guy out Saturday, there’s always going to be people criticizing,” he continued. “What am I going to say? I have to say, ‘F*ck, go ahead and choose whoever you want me to fight.’ I’m training, I’m evolving my [takedown] defense, and giving Glover — the best in the world — work [in the gym], but it will never be good enough for some people.”
Michailidis, Pereira’s debut UFC opponent, “is a striker but has good jiu-jitsu,” the Brazilian said, “but he can’t take people down in his fights so it’s hard for him to use his jiu-jitsu. Anything can happen in a fight. I’m doing well in training, so if I can do [in the fight] what I’m doing in training, it will be perfect. And I’m saying that because I’m training with the best, a guy that takes everybody down.”
A knockout artist in two sports, “Poatan” would love to score a highlight-reel finish in the UFC, but prefers to go distance at Madison Square Garden.
“I would like to fight three rounds, 15 minutes,” he said. “Of course, if a knockout or a submission comes, that’s not bad. ... You can’t predict how it comes, but I would like to fight this guy for three rounds.”