Set to return in a potential No. 1 contender bout against Sean Strickland on July 2 — the same night Pereira’s noted rival, Israel Adesanya, is expected to defend his UFC middleweight title against Jared Cannonier — “Poatan” is out to dominate.
“Honestly, I’m not thinking about a knockout,” Pereira said on this week’s episode of MMA Fighting podcast Trocação Franca. “If it’s a fight [that ends] by decision, winning clearly, I’d prefer it. I want feel [the fight], you know? Just like the [Bruno Santos] fight — three rounds, a war, him trying to take me down and myself defending it. If I get taken down, I’m getting back up and maybe taking him down as well.”
Pereira is a former two-division champion in GLORY who walked away from kickboxing to focus full-time on his MMA career in 2021. After going 2-0 in his first two UFC bouts, including a spectacular flying-knee knockout of Andreas Michailidis in his octagon debut, Pereira could earn a shot at the title with a win at UFC 276. That holds even more true if Adesanya emerges victorious against Cannonier, as Pereira has defeated “The Last Stylebender” twice in kickboxing and the two continue to have a fiery rivalry.
Strickland, on the other hand, is gunning for his chance at UFC gold after winning six straight bouts, most recently in a five-round decision over Jack Hermansson.
“He’s a dangerous guy, very tough,” Pereira said of Strickland. “But, with my fighting style, I think it’s a great fight for me. He comes forward willing to engage, you know? He wants to win. That motivates me a lot. I think my technique could be better than his.”
Pereira is only a blue belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and believes Strickland will “insist” on approaching the fight with takedowns in mind. The former kickboxing star said he may also showcase his own grappling acumen, but only when it’s not just a “waste of energy.”
“I see many openings in his game. There are so many things I can do there,” Pereira said of Strickland, who hasn’t lost since a first-round knockout to welterweight Elizeu Zaleski in 2018. “Even that fight he lost to the Brazilian with a spinning kick, he’s getting a lot of experience since. Maybe it wasn’t just that he moved up in weight, I think he’s evolving. Six fights [since then] is a lot, you know?”
In a previous interview with Trocação Franca, Pereira said Adesanya was “scared s***” of facing him in MMA and predicted the champ would run from him.
Three months later, Pereira is ready for his shot.
“I don’t know what will happen [after UFC 276],” Pereira said. “People have been asking for the Adesanya fight and the title fight ever since I signed [with the UFC]. I came in saying I wanted to fight for the belt against whoever held it, and he’s there. I don’t know how it’s going to be, but I’ll be ready for one, two, three, how many more fights the organization wants me to take. But we can see it’s being a quick process. I’m ready [now].”
Will Adesanya leave the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas as the reining 185-pound king, though?
Pereira believes it’ll be tough for any middleweight other than him to beat the UFC champion at the moment, and he broke down exactly how he thinks Adesanya will defeat Cannonier.
“What will make the difference in this fight is the kick to the thigh,” Pereira said. “[People will say,] ‘But Alex, he won by head kick KO or a knee.’ But look at how it started, how [Cannonier] is acting after these kicks. It’s hard to hurt someone with the hands. You KO people with the hands, you know? The kick is meant to hurt.
“What is Adesanya is going to do [against me]? Kick me? I’ll defend it. The defense I do, it hurts people as well. He does that well, he hurts people. I won’t mention names here, but you can see people he’s fought. [And people] will never talk about this kick [to the thigh].”