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UFC 287 Roundtable: How would another loss to Alex Pereira affect Israel Adesanya’s legacy? Plus more

UFC 281: Adesanya v Pereira
Israel Adesanya and Alex Pereira
Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Alex Pereira and Israel Adesanya are set for their rematch next weekend — or tetralogy bout if you want to get fancy — and while the immediate stakes are obvious, the ripples of the result could reshape how we view the careers of both men. More specifically, how will we view Adesanya’s legacy if he fails to score a victory in what will be his fourth combat sports encounter with Pereira?

MMA Fighting’s Shaun Al-Shatti, Alexander K. Lee, Damon Martin, and Jed Meshew put their heads together to debate the impact of the Pereira-Adesanya grudge match and the biggest storylines of UFC 287.

1. If Alex Pereira beats Israel Adesanya again, what does that mean for Adesanya’s legacy and career?

Al-Shatti: It means Alex Pereira memes are going to chase Israel Adesanya in every comments section for the rest of his life.

In truth, there are few combat sports rivalries more bizarre than the saga of Adesanya and his perpetual boogeyman. He could conceivably be 3-0 over Pereira. Their first meeting was a decision in the Brazilian’s favor that clearly should’ve gone the other way, then chapters two and three were mere minutes away from Adesanya winning clear-cut decisions before Pereira pulled off Hail Marys from out of nowhere. They’ve fought more than 38 minutes across two different sports and Adesanya has probably won at least 35 of those, yet he’s the one staring down the barrel of an 0-3 hole and a potential legacy-ending night in Miami.

That’s tough.

Adesanya is already the second-greatest middleweight of all-time. That won’t change if Pereira busts out his broom and completes the series sweep at UFC 287. But the glimmer on who Adesanya is and how he’ll be remembered will certainly get much duller if there’s a man out there parading around with the claim of going 4-of-4 against him in Izzy’s prime.

If Adesanya finally gets the job done, he can render this entire saga down to nothing more than a weird side-road in his story. But if not, Pereira will haunt every conversation regarding “The Last Stylebender” like a demonic presence until the end of time.

UFC 281: Adesanya v Pereira
Alex Pereira and Israel Adesanya
Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Lee: Israel Adesanya isn’t the first UFC star to have a nemesis.

Daniel Cormier could never beat Jon Jones. Anderson Silva, Jose Aldo, and Joanna Jedrzejczyk are still considered the best of all-time in their respective divisions despite having the torch snatched from them by Chris Weidman, Max Holloway, and Rose Namajunas. Chuck Liddell lost to Quinton Jackson in PRIDE and then saw his boogeyman take his UFC title from him years later. And then there was Matt Hughes bizarrely failing to make it past the 20-second mark in two pre-championship fights against Dennis Hallman.

All of that is to say that Adesanya’s legacy shouldn’t be defined by Alex Pereira having his number. But it will make for an indelible footnote in what has been an outstanding fighting career thus far.

Speaking of past champions, legends like Georges St-Pierre, Randy Couture, and Amanda Nunes gain major points in the GOAT convo for their ability to bounce back from title defeats and emphatically reclaim their spots on the top of the mountain. If Adesanya can show the same resolve and finally beat Pereira, not only will it lift a weight from his shoulders, it will put his historic run as middleweight king back on track with plenty of compelling challengers on the horizon. (Bo Nickal, anyone?)

I don’t know if another loss to Pereira hurts Adesanya’s already established credentials that badly, but it will throw a wrench into Adesanya’s chances of moving any further up the all-time great list.

Meshew: In the scheme of things, not a whole lot.

As it stands, Israel Adesanya is the second-greatest middleweight of all-time behind only Anderson Silva, and realistically, he has no path forward to taking the top spot. Silva is one of the greatest, most dominant fighters of all-time, and had Adesanya not lost to Pereira at UFC 281, he could potentially still be on a path to that title. But the loss functionally ends it. Which means that, ultimately, a loss here doesn’t really hurt him much more. Like I said with Kamaru Usman at UFC 286, no loss is ever good, but champions with legacies already set in stone simply don’t lose too much when the fall off happens.

That’s just with regards to Adesanya’s legacy, though.

His career, on the other hand, could take a major turn. It’s an old adage, but losing is contagious, and once you suffer one, it’s simply more likely you will keep taking Ls. We’ve seen it throughout MMA history. And another loss to Pereira will undoubtedly put Adesanya at a crossroads: Stay at 185 and hope Pereira loses to someone else, or make the move up to 205 permanently. In either instance, more losses are likely to follow.

Staying on top in MMA for years on end is nearly impossible. There’s a crop of new middleweights coming, and guys like Khamzat Chimaev will be champing at the bit to get a crack at Izzy. And up at 205 pounds? Well, Adesanya already found navigating the size difference to be troublesome once, and that division is only improving. Plus, there’s the chance that Pereira follows suit, and then once again his nemesis will be in his path to gold. Either way, another loss for Adesanya — particularly another knockout loss — portends tough times ahead for “The Last Stylebender.”

2. Could Gilbert Burns or Jorge Masvidal take Colby Covington’s title shot?

Martin: If Jorge Masvidal wins with a highlight-reel finish then Colby Covington might want to start looking at Belal Muhammad fight videos, because that’s probably going to be his next opponent.

Like it or not, the UFC is driven by star power more than anybody actually earning or deserving a shot at the title. By all accounts, Covington hasn’t actually done enough to get a fight with Leon Edwards, yet he was still declared the No. 1 contender after sitting out for over a year with his biggest fight during that time coming in a courtroom against Masvidal.

As it stands, Masvidal is one of a handful of UFC fighters who can sell tickets whether he’s in a title fight or not, and that absolutely matters to the promotion’s bottom line. His infamous “three-piece with the soda” handed out during a backstage incident with Edwards in 2019 is exactly the kind of pre-fight fodder to fit into a video package that will have Dana White frothing at the mouth as if he’s about to chow down on pay-per-view buys like it’s F*** It Friday.

Masvidal is a draw, and a win over a legitimate welterweight contender like Gilbert Burns will essentially erase all past sins — including his loss to Covington — because the story with Edwards in London is just too good for the UFC to pass up on.

UFC 272: Covington v Masvidal
Jorge Masvidal
Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

Meshew: If Jorge Masvidal wins, yes. If Gilbert Burns wins, LOL.

It’s high time we divested ourselves of the idea that the UFC is a sport. It’s not. It’s sanctioned combat with a thin patina of merit overtop to give the illusion of sport. Like a gold-plated toilet, it may appear fancy, but it’s still just a place where you handle your business. And business is the name of the game.

Masvidal is not the biggest star in the UFC, but he is one of the biggest. He’s certainly a more well-established draw than Covington is and he has a built-in story with Leon Edwards. There is real heat to that matchup, and considerable material to build a bad blood storyline (incidentally, the only storyline the UFC knows how to tell). If Masvidal beats Burns, that will be all the impetus the UFC needs to ultimately pull the rug out from under Covington. After all, they’ve certainly done it do him before. (Remember when he won an interim belt and they just took it from him?)

And for those of you saying, “Covington beat Masvidal!” — remember, this isn’t a sport. It’s business. And Edwards vs. Masvidal, in London, is best for business.

Lee: Yes, please?

Look, I get the argument for a Colby Covington title shot. As much as I personally don’t like it, I get it. He’s a name that appeals to a significant segment of the UFC’s fan base, he performed exceedingly well in two title fights against Kamaru Usman, and he gets people talking. There’s no disputing that last part — just look at the discourse that immediately emerged after Dana White announced Covington as the next challenger for welterweight champion Leon Edwards. It was everywhere. It still is.

But the best case for Burns and Masvidal is that whoever comes out on top next Saturday will have an actual relevant win within the past 12 months. If Masvidal takes out Burns — who is two spots ahead of Covington in the MMA Fighting Global Rankings, the only rankings that matter — that would be his biggest win in ages and, respectfully, a more notable achievement than beating Nate Diaz, Ben Askren, and Darren Till, the three Ws that rocketed Masvidal to a pair of title shots. He shouldn’t be rewarded for assaulting Covington, but given his history with Edwards, I think the matchmakers will look past it.

As for Burns, while he has the least cachet of these three names, he also might be the best fighter out of all of them right now. And for all the talk of Covington almost beating Usman, let’s not forget that Burns had Usman hurt when he had his shot at UFC gold back in February 2021, so it’s not as if “Durinho” hasn’t shown he belongs among the elite.

Do the right thing, UFC. Make this fight mean something.

3. What undercard fight is most intriguing?

Lee: It’s an easy pick, but as soon as the pay-per-view kicks off, all eyes will be on Raul Rosas Jr.

I honestly have no clue what the ceiling is for this young man, as we’ve seen plenty of prodigies come and go in MMA, some going on to become champions, some having excellent careers just short of top-tier status, and others flaming out. So far, the 18-year-old Rosas has done and said everything he’s supposed to. The UFC has answered the challenge of promoting the wunderkind appropriately, matching him up with respectable, if undistinguished competition.

On Saturday, he goes up against Christian Rodriguez, who has had a delightful smattering of appearances so far for the UFC, the LFA, CFFC, and Bellator since turning pro in 2019. The expectation is that Rosas will stay unbeaten (he’s currently hovering around a -200 favorite on DraftKings), but there’s plenty of questions to consider even if he takes care of business.

Will fans be disappointed if Rodriguez takes Rosas to the scorecards? Will a fast finish for Rosas only further skepticism about his quality of opposition? If Rosas is dominant, will it prompt the matchmakers to rush his development?

Again, I have no gauge for Rosas’ true potential, but I know I’m locked in for the start of what should be an eventful 2023 campaign for him.

MMA: DEC 10 UFC 282
Raul Rosas Jr.
Photo by Louis Grasse/PxImages/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Martin: Part of me wants to say Kelvin Gastelum vs. Chris Curtis, just because I’m curious if the fight will actually happen, since Gastelum’s career seems to be more snake bitten lately than Bear Grylls traveling through the Amazon forest. That said, I’m going to go with Rob Font vs. Adrian Yanez, which takes place in the bantamweight division, arguably the most exciting weight class in the sport.

Yanez looks every bit of a future title contender, especially with his boxing, which is among the best for any fighter on the current UFC roster. He’s rattled off nine straight wins, including five in the UFC, but Font will definitely be his toughest test to date.

This is ultimately a measuring stick to find out if Yanez can graduate from top-15 bantamweight to a serious threat to the champion at 135 pounds. That’s pretty much what Font represents, because he’s a damn good fighter but he’s struggled against elite opponents at 135 pounds, so beating Yanez effectively shows where he fits in the division.

To add to that, these two both like to throw down, and that just makes for an exciting matchup that could steal Fight of the Night honors when UFC 287 is over.

Al-Shatti: Count me right there alongside Damon in the “I Kinda Wanna Say Gastelum-Curtis” club, but out of sheer respect for Kevin Gastelum (and not wanting to further jinx one of the UFC’s unluckiest men), I’ll pivot to the follow-up act of Mr. Bodybagz himself, Joe Pyfer.

The 26-year-old’s UFC debut last September was one sneakily of the feel-good moments of the year — and an exceptionally violent one as well. Having overcome a troubled childhood, homelessness, and a grisly arm injury in the opening minutes of his first Contender Series tryout, Pyfer’s road to the octagon is a Rocky story come to life. Remember, we’re talking a guy who would’ve literally been left out in the cold after his Contender Series experience had Dana White not admirably paid for a year’s worth of his rent.

Anyone who can persevere over hardship of that scale and not only make it to a stage like the UFC, but succeed there in highlight-reel fashion, deserves all the respect in the world.

But Pyfer isn’t just some vessel for good MMA vibes. He’s one hell of a prospect as well. A burgeoning knockout artist with fast hands and a 90-percent finishing rate in his career, Pyfer could be another juicy addition to a 185-pound division already reloading its coffers with the likes of Bo Nickal, Khamzat Chimaev, and more. To top it all off, this is perfect matchmaking — UFC 287 isn’t the first time Gerald Meerschaert has been used as a prove-it fight by the powers that be, and he’s spoiled the parties of plenty of up-and-comers before.

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