Israel Adesanya has faced Alex Pereira three times across kickboxing and MMA and each occasion saw him come within inches of victory before he fell into the jaws of defeat.
A razor-close decision in their first fight that led to Adesanya nearly scoring a finish in their rematch until Pereira flattened him with a highlight-reel knockout just moments later. In their first encounter in the UFC, the story was nearly the same with Adesanya almost putting Pereira away early and then going ahead on the scorecards only to see the Brazilian forge a comeback before delivering a devastating fifth-round knockout.
On Saturday at UFC 287, Adesanya will face Pereira for the fourth and potentially final time in his career and he has to know the stakes couldn’t get any bigger.
“This is his legacy here,” UFC welterweight Matt Brown said about Adesanya on the latest episode of The Fighter vs. The Writer. “He has to beat Alex Pereira for his legacy. It’s that important. This is what changes his entire legacy all together. This single fight. This is probably his last chance at it. If Pereira beats him, maybe [Adesanya] can work his way back to the top but he’s working his way back to a third fight against a guy that beat him twice. I feel like that’s a tough call for the promoters to put together.
“To me, this is his legacy on the line this weekend, and where he goes from there, hopefully he’s not even looking at Sunday and thinking about it. Hopefully this is the last day that matters to him is Saturday.”
Prior to his loss to Pereira this past November, Adesanya had largely already established himself as possibly the second greatest middleweight in history behind 10-time defending UFC champion Anderson Silva.
Everything Adesanya did before falling to Pereira didn’t suddenly go away but there’s no denying the magnitude surrounding this fourth fight overall and second matchup in the UFC. A win allows Adesanya to vanquish all of his past demons to prove he deserves that mention among the all-time greats but a loss — whether fair or not — could completely alter how he’s remembered.
“When he beats other guys like Marvin Vettori or Derek Brunson or Robert Whittaker, it’s like OK, he’s great, we know it and there it is, he won again,” Brown said. “When you come back and beat a guy as we’re describing as the monster in the closet, that a lot of people see as the monster in the closet and the guy that’s going to beat Adesanya again. The one guy that is a better Adesanya than Adesanya’s specialty [in striking]. He’s just knocking him out every time.
“A win takes him so far here. He overcomes so much doubt and so much hate, so many questions around him. He overcomes all these things and I think that makes his legacy just skyrocket whereas if he loses again, all those people are proven right. I think that’s the difference maker here.”
As far as strategy goes, Brown doesn’t see any wholesale changes that Adesanya needs to make in order to win because he already knows how to hurt Pereira and outscore him from their previous fights. The problem has been Adesanya’s inability to shut the door on a Pereira comeback and that’s where Brown believes the 33-year-old middleweight needs to keep his focus on Saturday.
“Both times, maybe all three times, Israel did the right things,” Brown said. “He just got caught. So how’s your strategy — don’t get caught? We talk about ‘can Adesanya not get caught?’ He has to be mentally sharp on point for five rounds. That’s really what it’s going to come down to. I wouldn’t change up a whole lot honestly. There’s just not a whole lot to change up. He’s been kickboxing a long time, he knows his style, he knows what he’s capable of. At this point in his career, there’s just not a lot you can change up. You can teach an old dog new tricks but you’re not going to add new layers that Alex hasn’t seen yet. He’s fought him three times now.
“If I were Adesanya’s camp, I would be focusing on forgetting about those first three fights and performing mentally the best you can this night. That’s where I’d put all my focus. He’s got to somehow forget that those first three fights happened. He’s got to go out there and be himself, have fun doing it and stay mentally sharp for five f****** rounds.”
Despite Pereira’s undefeated record against Adesanya going into UFC 287, Brown refuses to believe that this is just one-way traffic when it comes to this rivalry.
Brown expects Adesanya to finally get past the errors that have cost him previously and beat Pereira on Saturday, which could then potentially lead to a trilogy in the UFC and a fifth and final match between them overall.
“I don’t think Pereira is that monster in the closet,” Brown said. “It’s all about the mental. I think Adesanya can do it mentally but the biggest fear is that maybe he gets tagged or something and those other fights you start having flashbacks or that thought of Alex Pereira is that guy to me, coming through his head. He’s got to be mentally sharp. He gets tagged, he’s got to keep fighting on. I think that’s really what it comes down to.
“I’m picking Adesanya. I think he has the capability to do it. It is very, very difficult to beat someone at this level four times in a row. I think it Adesanya’s time. I think it’s going to set up a gigantic trilogy match.”
Listen to new episodes of The Fighter vs. The Writer with Matt Brown and Damon Martin every Tuesday with audio-only versions of the podcast available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, iHeartRadio and Stitcher