Israel Adesanya isn’t downplaying the stakes for his MMA rematch against Alex Pereira, because he knows it’s do-or-die at UFC 287.
Adesanya sits at 0-3 against Pereira in his career despite winning the majority of their UFC 281 battle, as well as two near-misses in kickboxing. In the last two of those fights, Adesanya suffered brutal knockout losses in the final round after being up on the scorecards, including the night this past November that cost him the UFC middleweight title.
With everything on the line Saturday night, Adesanya knows there’s no point in trying to pretend UFC 287 is just any other fight. He knows this might be his last opportunity to exorcise his demons against the only opponent to ever knock him out in his career.
“I’m down two fights in kickboxing, one fight in MMA, so I’m down three, and this is like in every movie — your one shot,” Adesanya said at UFC 287 media day. “This is my Eminem moment, my ‘8 Mile’ moment. You get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow, this opportunity comes once in a lifetime, and this is it. This is it for me.”
Perhaps the most frustrating part about this rivalry is how close Adesanya has come to victory in each of his previous three fights against Pereira. It appeared he was cruising to a unanimous decision win at UFC 281 until Pereira staged a late comeback to finish Adesanya with less than three minutes remaining in the fight. Pereira accomplished a similar feat in their 2017 kickboxing rematch, and their first meeting in 2016 is widely regarded as a controversial judges’ decision in favor of the Brazilian.
So strategically, Adesanya knows he’s doing everything right; he just needs to put the finishing touches on his performance and prevent Pereira from pulling a rabbit out of his hat again.
“I know what works for me,” Adesanya said. “I know how I can beat this guy. I know every time I fight this guy, I’m beating him, and then he has this special ability to recover and put his foot on the gas. So I have to find a way to take him out of the driver’s seat, which I will.
“He knows how dangerous I am. He knows I’m not an easy fight. He knows he’s going to have to go through fire and I’m going to make him fight for his life in this fight. But I said say less, do more. But we’re here, you put a mic in front of me, you expect me to talk — I’m really over all this s***. I really just want to fight. You guys want some words, I’ll give you words. I’m going to make him fight for his life. That’s not no trash talk, that’s no bulls***. I’m here to fight. I’m ready to go.”
After largely running roughshod over the middleweight division during his title reign, Adesanya finally faced an obstacle he couldn’t overcome when Pereira arrived in the UFC.
It’s a rivalry that has been one-sided in its results, but the 0-3 score in Pereira’s favor doesn’t tell the whole story of the fights, which is why Adesanya desperately wants to add another chapter with his performance at UFC 287.
“This is probably the greatest storyline in MMA history,” Adesanya said. “It’s probably one of, if not the greatest storyline in MMA history, and not many people get the opportunity to show how great they are, to rise to the occasion when all the odds are stacked against them, when people are counting them out.
“For me, this fight, I feel like the underdog. I feel like everyone’s counting me out. I feel like because of the results of the last fight, people are like goldfish memories. They forget what I’ve done in this game. They forgot who I am. It’s time to remind people how great I am.”
Technically speaking, Adesanya hasn’t actually been an underdog in any of his UFC fights, even when he moved up to 205 pounds against Jan Blachowicz in an attempt to become a two-division champion. He’s actually favored over Pereira again at UFC 287, just like their previous fight, but Adesanya refuses to believe the odds are on his side, especially after becoming a challenger again following a more than three-year reign as champion.
That’s why he’s out to make a rather emphatic statement against Pereira this time around, so he leaves no doubt about who is the better fighter.
“Honestly, I’m the hunter now,” Adesanya said. “I’ve just been hunting, in every sense of the word, and I’ll make sure when it’s time to fight, I’ll hunt him down. My target’s straight on him, nothing else. Anything else, not even him after this, I don’t care. I’m focused on right now.
“Imagine what if I get it done — what if I get it done better than he’s ever done it. What if I butcher him and beat the f*** out of him. Because I always do, but just ramp it up now and I don’t let him get any breath and I take him out, I put him on his back. We’ll find out. I do all this s*** and beat his ass, do some damage to him, it’s like, wow, amazing. Like I said, I don’t keep score, I settle them — and he who laughs last, laughs best.”