For seven years, across two different sports and three separate fights, Israel Adesanya has been unable to find victory against Alex Pereira. After losing his middleweight title to “Poatan” at UFC 281 just five months ago, Adesanya gets one final chance to defeat his longtime nemesis this Saturday when the two rematch in the main event of UFC 287. Will the fourth time be the charm or does Pereira simply have Adesanya’s number? Let’s dive in.
Paths to Victory for Alex Pereira at UFC 287
Though he’s 3-0 over Adesanya all time, Pereira still comes into this matchup with many things to improve upon. Yes, he knocked out Adesanya at UFC 281 (a stoppage some argue was premature), but prior to that, Pereira was undeniably having a hard time. He was down on the judges’ scorecards and his corner told him in no uncertain terms that he needed a knockout in the final frame to win the bout. Now, Pereira ultimately went and got that knockout, but it would behoove him to not wait so long this time around.
Pereira is one of the most shockingly powerful punchers I’ve ever seen. The man is dense and his hands look like bowling balls. He never swings hard (think Leonard Garcia haymakers) and yet he thuds in a way most men cannot withstand. Even Adesanya, who has shown off a great chin, can’t hold up to the power shots Pereira brings to bear, and so that’s what Pereira should be entirely maximizing. Come out and fight every round of this fight like you did in the fifth, with urgency, because that’s how you get Adesanya to make mistakes. He’s too defensively sound to one-shot him, particularly early on when his reactions are at their peak. But as the fight goes on, relentless pressure and combinations will make it so one of those fight-enders gets home.
Along those lines — and this certainly comes with a bit of risk — Pereira should consider being a little less committed to defense. At UFC 281, Adesanya had a lot of success finding offense off of feints, and as the fight wore on, Pereira began to really bite on some of them.
I get it, parrying punches is much better than getting hit by them, but Adesanya was feinting a ton and it looked to be getting Pereira off his game entirely. My solution? Stop caring about feints, and fire back counters. Sure, that opens up opportunities for Adesanya to land, but if the two men are trading one for one, that’s not an even exchange. Pereira gains a clear advantage. And with Adesanya’s general reluctance to get hit likely being exacerbated following another stoppage loss, in this instance, the best defense may well be an aggressive offense.
Paths to victory for Israel Adesanya at UFC 287
Though the two have swapped strikes for nearly 40 combined minutes, and Adesanya has yet to see his hand raised, there is a reasonable argument that Adesanya has shown himself to be the superior fighter. Of those 40 minutes, Adesanya has won a majority of them, losing a questionable decision, and then twice getting finished when well ahead on the scorecards. But therein lies the rub: Twice he was finished when he was well ahead. That’s not an accident, it’s a problem.
When the two faced off at UFC 281, I picked Pereira because I was afraid Adesanya would try to play toreador for 25 minutes and at some point it would fail, and low and behold, that’s almost exactly what happened. Twenty-five minutes is an impossibly long time to be perfect, and though Adesanya has gotten away with it in his MMA career, Pereira is a different breed of offensive threat than Jared Cannonier and Marvin Vettori. And unless Adesanya finally adjusts, the same thing will likely happen again.
Fortunately, it won’t take much to make those adjustments.
First and foremost, Adesanya has to stop ceding ground to Pereira. For most of UFC 281, Adesanya was backed up to the fence, playing defense and looking for counters. Yes, he found some success there, but he also got hit, and then ultimately finished there. Meanwhile, the few times he brought the fight to Pereira, “Poatan” looked lost. He doesn’t want to fight on the backfoot, and Adesanya was getting sustainable offense going when he deigned to move forward. Do that relentlessly and it will severely de-fang Pereira’s offense.
Similarly, the other best success Adesanya found at UFC 281 was in his grappling. Pereira is a brown belt in BJJ but he certainly didn’t look it when Adesanya scored a takedown in the third round. “The Last Stylebender” is not some brilliant jiu-jitsu ace, but he hustled Pereira on the ground, and more importantly, tired him out. Adesanya shouldn’t spam takedowns for the risk of blowing his own gas tank, but consistently mixing in grappling is an ideal way to keep Pereira off-kilter and minimize the Brazilian’s offense.
What the hell is going through Israel Adesanya’s mind right now? It’s exceedingly rare that we see a fighter ever get a fourth shot to defeat someone who has beaten them the three previous encounters. What will his mindset be coming in?
This is undoubtedly his last chance to get this win, and possibly his last chance to reclaim UFC gold. Will he come in looking to make a statement? Will he stick with the strategy that has yet to succeed? Will he be overly cautious because Pereira has knocked him out twice now? Who knows? But his UFC 287 media day appearance was certainly an interesting one.
Either we’re about to see the most focused Adesanya of all-time, or we will look back on that as a “Ronda Rousey facing Holly Holm” sort of intensity. Only time will tell.
This is the Gambler’s Fallacy at it’s finest, but I simply cannot believe that Alex Pereira beats Israel Adesanya four times in a row. They are both too good, too skilled, and too well-matched for one guy to blank the other across a tetralogy. And with his back firmly against the wall in this one, I think Adesanya lets it all hang out on Saturday, throwing caution to the wind and scrapping with Pereira from the outset. It’s a dangerous plan, but one I’ve long felt would be the best way to approach this matchup, because Adesanya has twice nearly gotten an early finish of Pereira. I think he finally, finally gets it done this time around.
Israel Adesanya def. Alex Pereira via KO/TKO, Round 1.
Who wins at UFC 287?
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