UFC 281: Will It Be Past or Present with Former Foes Adesanya and Pereira

Israel Adesanya and Alex Periera UFC 281
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 11: (L-R) Opponents Israel Adesanya of Nigeria and Alex Pereira of Brazil face off during the UFC 281 ceremonial weigh-in at Radio City Music Hall on November 11, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Israel Adesanya’s motivation to finally get his hand raised against a familiar foe will be his fuel as he takes on highly touted knockout machine Alex Pereira at UFC 281.

Let’s look beyond the Twitter and Instagram clips.

You’ve seen it by now: Alex Pereira’s left hand finding the chin of Israel Adesanya and ending their fight in electrifying fashion.  The result happened in a rematch of a bout in which Pereira also prevailed in 2016.  Watch the rounds prior to the knockout, and the story is suddenly very different.  Though there was still plenty of fight left, Adesanya was the one in control and looked to be on his way to continue giving Pereira more problems before the fated shot landed and ended the bout.

Fast-forward to today and Adesanya is arguably the top star in the sport of mixed martial arts.  Outside the cage, he is a bonafide crossover star who was signed to a historically lucrative contract indicative of the faith and investment that the UFC has in him in today’s era of the sport.  Inside the cage, “The Last Stylebender” is one of the most exciting strikers that the sport has ever seen after winning bouts against the likes of Robert Whittaker, Marvin Vettori, Jared Cannonier, Yoel Romero, and Paulo Costa.

So dominant has Adesanya been at middleweight that many see Pereira as the final hurdle to complete a sweep of the board at 185 pounds.  While new contenders can and will always make it to the front of the line, the pursuit of bigger challenges is expected to be in the near future.  While Adesanya would only be about two years removed from his last attempt to claim the light heavyweight title and become a two-division champion, it would be the most lucrative option for him after having already reigned supreme in one weight class.

For Alex Pereira, Saturday could go down as one of the most expedited title runs in UFC history.  Though a decorated kickboxer, “Poatan” enters the bout with only seven official MMA bouts with only three of those coming inside the Octagon.  To put it into context, his fellow hyped contender Khamzat Chimaev has had twice as many fights inside the UFC and has yet to be scheduled for a title bout.  Furthermore, despite already housing a respectable middleweight roster, Pereira was brought in from the beginning by the company seemingly for the sole intention of re-matching Adesanya.

While he already as an extensive kickboxing resume behind him, Pereira has taken the steps to make his transition to MMA seamless one.  He has joined forces with former champion and longtime veteran Glover Teixeira whose experience is an invaluable resource as he joined the UFC in 2021.  He has scored dramatic finishes in two of his three Octagon appearances, knocking out Andreas Michailidis with a flying knee and in July threw down the proverbial gauntlet with a first round stoppage of surging contender Sean Strickland.  The latter was enough to set up the confrontation with Adesanya in mixed martial arts and complete his rapid rise to title contention.

While both men are excellent counter-strikers, they implement their weapons with key differences.  Adesanya may be the best fighter in the world today in regards to his ability to find his target while sliding out of range when his opponent tries to counter.  By comparison, Pereira is a naturally more heavy-handed fighter and will more often look to create openings to sit down on more powerful shots with his left hand being his most notable.  Movement and volume will be critical in the bout as both men are expected to be patient as they respect the offense of their opponent.  As such, the volume of shots will be important if either man is struggling to find their mark with a critical shot.

An Adesanya victory would likely see him turn his sights to the winner of the bout between Darren Till and Dricus du Plessis or the bout between Jack Hermansson and Derek Brunson.  Should Pereira triumph, it would open any number of options with contenders such as Robert Whittaker, Jared Cannonier, and others re-entering the conversation for a title shot.  Given his status and star power, an immediate rematch for Adesanya would also not be out of the question.