UFC 287: Critical Crossroads in Fourth Meeting Between Pereira and Adesanya

Alex Pereira and Israel Adesanya, UFC 287
MIAMI, FLORIDA - APRIL 07: (L-R) Opponents Alex Pereira of Brazil and Israel Adesanya of Nigeria face off during the UFC 287 ceremonial weigh-in at Kaseya Center on April 07, 2023 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

UFC middleweight champion Alex Pereira will look to repeat history before moving past his former foe while Israel Adesanya knows his last opportunity to right history could be on Saturday at UFC 287.

Middleweight champion Alex Pereira could feel overconfident in this moment.  In three meetings across kickboxing and mixed martial arts, he has had either a competitive bout or had to rally from behind against familiar foe Israel Adesanya.  All three times, Pereira has emerged victorious.  His seminal victory last November will likely stand as his signature performance as he pulled victory from the jaws of defeat in the final round to stop the champion and claim the title in what was just his eighth professional MMA bout.  In doing so, he became just the second most inexperienced fighter (in terms of the number of fights) since Brock Lesnar to claim UFC gold with less than ten fights to their credit in the modern era.  With victories over Bruno Silva and Sean Strickland also on his resume in 2022, Pereira also took home the Fighter of the Year award from many pundits.

But Saturday is the start of many tests for the new champion.  “Poatan” in most observer’s opinion was expedited up the ranks due to his history with Adesanya.  Further, while he was ironically a difficult match-up on paper for Adesanya, the longtime striker had many question marks over him in regards to how he would deal with the stronger grapplers in the division.  There is plenty of reason to believe he can best Adesanya for a fourth time, but the work will be far from over for him to keep his hands around the belt going forward.

It would be going too far to say that Israel Adesanya’s legacy rides on finally defeating Pereira.  After all, he has been the most dominant middleweight since the legendary Anderson Silva as he has run roughshod over the likes of top contenders Robert Whittaker, Marvin Vettori, Jared Cannonier, and Derek Brunson.  He is widely considered one of the top stars in the sport today behind his fan-friendly style and his extravagant walkouts that are unprecedented in today’s UFC.  If he does lose on Saturday, it is widely expected that he would continue to succeed after the level he has displayed for the past several years.

That said, a fourth loss to Pereira would be the type of annoying asterisk that follows a fighter of Adesanya’s caliber.  In the same way that Tom Brady’s seven Super Bowl rings can not end the questions of Eli Manning’s two victories in the championship games against him, it would follow Adesanya as he continues his career at his optimal weight of 185 pounds while Pereira competes as well.  To be sure, a victory would poise Adesanya on the verge of a sweep at middleweight.  It would not be a stretch to say that “The Last Stylebender” would have only two foes left before being done with middleweight when surveying the current landscape.  It is a feat he could accomplish by this time next year if all goes perfectly.

A victory for Pereira would likely open the door for former champion Robert Whittaker to step into another title shot.  Should Pereira need more time before his next bout, then he may await the winner of a potential fight between Whittaker and Khamzat Chimaev as the two have been inactive since competing last summer.  Should Adesanya regain his title, a trilogy could be on the table although most would likely want to see something new with a bout against fellow star Chimaev or against surging contender Dricus Du Plessis later this year.