UFC 287: It’s now or never for Israel Adesanya vs. arch-nemesis Alex Pereira

Alex Pereira and Israel Adesanya face off for the press and the fans during a press conference for UFC 287, Pereira versus Adesanya 2, on April 6 at...

Former UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya knows pressure rests on his shoulders with fierce rival Alex Pereira up next, one final time tonight. The stark truth is a 0-3 record stares at him across two disciplines – regardless of the circumstances – so will he get the last laugh to reclaim gold overnight?

Has Adesanya learned from his missteps?

Opponents Alex Pereira of Brazil and Israel Adesanya of Nigeria pose during the UFC 287 ceremonial weigh-in at Kaseya Center on April 07, 2023 in...
Pereira and Adesanya posing for pictures, during the UFC 287 ceremonial weigh-ins
  • “I believe that me beating him this Saturday, I will never face him again. I do know how to beat him, how he fights, how he works,” Alex Pereira said at Wednesday’s UFC 287 media day through a translator
  • 35-year-old champion, making his first title defence, bristles at notion that he’s too heavy for the division and rules out LHW move – for now: “Later down the road, my body will tell me when it’s time to move up.”
  • Adesanya relishing opportunity to silence his critics: “I feel like everyone is counting me out, because of the last fight result, they forgot what I’ve done in this game – it’s time to remind people how great I am.”

Three minutes away from retaining his middleweight title, Israel Adesanya was emphatically stopped on his feet by an old foe in Alex Pereira last November.

Having been bested twice during their kickboxing days (UD5 in 2016, R3 KO in 2017) and now in Pereira’s fourth UFC fight, the 33-year-old’s career has been intertwined with Poatan over the last six years across three continents.

He’s lost before – both in the promotion and across other disciplines during a 13-year professional career – but no other opponent has left such an indelible mark on him as a hard-hitting Brazilian who looks poised to do it again overnight.

Considering his place in the conversation of combat sports greats, especially as far as the UFC is concerned, that’s a startling sentence to write. A striking genius, known for excellent defensive awareness and distance management, being doubted now?

Adesanya’s middleweight reign
July 2022 – Jared Cannonier (UD5): defence #5, cruises to victory
Feb. 2022 – Robert Whittaker (UD5): fourth title defence, another rematch
June 2021 – Marvin Vettori (UD5): third defence, beats Vettori in rematch
Sept. 2020 – Paulo Costa (R2 TKO): POTN, ends Costa’s unbeaten streak
Mar. 2020 – Yoel Romero (UD5): first title defence
Oct. 2019 – Robert Whittaker (R2 KO): POTN in champ’s backyard

Judging by a tentative fifth-round showing five months ago, it makes sense.

Pereira has knocked him unconscious once, referee Marc Goddard rescued him from the same fate last time out, and when absorbing those strikes clean on the chin, he recoiled up against the fence. That fight-ending power always lingers.

Just like Leon Edwards last August, Pereira was down 3-1 on the scorecards. His corner urged, pleaded with their charge to find a finish in the final stanza and he did precisely that – having posed danger with a series of flurries in the fourth.

He might still be a slight underdog among most given Adesanya’s wrestling trump card, but that champion’s invincibility is a real thing.

Although both will make adjustments, he could foreseeably string together a stand-up sequence to stop Israel even sooner and it wouldn’t be particularly surprising.

Alex Pereira of Brazil reacts after his TKO victory over Israel Adesanya of Nigeria in the UFC middleweight championship bout during the UFC 281...

Only this time, there will be no more conversations about championship rematches or renewing rivalries.

Pereira would move onto other contenders in a middleweight division re-energised by a new king on the throne, and fresh matchups too.

New light-heavyweight champion Jamahal Hill has welcomed Pereira to the 205lb table in the last 24 hours, saying he’d earn a dominant victory at his expense – while Khamzat Chimaev has ruffled feathers as he reportedly prepares for a permanent middleweight stay.

Fair or not, Adesanya has been a victim of his own success and an eagerness to stay active atop a division that hasn’t been brimming with fresh contenders.

It’s no surprise Robert Whittaker made hints about moving up, while others have longed for him to fall.

It’s not the cringey catchphrases or his quirky personality but more about an unrealistic expectation for non-stop excitement ala Charles Oliveira, which isn’t conducive to long-term success, that has made many celebrate when he loses.

Whichever side you lean, it’s clear this series possesses a different intensity. Whether that bodes well for the now-former champ, only he can answer on fight night.

Pereira has the equaliser, something many – Sean Strickland included – wish they could possess. That forces Adesanya into deep water from minute one, which he’s rarely encountered in the Octagon. When he has, carnage has followed.

As such, there are possibilities aplenty, jeopardy involved and that makes for an eagerly-anticipated rematch packed with tension.

UFC 287 fight card, is as follows

Opponents Rob Font and Adrian Yanez face off during the UFC 287 ceremonial weigh-in at Kaseya Center on April 07, 2023 in Miami, Florida.
Fight of the Night? Font and Yanez need to prevail, for much different reasons

Main card (Sunday, 3am BST)
Middleweight championship: Alex Pereira (c) vs. Israel Adesanya [1]
Welterweight: Gilbert Burns [5] vs. Jorge Masvidal [11]
Bantamweight: Rob Font [6] vs. Adrian Yanez [12]
Welterweight: Kevin Holland vs. Santiago Ponzinibbio
Catchweight (137lbs): Raul Rosas Jr vs. Christian Rodriguez
Prelims (Sunday, 1am BST)
Middleweight: Kelvin Gastelum [15] vs. Chris Curtis [14]
Women’s Strawweight: Michelle Waterson [10] vs. Luana Pinheiro [15]
Middleweight: Gerald Meerschaert vs. Joe Pyfer
Heavyweight: Karl Williams vs. Chase Sherman
Early prelims (Saturday, 11pm BST)
Women’s Strawweight: Cynthia Calvillo [15, flyweight] vs. Lupita Godinez
Catchweight (160lbs): Ignacio Bahamondes vs. Trey Ogden
Featherweight: Shayilan Nuerdanbieke vs. Steve Garcia
Women’s Strawweight: Jaqueline Amorim vs. Sam Hughes

Picture source: Getty Images