Undisputed UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya knows that Alex Pereira will pose a very different challenge to the one offered by Jared Cannonier in his last title defence at UFC 276, and he’s looking forward to meeting that challenge head-on.
Adesanya cruised to victory over a timid Cannonier, who appeared to freeze in front of “The Last Stylebender” at the T-Mobile Arena in July. But against Pereira, Adesanya will face a former kickboxing foe who holds two victories over him from past meetings under striking-only rules.
The pair will face off in the main event of UFC 281 at Madison Square Garden, New York on November 12 and, chatting with ESPN’s Sportscenter, Adesanya was clearly amped up and looking forward to a reunion with the Brazilian, this time under MMA rules.
“How do I look back? I’m a part of history, part of his story, because the judges gave him the nod in the first one, and the next one, he took me out in the third round,” Adesanya explained.
“So that’s part of his story. But now it’s time for my story.”
That story is one that has taken Adesanya from kickboxing notoriety to undisputed UFC middleweight champion and a spot in the upper echelon of the UFC’s pound-for-pound rankings.
His transition from kickboxing to MMA has been nothing short of spectacular, as he has developed a unique fighting style that takes the best of his kickboxing savvy and combines it with an evolving MMA game that, to date, has only been defeated in a bout outside of Adesanya’s prime weight class.
The undisputed king at 185 pounds, Adesanya said he’s still adding chapters to the story of his career.
“My story is still being written. But so far, it’s a beautiful book,” he said.
“Lots of great chapters, lots of hits, the greatest hits. And yeah, funnily enough, I was I was hanging out with my fellow GOAT and Avatar, George St-Pierre, in Toronto a few days ago, actually. We talked extensively about legacy, about fighting, life, and a lot of different things and from that conversation I had with him already levelled up, I already levelled up a lot. So yeah, I really, really, really look forward to this fight.”
Adesanya was critical of his victory over Cannonier last time out, but he said Pereira’s fighting style and approach to their bout should help bring out his best as he prepares to go toe to toe with a fellow elite striker.
“It’s about me and the pressure I put on myself,” he explained.
“I felt like the expectation I had for myself in that fight, I didn’t meet. And like I said, it’s hard to fight someone when they want to survive rather than try and take the fight. So yeah, I did what I did. I beat him up. I could have done it worse.
“For me, despite the differences, this guy is not going to be gun-shy. He’s going to come at me from bell to bell, and I’m going to do the same and every time someone brings a fight, I raise the bar.”
Clearly, Adesanya sees the fight as a more dangerous proposition to his recent outings, but he’s excited for the challenge and ready to shine under the lights once again.
“I’m excited to have someone who’s going to attack me, who’s going to actually try and finish me,” he said.
“This is the story of this fight because he’s done it before in the past in kickboxing.
“So, for me, it’s like, is he gonna get knocked out? Or am I gonna get knocked out? So that’s why you have to tune in to find out.”
Many will paint the fight as a revenge mission for Adesanya, but the Nigerian-born Kiwi said that he hasn’t harboured a grudge since his knockout loss to Pereira in Sao Paulo in 2017. But, with circumstances offering up an opportunity to face off with his nemesis again, Adesanya is running towards the challenge, rather than away from it.
“Have I ever shied away from a fight?” he asked.
“I’ve always picked the guy no-one wants to fight. The guy everyone runs away from, I run towards. So yeah, I run towards the fire, and this is no different.
“After he beat me in Brazil, I never had any plans of trying to get revenge or anything like that, because I don’t hold on to things, I let go of things.
“But again, I’m telling you, the universe has presented this to me. And it’s right there. It’s the perfect ally-oop and I’m gonna slam this.”