Down on the scorecards after the horn sounded to close out the fourth round, Alex Pereira walked back to his corner, where former light heavyweight champion Glover Teixeira was waiting with instructions.
“When I sat down, Glover came to me and said, ‘Bro, you gotta knock the guy out!’” Pereira said, his remembrance translated by another of his coaches, Plinio Cruz. “Glover knows how I train, he sees how I perform in training, and different than many people that start fading after every round, I start growing, so Glover knew he could give me that extra push, and it worked.”
Two minutes into the fifth round of the UFC 281 main event, Pereira stopped his longtime rival Israel Adesanya to claim the middleweight title, moving to 3-0 across two disciplines in his ongoing series with “The Last Stylebender.” The two rekindle their feud this weekend in Miami, but this time, it’s Pereira that enters as champion.
Facing and defeating Adesanya was his primary objective when Pereira made the transition to kickboxing and signed with the UFC.
They’d met twice in their previous sport, with the Brazilian winning both times — first by decision, and then by vicious knockout — and he believed that if given the opportunity to face his familiar adversary inside the Octagon, the result would ultimately be the same.
In the end, Pereira did emerge victorious, but it wasn’t smooth sailing on the road to victory.
Adesanya was up 39-37 on all three scorecards heading into the final round, having won the first, third, and fourth. In the opening round, he stung Pereira just before the buzzer, and after getting taken down in the second, the Nigerian-born, New Zealand-based standout controlled the action for much of the next 10 minutes.
While Pereira absolutely needed a finish in order to secure a victory and claim the title, the newly minted champion is keen to point out that his most recent run-in with Adesanya wasn’t some kind of mythical come-from-behind performance after getting dominated for the better part of 20 minutes.
“Let’s be honest here: the last fight was hard, and every fight is hard,” Pereira said, reflecting on the November engagement at New York’s Madison Square Garden. “Just to be inside the cage is hard. The way that people put on is like I was dominated, which did not happen.
“If you look at the first round, I was winning the whole round until I got clipped in the last two seconds. Round 2, I won that round; I even took him down. Round 3, I was winning that round until we scrambled and I fell on bottom, so the details gave Israel Adesanya the rounds, not dominance.”
Given Adesanya’s lengthy reign atop the division and overall success in the 185-pound ranks in the UFC, an immediate rematch between the two was automatic, but also creates a series of interesting questions heading into this weekend’s UFC 287 main event in Miami.
Former two-division world champion Daniel Cormier famously said, “I guess if he wins both fights there is no rivalry” following his second defeat to Jon Jones.
Pereira enters Saturday’s meeting with Adesanya with a three-fight edge over the challenger, but has done his best to silo off their history in the kickboxing ring, and focus on their mixed martial arts encounters as something entirely unique and original.
“I try to leave behind the two kickboxing fights, and so far I’m 1-0 in MMA (against Israel),” explained Pereira, who celebrated his victory by manning the grill at a chilly November barbecue in Connecticut for members of the tight circle of talent that has congregated in Danbury and the surrounding area. “What I want to try now is to get to 2-0, (the same as in kickboxing).”
Part of what has made Pereira’s ascent to the top of the UFC middleweight division such a captivating story is how quickly he’s managed to accomplish the feat.
After competing three times in eight months and building a 2-1 record by the spring of 2015, the now 35-year-old Brazilian shifted his focus entirely to kickboxing, where he enjoyed tremendous success, becoming the first fighter to hold Glory Kickboxing titles in two weight classes simultaneously.
He fought once on the regional circuit in 2020, registering a first-round knockout win over Thomas Powell at LFA 95 before signing with the UFC. His debut came at UFC 268, where he knocked out Andreas Michailidis in the second round with a flying knee, and one year later, back at MSG, he dispatched Adesanya to earn his fourth consecutive UFC victory, his seventh straight win overall, and claim the middleweight title.
“It’s not only these four months, but since I moved to America with (my team) two years ago — I’ve taken off more and more,” Pereira said when asked about his improvements since his last fight. “People didn’t know that I had a broken finger in the fight with Israel, so I couldn’t grapple too much in that camp.
“I think the evolution has been happening for the past two years, and I’ve been getting better and better.”
Cruz was quick to add that Pereira hasn’t been through many camps where he’s been injury-free, but navigated this one without anything more than the standard aches and pains that come with preparing to step into the Octagon.
Alex Pereira Fight Week Interview | UFC 287
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Alex Pereira Fight Week Interview | UFC 287
The confidence in their eyes, in each of their voices as UFC 287 draws nearer was obvious, but mitigated because being boisterous is not in the champion’s nature.
Pereira normally comes across as serious, with some people likely perceiving him as standoffish, which is why when he posed for a picture with emerging Brazilian standout Amanda Ribas at UFC 283 earlier this year sporting a beautiful smile, the image stood out.
The focused titleholder confirmed that it was his idea for the two to switch roles — for the usually ebullient Ribas to scowl next to him — adding that he’s never going to smile for the people that always judge him for never smiling, but you can see behind the intense veneer when he speaks about fulfilling his promise to bring the middleweight title back to his people.
“It meant a lot because those people, when I was the champ, not the champ, they always treated me the same,” explained Pereira, who has indigenous ancestry from the Pataxó tribe, and often adorns himself in traditional body paint and garments for his ceremonial weigh-ins. “I promised them that I was going to be a world champion and bring the belt back there.
“It meant a lot for them and for me.”
Having fulfilled his promise to bring the middleweight title back to his people, the confident Pereira is now focused on remaining champion, and beating Adesanya once more.
“I didn’t stop to think about that,” he said when asked what comes next following a victory this weekend. “I’m focusing on Saturday. First, I’ve gotta beat Israel Adesanya, and then we can think about that.
“I’m not the kind of guy that talks too much, but I’ve been training hard, I’ve been feeling good, and I’m going to do everything that I’m supposed to do in order to leave as champ. It’s not like I have to create a magic formula for this fight — I can win by knockout or decision.
“And I’m the champ now — I don’t have to change too much.”
UFC 287: Pereira vs Adesanya 2 took place live from Kayesa Center in Miami, Florida on April 8, 2023. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!