Ahead of every championship fight, UFC staff writer E. Spencer Kyte will sit down with some of the sharpest coaching minds in the sport to break down the action and provide UFC fans with insights into each championship pairing from the men that spend their days getting these elite athletes prepared to compete on the biggest stage in the sport.
For the UFC 287 middleweight championship rematch between Alex Pereira and Israel Adesanya, Kyte called upon the two men that shared their thoughts on the the pairing the first time around at UFC 281 — Xtreme Couture head coach Eric Nicksick, and Eliot Marshall, co-owner and head instructor at Easton Training Center in Denver, Colorado — to dive back into the matchup once again.
Best Trait of Each Fighter
Kyte: At a time in the sport where everyone is pretty solid everywhere, generally speaking, what is the one thing that each of these competitors do better than anyone else?
Nicksick: I think with what we saw from Pereira in the last fight, it’s his resiliency and composure to stay in the fight the entire time. You can talk about the stoppage and everything else, but that’s secondary — the dude stayed in there and got the job done, and that’s the big thing for Pereira.
For Izzy, it’s his ability to add new tools. I wrote Frank Hickman after the fight — I know they lost, but I gave them credit because they did an awesome job of giving Izzy some new things to work with, new tools to try to complete his skill set.
With that being said, I think they’ll try to blend that together more in this next fight, lean on that again, but do it with a little more of a blend.
Marshall: Izzy is exactly what his nickname is — the style bender — and Alex is his forward pressure. That dude puts forward pressure on and it wears on you, it fatigues you, and he wins.
Path to Victory for Each Fighter
Kyte: Everyone would love a 10-second knockout or a quick submission, but that’s not often how these things go, especially not at the championship level. Instead, it’s usually the competitor that has crafted the better game plan and did the better job of executing things inside the Octagon that comes away with their hand raised and the gold around their waist.
So, how does either man get it done on Saturday night?
Nicksick: The last time, we talked about Pereira owning the geography, and I think it’s going to be very similar in a lot of ways because both guys kind of showed their hands in the last fight.
That being said, it’s going to be important for Pereira to put Izzy on his back foot so that if and when Izzy decides to shoot or tries to take him down, it’s on Alex’s terms and he’s ahead of the sprawl, ahead of the takedown, and can utilize his strength and his big body. It’s a lot easier when you get a guy backed up to the barrier and he’s only got three options — left, right, or shoot.
I also think he’s got that mind control over Izzy, and I think Izzy might come out overzealous and try to get a finish in this one because of what happened last time, so I think Pereira just has to bide his time, and make sure he forces Izzy into those corner posts.
Marshall: I don’t think Izzy can back himself up to the cage like he did; that’s what led to the knockout.
What led to the knockout was fatigue — which is going to happen if we have a long fight — and then when you’re cornered against the Octagon, you move a little slower, there are less places for you to go, you can’t evade the punches as well, so he can’t be backed up to the cage again. He has to have move motion going on so that he can do more of the style bender things that he does.
He could wrestle a little more, but he’s not a great wrestler, and defense is always easier to learn than offense, and he’s got to be worried about that going into this fight because offensive wrestling and failing is very fatiguing.
I also think Izzy is going to have to create the counter, in my opinion. The way I like to say it is that you throw the jab with the intention of then countering the jab, so you’re jabbing and pulling, you’re jabbing and stepping, and then catching them on the half-beat. He definitely doesn’t want Pereira going first, because that will back him to the cage, which is no good, so first and third, but he’s got to be evading on two.
And for Pereira, it’s not much different, but I think he could be a little more first; I feel like he could put a little more pressure on Izzy because it doesn’t seem as though Izzy has the skills to get him out of there on the mat.
I’m going to assume that defensive wrestling comes quicker than offensive wrestling, so I would step on the gas pedal a little more because he was down 3-1 going into that last round. He needed that finish and that’s a hard thing.
We saw it a couple weeks ago with Cory Sandhagen and “Chito” Vera; going in there needing the finish. You heard it from Jason Parillo talking to “Chito” like, “What’s up, dude? We can’t get behind like this!” And then when he was all the way behind, Parillo was like, “All right, you gotta go stop him!”
Nicksick: I think for Izzy, going back and watching the last fight — he was doing a lot of good things on the feet and he rocked him a bunch of times. I think he — I don’t want to say that he didn’t believe in his striking, but I feel like he rushed takedowns because that was part of the game plan, but they weren’t really necessary in certain regards because he was doing a good job of striking.
I think in this fight, in particular, he’s got to believe in his striking — you are that guy, and be creative with your striking. Utilize your level change a little more in this fight, because he did show his hand in the first fight and they’re going to assume you’re going to come out and wrestle, so use that feint level change to start setting up some of the shots with your hands.
And if and when you look for takedowns, have smart, efficient routes — don’t be trying to push the wrestling pace because I think that’s part of what got him into trouble in the latter rounds. Be a little more efficient with the takedowns — I would suggest using more inside, outside trips, using your legs more rather than trying to drop down for singles and doubles because trying to take down a big man like Alex Pereira is tough.
Israel Adesanya | Dynamic Debuts
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Israel Adesanya | Dynamic Debuts
Kyte: If there were one thing that was going to significantly impact how this fight plays out — that swings it in one direction or the other — what would it be?
Marshall: The X factor is the Fight Gods for me because they both know what they’re showing up with. There’s no surprises. This is going to be the fourth time they’ve fought, so there are no surprises.
Nicksick: It’s gotta be the history, right? This guy has this Boogeyman effect, and it’s not like Izzy is cowering down — it’s almost like he has bad luck against this guy. It’s like how the Buffalo Bills can’t win the Super Bowl — he has the skill set, but this guy is the Dallas Cowboys and “F***! I can’t beat this guy!”
That’s the biggest thing that sticks out in this fight, but that being said, you still have to fight within your skill set and your game plan, and not try to go out there and do something stupid because you’re over this guy.
One Coaching Curiosity
Kyte: Coaches see the sport differently and look at the sport differently than anyone else, picking up on different things and paying attention to movements, habits, or intangible pieces that others might not notice, but that could have a significant impact on the action inside the Octagon.
Every matchup offers its own unique collection of elements that might pique a coach’s interest and get them paying a little closer attention to once the fight gets underway.
So what is that one thing in this matchup?
Nicksick: I’d love to know what each guy did outside of camp to help shore up some of their skill set gaps?
What did Pereira do to shore up some of his wrestling, and how’s that going to look? And what did Izzy do to try and magnify his wrestling and improve it from last time out? Both guys had a little time, there is no mystery with who you’re fighting, and while it’s not a lot of time (between fights), I think it’s enough time to go back to the drawing board and say, “We’ve got to go back to the drawing board and improve some of these areas.”
Marshall: I think it’s whether or not Izzy can make his game plan happen. Can he make the adjustments — can he go first and third? Can he draw Alex’s offense out?
To do that, he’s going to have to be in very good condition, but part of conditioning is pacing. So when you’re getting backed to the cage, that f**** with your pacing in your mind, so it’s not good and you don’t like that.
These are all major factors for me, and Alex is going to have to do a very similar thing in terms of cutting the cage off and putting pressure on Izzy.
In my opinion, that is where this fight lies. Izzy seems like a very mentally strong dude — I don’t think he’s gonna be rattled that he got knocked out. I think he’s too mentally strong of a dude to be rattled by my Fight God b***s*** gibberish, but maybe not.