Israel Adesanya is holding his cards close to the chest for his third fight with Alex Pereira.
The challenger currently holds a 2-0 series advantage over Adesanya having beaten the UFC middleweight champion twice in kickboxing. Their first bout was a closely contested affair that Pereira won by split decision and their second bout ended with an incredible knockout win for Pereira that has been replayed countless times ahead of their UFC 281 main event clash in New York.
While Adesanya is strictly business heading into his next title defense, he’s aware that there are narrative stakes on the line this Saturday.
“It is [business], but it’s personal,” Adesanya said on The MMA Hour. “This is about me and my legacy. This is about rewriting history. Even though it is history and I never chased this, this is about me rewriting a new path of history and just showing people what I can really do because, again, y’all must’ve forgot. They forget, they always forget. It’s because of this Tik Tok era, the attention span is so quick, they move on so fast.
“So this is personal. For me, I’ve said less, he can do all the tennis ball videos and f****** hoverboard things he wants, but for me I’m just like, ‘Cool. You do you.’ He has bragging rights, so let him do that, but when it’s time I know something he doesn’t. I can’t tell you.”
Pereira earns his UFC title shot in just his eighth pro MMA bout and his fourth for the promotion, but has a wealth of kickboxing experience including championship wins in two divisions for Glory Kickboxing. He is 3-0 in the UFC and was chosen to be Adesanya’s next challenger after first-round knockout of Sean Strickland this past July.
The Brazilian striker has been on the fast track to a fight with Adesanya since making his UFC debut in November 2021 and Adesanya thinks he deserves some credit for removing all the other contenders from Pereira’s title path.
“Without me, he wouldn’t be here,” Adesanya said. “Without me, he would have been exposed a long time ago. Without me—I cleared the way. I cleared the division first of all so there’s not really anyone else to fight. I cleared the way for him to get to the top.”
Pereira said on MMA Fighting’s Trocação Franca podcast that he believes a win over Adesanya gives him a clear advantage in the legacy department, given their head-to-head results and his kickboxing titles. Adesanya has yet to lose in the UFC when competing at 185 pounds and has successfully defended the undisputed title five consecutive times.
“The Last Stylebender” scoffed at Pereira’s boast.
“The ‘Glory hole,’” Adesanya said, laughing. “I could buy that promotion if I wanted to.
“I’m winning. I’m winning in life. I’m doing much better than he is and he’s building everything off me, which, if he’s ‘punching down’ what a height he’s punching at because I’m up, way up. Way up.”
As for what went wrong in the second fight, in which Adesanya appeared to be leading the dance before a left hand from “Poatan” turned his lights off, Adesanya believes that he went away from what was working and it cost him.
“I didn’t stay true to my style,” Adesanya said. “I was younger and I just let myself get influenced by outside noises and I didn’t stay true to my style. I know me. When I hurt someone—even [my brother] David was saying, ‘You know how to break people down’ and when I’m watching fights I’m like, ‘Why are you headhunting? Why are you headhunting?’ I was headhunting, I was only using my right hand, that’s the stupidest thing I could have done. So I didn’t stay true to my style and it cost me. That bothered me way more than a knockout.”
Whatever secret strategy Adesanya is planning to make sure that his third fight with Pereira ends differently, he won’t reveal it.
“I’m excited for this one for different reasons,” Adesanya said. “I know something you don’t. [About me], f*** him.”