It’s hard to deny that the UFC’s promotional strategy with Alex Pereira to get him to Saturday’s main event was brilliant.
Pereira will challenge Israel Adesnaya for the middleweight title in the UFC 281 headliner. As has been well documented, Pereira holds two kickboxing wins over Adesanya — including a brutal knockout victory in their second meeting prior to both fighters getting signed to the UFC — which has been the key to the build for the bout which will take center stage at Madison Square Garden.
While Pereira has won all three of his octagon appearances, Adesnaya’s head coach Eugene Bareman gave his thoughts on whether or not it’s too soon for the challenger to get his opportunity.
“There’s no way he gets a title shot if there wasn’t history there; it’s ridiculous,” Bareman said on The MMA Hour. “It’s just ridiculous that someone would get a title shot [so quickly]. There’s history with Israel, and the story and the UFC, hate it or love it, Dana has to promote fights. That’s one thing they do really well. They picked up this history, picked up this would be a great fight that’s going to bring a lot of eyes, and strategically push Alex so he could fight for the title.
“We’ll have to see on Saturday if he’s being rushed too early, and if they should’ve been more patient.”
Regardless of the UFC clearly booking to this third meeting among combat rivals, Bareman is well aware of the type of powerful striker Adesanya will be facing on Saturday night.
Pereira got his shot with a first-round knockout of Sean Strickland at UFC 276 — the same event Adesanya headlined against Jared Cannonier. In the City Kickboxing coach’s eyes, Adesanya will have to be as close to perfect as possible.
“He is capable of just taking you out, and that’s a very rare gift that Alex has,” Bareman said on The MMA Hour. “Not every fighter you come across has that gift, it’s very rare, and to fight someone like that is the ultimate challenge.
“You have to be on for 25 minutes. You could be off for two seconds like Israel was in the last fight, and then the whole landscape of the fight changes — whether you’re winni,ng or losing, it doesn’t matter. That to me is the ultimate challenge I think.
“I think he’ll be less intimidated to come forward [than Cannonier] because he’s seen more strikers at such a high level,” Bareman continued. “That comes with a lot of danger. That’s Israel’s special area. When you come forward and get too aggressive, that’s when he makes you pay.”
For Adesanya, he will look for his sixth successful title defense. In his lone pro MMA loss, “The Last Stylebender” tried to join the short list of fighters to capture two titles in two different divisions, but was defeated via unanimous decision by Jan Blachowicz at UFC 259 in March 2021.
Since then, Adesanya picked up decision wins over Marvin Vettori, Robert Whittaker, and Cannonier. While Adesanya’s dominance hasn’t been the most thrilling thing to watch in the eyes of some fans, Bareman believes Adesanya will continue his championship reign in similar one-side fashion.
“I think there is a bit of personal stuff there,” Bareman explained. “The trick is when fights like this get too personal, you try to separate it — the emotion of the fight, the strategy of the fight, the tactics — you want to separate all of that and make it very distinct, put them in different groups and don’t confuse them with one another because that’s when things go wrong.
“I see Israel doing what he does best, and that’s accumulating damage, nice clean fight, stays out of danger, and just accumulates damage. Whether he gets a stoppage [or not], I always envision it going the distance, Israel having a clean fight, Israel hitting and not getting hit, then getting back to his friends and family after that to celebrate and all the rest of it.”