So, they finally fought, for the third time and the first time in MMA. Israel Adesanya and Alex Pereira put on five rounds of kickboxing and MMA action, and I’ve got to say this fight was genuinely full of surprises.
A few months ago I broke down the potential match up between both fighters:
I strongly recommend you read that before this – because it will set the scene for what these fighters had to do in order to get the win, but lets use it as a brief reference.
I wrote about the two common arguments surrounding Adesanya and Alex Pereira, the first being ‘Alex Pereira beat Adesanya both times they fought, and will beat him again in MMA because he ‘has his number’ with the second being ‘Adesanya was robbed in their first fight, and was winning until the KO loss in the second fight. Adesanya is ‘on another level now’ and will win.’
My point was essentially, that just because Pereira had beat Adesanya twice, that didn’t mean the success would translate to a different sport. I was also sympathetic to the idea that Adesanya had ironically been more successful in their prior fights prior to losing, which we’ll get back to that at the end.
Alex Pereira won the fight in a come from behind victory, which seems to be a habit of his now when fighting Israel Adesanya. The path to get there though, was about everything I could have asked for.
My two major predictions for how this fight would go down were as follows:
1)Israel Adesanya will be much harder to catch in the cage when compared to the ring
2)Alex Pereira’s freakshow power could still carry him to a victory
As for how this actually played out – well, while Adesanya was doing a fantastic job at using lateral movement against the cage (dodging left, right and faking left steps before jumping to the right), I don’t think that Alex Pereira had as much trouble catching him as I was expecting. Pereira for the most part was able to shepherd Adesanya to the cage and was able to consistently land straight punches to the chest of the champion.
Surprisingly, he looked to the clinch frequently to pressure the champion against the cage, where he won more often than not. Adesanya is the more experienced MMA clincher, but Pereira’s strength and savvy with knees tended to win out.
Alex Pereira clearly had a gameplan going in on how to pin the champion down and when it worked it really did work. On the other hand…
Israel Adesanya was arguably the better fighter through the majority of the bout, while Alex Pereira was landing morein kickboxing exchanges, Adesanya was able to get the more decisively blows, causing Pereira to stumble and at one point rock him. Adesanya was also mostly in control of the distance and able to avoid Pereira’s shots.
I mused in my first article, that it would be kind of funny if the two fighters started wrestling, just to prove they’re more than just kickboxers in the cage… which happened.
The third round of the bout was contested nearly entirely on the ground, and by nearly entirely on the ground, I mean Adesanya clearly showed why Alex Pereira doesn’t really belong in a championship MMA fight just yet. On the ground Pereira made odd decision after odd decision, it’s not that he’s stupid mind you, but when he is put on the ground he clearly goes into a bit of a panic and does whatever he thinks will get him up, rather than the actual steps he will have been taught to stand again.
Coming into the fourth round, Adesanya had tired Pereira to the point that he was able to coast and score points, as Pereira essentially took the round off in order to get his breath back. Wrestling is gruelling and despite being the guy to shoot for the takedowns, Pereira didn’t have the stamina to fight there.
At this point I am thinking ‘okay, this is about what I expected, Israel Adesanya is winning on points’ and the atmosphere in Pereira’s corner isn’t exactly what you want to hear going into the fifth. They tell Poatan quite plainly, if he wants to win, he needs to knock the champion out.
Usually when you’re a fighter, this is maybe the worst thing you can hear, your team have essentially told you ‘you’re losing this fight, and we’re now relying on one punch to win it for us, you have five minutes, good luck’.
However, when you’re Alex Pereira, who was apparently born with the fist of the north star, this is surprisingly doable. Alex Pereira unloaded in what I would call his first real aggressive attack of the fight.
Israel Adesanya, as we discussed in the last article, is looking to win rounds, and if he can pick up the knockout, great. It almost felt going into this fight that Alex Pereira had been pacing his strikes and pot shotting here and there in hopes of either doing the same (he was outlanding Adesanya) or to conserve his energy for later.
The exchange that would bring about the TKO, started with Adesanya hopping to the right, doing his normal evasive footwork, he didn’t make a mistake, it had worked so many times in the fight before, but Pereira, presumably deciding ‘its now or never’ hopped in with a quick left hook which put Adesanya on wobbly legs.
From there all Pereira had to do was follow up with well timed strikes to put the champion out, with referee Marc Goddard coming in to stop the fight.
What’s quite impressive about the knockout, is less that it happened and more how it happened. You’ll notice in the first gif, as the hook lands, Pereira’s legs come together, presumably as he’s skipping in. This meant he actually had relatively little force in that hook, just great accuracy, in all likelihood this probably wasn’t a particularly hard punch, it just caught the exact right spot as Pereira came in.
Compare this with the sort of left hooks we usually see from Pereira:
You’ll notice in both of these, Pereira actually makes a step with his fight foot, bringing his weight further to the left, thereby generating more power. This hook however seems more like what se saw against Sean Strickland.
The great thing about Pereira is not just that he has great power and great weight transfer, but he is just simply very accurate with that hook, and now he’s the middleweight champion.
While I am sceptical that Alex Pereira will be champion for very long, given his apparent lack of wrestling, this win has possibly made Alex Pereira the most decorated fighter in combat sports history. He is both a dual division Glory Kickboxing Champion (an accolade that could only be matched by doing the same in K-1) and a UFC middleweight champion, winning it against one of the five best middleweights of all time.
I said before that Pereira was a fighter that I predicted, and I can’t claim some massive genius for knowing he would be a big deal – but there was just something about seeing a rookie kickboxer, firmly out of their element against Artem Levin but still doing a fairly decent job that made me feel he would be a champion one day – although I could never have predicted how great he would actually be.
So where does this leave Israel Adesanya? For a start there will most likely be a rematch, Adesanya has defended the belt for long enough to earn an immediate rematch and he could quite likely win it. I said at the start that Adesanya has been in an unusual place of being the better man in each fight against Pereira until he has lost. I stand by that statement, and it’s a very frustrating and unusual position for Adesanya to be in.
The first bout between the two kickboxers was a controversial decision, with the majority thinking that Adesanya should have got the nod. Either way it was a close fight. The second fight was the kickboxing equivalent of what we saw in the UFC. Adesanya was winning comfortably, before getting unceremoniously knocked out from a great hit. I did not expect it to happen a second time, but it did, and in truth, Adesanya has just been plain unlucky against Alex Pereira.
After getting stopped, he had a disappointed look on his face that read to me like ‘Oh no, not again’. It’s painful to be that close to a win and then have it taken away from you, and for it to have consistently happened between these two, understandably, must really get to Adesanya.
So where do we go from here? I guess we’ll find out when the rematch is scheduled.