UFC 268 saw the debut of kickboxing star Alex Pereira. My first exposure to Pereira was his losing effort in Last Man Standing, an eight-man tournament held by Glory in 2014. Glory was fresh and new, and the tournament proved to be one of the organizations crowning achievements.
Alex Pereira was a young upstart from Brazil, which was then, and still is, slightly unusual in kickboxing. While there have been several prominent Kyokushin fighters from Brazil to make their name in kickboxing, the nation is far more associated with mixed martial arts and grappling competition. Alex Pereira had found some success in the organisation prior, enough to earn his spot in the tournament, but instead found himself in the first round against eventual tournament winner, Artem Levin.
Levin was a force to be reckoned with and during his time in Glory was likely the best kickboxer in the world. The lion was famed for long looping punches, devastating knees, and fantastic head movement. A Muay Thai striker who could evade and counter your shots all while standing in front of you. Needless to say, Alex Pereira was overmatched – but in that fight, I remember distinctly seeing something in him as an athlete – I had a brief foray into being an oracle, predicting Alex Pereira would one day be Glory Champion.
Of course, while I was confident he would one day win the title, I didn’t quite expect for him to be as good as he was. Alex Pereira became a dual division champion and fought a who’s who of the division at that time. After finishing his kickboxing career with two close and controversial fights against Artem Vakhitov, Pereira made a full switch to MMA, a sport that he had dabbled in prior.
Glory Kickboxing via Youtube.com / i.ytimg.com
Alex Pereira was signed to the UFC for two key reasons, the first was that he was a world-famous kickboxer. The second was that he had defeated fellow Glory alumni, and current UFC Middleweight Champion, Israel Adesanya. Twice.
While the UFC are no doubt calculating the best way to fast-track Pereira into a title fight against Adesanya, it’s not yet clear how Pereira will take to the UFC. His debut told us very little. His wrestling was okay, and he is capable of knocking an opponent out, something we already knew about him – but how will he do in MMA in general? The best way to figure this out is to look at the striking game of MMA and compare it to kickboxing and examine the kickboxers that have done the best in MMA.
MMA is fought at a longer distance than kickboxing. The reason being fighting at a close kickboxing range means that a wrestler has to do relatively little to grab hold of an opponent and take them down. A longer distance means the wrestler has to cross ‘no man’s land’ in order to land his takedown. More than any other combat sport, MMA is dictated by who can control ‘no man’s land’.
For the kickboxer who wants the fight standing, control over no man’s land is essential, thus a longer distance is required. Unfortunately for kickboxers, who spent a great deal of time fighting in combination – longer distances favours fighters who throw single strikes. While there are great combination strikers in MMA, like Max Holloway, most MMA fighters have to be good at getting in and getting out when striking.
The common meme is that kickboxing legend, Gokhan Saki, failed in MMA because he failed to adopt this style. This is a silly notion, as Saki fought twice in the UFC and was 1-1. What we saw was far from a catastrophic failure. Saki did have more to change, however. The Turkish Tyson was known for lightning-fast combinations off his lead hand and in MMA, unless your opponent is backed up against the fence, those combos are very hard to land.
Meanwhile, Israel Adesanya, who is not close to as accredited a kickboxer as Gokhan Saki, never winning a major title, is possibly the best striker in MMA, period. Adesanya is a striker in the mould of the great Mirko Cro Cop. He focused on single, powerful shots in place of combination, and like Cro Cop mixes those simple, single shots in a way that makes him very hard to read.
Adesanya controls no man’s land with his use of feinted jabs and kicks. These feints not only keep the opponent at bay, but also dull the opponent’s reaction for when the real strikes come. Through his non-stop feinting game, he shuts an opponent down and picks them apart. Adesanya was a decent kickboxer, but Adesanya’s game is actually better suited for MMA where he has more time in the rounds to figure out an opponent and doesn’t have the pressure of constant activity in order to secure wins.
Alex Pereira won his last MMA fight with a violent knockout at LFA.
Jerry Chavez, LFA / cdn.vox-cdn.com
Pereira vs Adesanya GLORY Kickboxing
So, how does Alex Pereira’s game as a kickboxer translate to MMA?
He may not have to adjust as much as you might think. Alex Pereira has something Israel Adesanya doesn’t, which is genuine one punch knock out power. While Adesanya has to rely on his skill and strategy to get KO’s and relies on his feints to build a foundation on which to win – Alex Pereira has the good fortune of just being able to hit someone once and put them away.
What we have seen so far is that Alex Pereira is slowing the pace of his kickboxing. He was always known for powerful pot shots over long combinations – but in MMA he has slowed the pace further, picking his shots confident in the knowledge that he can land consistently and hard. His intercepting knees serve as a nice deterrent to fighters who would try to take him down and while his wrestling is at the moment simple okay – there’s no glaring hole that should be a cause for concern. He knows how to defend a takedown, he’s just not great at it yet.
An advantage he does have over Adesanya which he shares with Mirko Cro Cop, is that in the event a wrestler is uncomfortably close, or he finds himself in a flurry, any shot from Pereira CAN put an opponent’s lights out. Much like Cro Cop before him, he brings big explosive power and athleticism along with legit kickboxing skills, which will serve to make him dangerous – though I do not expect him to be as technically savvy in MMA as Adesanya.
As for that proposed match up in the UFC? Looking to the pairs previous bouts in kickboxing are close to useless. It was contested under a different sport, Israel Adesanya hadn’t developed into what he is today – and Alex Pereira could be generously described as inconsistent, in those days. He had yet to develop into a legitimate all-time great in kickboxing.
Should the fight happen, one thing can be said for certain. It will be a fascinating match up.