A highly-anticipated showdown between Israel Adesanya and Alex Pereira is this weekend’s UFC 281 main event in New York City.
Adesanya is undefeated as a middleweight and has now defended the UFC Middleweight Championship five times since claiming it in 2019. The dominant champion has shut down the title challenges from Robert Whittaker, Paulo Costa, Yoel Romero, Marvin Vettori, and Jared Cannonier and is quickly running out of worthy opponents.
But in steps Pereira, the only fighter to have defeated Adesanya by way of knockout — although it was in a kickboxing bout in 2017. That knockout win against the champion has propelled Pereira into title contention as the UFC maximizes the opportunity that this interesting narrative presents before the UFC 281 PPV event. Pereira is just 6-1 as a mixed martial artist and most recently defeated Sean Strickland in July to earn this title shot.
Read on for the latest Israel Adesanya vs. Alex Pereira betting odds, staff predictions, fight picks, and more.
The intricacies in this fight are enough to write a book on, so let’s get down to the most important points. Alex Periera, as a fighter, is an extremely high-level kickboxer, he fights very tall and narrow for MMA, but his constantly light footwork and hand fighting seemingly always keeps him in control. He has a low, relaxed guard and constantly sets up his powerful strikes with footwork, often circling in and to his left to draw his opponents into a chase and then into his left hook. En route, he will pick them apart with feints and aggravating low kicks, as well as right hooks and jabs to the body while moving backward. He is extraordinarily comfortable inside striking range, which makes his reaction time some of the best, and everything comes loose before impact, which heightens his speed. However, while he has shown some good grappling skills in lower-level organizations, he has not been tested by particularly high-level grapplers inside the UFC setting, which earns him a question mark for a lot of fans and analysts alike. From what we have seen, he has developed a good anti-wrestling base, including good wall walking and frames, he does seem to maintain his narrow stance in some situations that could be dangerous against better wrestlers, but this also isn’t Adesanya’s game either.
Israel Adesanya is likewise a high-level striker; however, while Periera’s game is largely about drawing his opponents into power shots and banking on high impacts, Adesanya is more a point fighter who allows the KO to come naturally. Adesanya will chip away from various angles with a higher range of attacks. This is backed up by the kickboxing matches that the two competed in prior, in their first Pereira won a razor-thin decision which is at times disputed by some. Adesanya arguably won more exchanges, but Periera won the more dramatic exchanges because he landed at a higher impact than Adesanya, who chipped away at Pereira with volume and variety. This is also exemplified in their rematch, Adesanya was likely winning the fight before being knocked out because his style’s natural affinity to scoring points and Periera’s to power.
Adesanya is tall and rangy, attributes he uses to great success in most of his fights however Periera will match him in these areas giving up only an inch of reach. He also fights ambidextrous, gliding between conventional and southpaw often to land from every angle possible and cut off exits for his opponents. He is constantly feinting, which will be important against Periera; with such high stakes, we may see some hesitancy from both men, but a generally lower pace is better for the Style-bender. Often you will see Adesanya fake and start techniques with a rising knee, which he then switches to the opposite low kick, question mark kick or a slide in cross. He also utilizes a smooth right sidestep, lean, and counter right hook which is especially effective if he can draw his opponent in on a straight line.
While Periera has beaten Adesanya twice in kickboxing, their transition to MMA does change a lot, even if the contest will largely be on the feet. The main thing I believe is that while neither man offers a particularly Adesanya-level grappling game for the other to fear, Adesanya has shown flashes of potential problems for Peirera on the ground. In his fight with Kelvin Gastelum, Adesanya’s triangle attempt, although not successful, was impressively quick and reactive, and his scrambling was solid. If either man knocks one another down, or one ends up on their back in a scramble, I do believe that Adesanya will have more confidence in following Pereira to the mat in search of a finish. I also believe that the experience training for and competing against those who attempted a wrestling-heavy game plan like Gastelum, Jan Blachowicz, and Marvin Vettori will have better prepared Adesanya’s grappling endurance over five rounds if the two strikers cancel each other out and find themselves grappling more than expected.
Overall, this is a dangerous fight for Adesanya, and it will be fascinating to see the mental states the two men fight in, considering the unusual circumstances, their previous history, and the stakes. Regardless, I do think Adesanya has the tools to technically score over Pereira as he did in kickboxing, with the greater experience in other areas of MMA as a means to fall back on and utilize in order to put Periera off his game and decrease the danger in his knockout ability. I also believe that due to the pressure of the stage, we will see a more patient and methodical pace and approach from both men, which ultimately aids Adesanya more than it does Pereira.
Prediction: Israel Adesanya to win
Israel “The Last Stylebender” Adesanya, unbeaten at middleweight and champion of the division, will look to avenge his two kickboxing losses to Alex “Poatan” Pereira. Adesanya is one of the most uniquely gifted strikers in the UFC. He is a technically sound counter striker who lands with pinpoint precision and moves as if he is made of all muscle and tendons rather than bones. Adesanya’s style, famous and recognizable to most at this point, is to stand with a wide base and low hips. Early in his career, this stance was likely to deter opponents from attempting to wrestle the kickboxer; and, if someone shot, allowed Izzy to be in position to dig underhooks and keep the fight standing.
As he’s aged and his experience has grown, Adesanya’s stance is the same, but the purpose seems to have evolved. The wide base still creates a foundation that deters wrestlers but it also allows Adesanya to use his impressive hip dexterity as a weapon. Being a counter striker, the champ is at his best when an over-eager opponent enters range on a line and tries to take his head off with big swings- like in the Costa and Vettori fights. When opponents take this strategy, Izzy is able to use his flexibility and speed to dodge the attack, make a small pivot, and land his own strike or combination on an off-balance opponent. This style is a high-risk and high-reward maneuver because it allows, and even welcomes, opponents to unload a knockout strike attempt while Adesanya, with his hands low, dodges it. If he zigs when he should zag, it should be lights out for the champion. But, in every fight in the UFC, Adesanya has zigged and zagged at the exact right moment. This speaks to his other specialty: intelligence.
Yes, Adesanya has unbelievable reaction times and athleticism, but his fight IQ plays a large role in being in the right spot at the right time. He seems to know what his opponent will throw before the strike even comes, this comes from hours upon hours of training and studying his foes. The more experience he has with an opponent, the better he seems to do. That experience does not need to happen from fight to fight; instead, Adesanya is able to make reads and adjustments between rounds that only amplifies his evasive ability and puts him in better positions to hurt or finish his opponent. The final factor in Adesanya’s game, and possibly the biggest evolution since joining the UFC, is his willingness to engage the clinch. The champ has added another layer to his offense: clinch wrestling. While he doesn’t use it often and when he does it doesn’t result in much damage, Adesanya is able to engage in and hold valuable minutes against the cage in the clinch. Because the criticism for Adesanya is his passivity and stubbornness to force opponents to strike first, Adesanya can often find himself in closely judged rounds. A minute or so controlling the clinch against the cage can sway a narrow round in his favor.
Alex “Poatan” Pereira is the only man ever to knock Adesanya out. Between boxing, kickboxing, and MMA, Adesanya has 110 professional fights, and Pereira is the only man to finish him. Pereira is massive for the division, has absurd power, and has high-level kickboxing experience and technique. Basically, when standing across from Pereira, every middleweight on the roster better watch their chin because the moment it’s open, Pereira can touch it and drop his opponent. Pereira is only 6-1 as a professional in MMA and is 3-0 in the UFC with two knockouts. He is getting a title shot after only 3 UFC fights and just over a year of being on the roster.
The validity of that decision aside, it speaks to how talented and dangerous Pereira is when the cage doors lock. Pereira has continued his kickboxing style in the cage; he stands orthodox with tall posture and a narrow stance. That narrow stance allows for speed and dexterity in his kicks, which are absolutely devastating. Pereira often fights with volume, but precision as well. He lands his jab and an impossibly long lead-leg kick from range at a high rate of accuracy. Altogether, Pereira averages over six significant strikes per minute and lands them at a 60% clip. Both the volume and accuracy are impressive. While Pereira is fully capable of a technical approach and a stick’n move style where he keeps opponents at his range, dictates their movement, and picks them apart for 15 minutes, he seemingly can’t help finding the finish. Pereira has ridiculous power, specifically in his kicks and check left hook, the punch that knocked Adesanya out years ago in their kickboxing bout.
The question many have about Pereira is his defensive grappling. In his 3 UFC fights, Pereira has fought three primary strikers and showed he is levels above them. However, in his debut, even though he was facing a striker, his opponent was able to land two takedowns and control “Poatan” for 4 minutes of the round. Pereira is athletically gifted, strong as an ox, is enormous, which helps with posting up and getting underhooks, has dangerous knees that deter wrestlers and is growing as a mixed martial artist. So, while his defensive grappling is suspect, to me it is not an automatic path to victory for all fighters. Even if he is taken down, Pereira has proven he can survive until the end of the round. Then, the next round starts standing, and the fight is back in his world.
The mental side of this fight is fascinating. Is Adesanya going to feel the pressure of his previous two losses to Pereira, abandon his typical game plan, and force the fight rather than let the fight come to him? Is Pereira going to be overconfident, fight with a recklessness, and allow Adesanya to crack him? While those questions are intriguing, they are not predictable and cannot go into the handicap. Instead, the only aspects of this fight that can be handicapped are the fighter’s skills. On the feet, Adesanya has the edge in speed, footwork, and experience. Meanwhile, Pereira is the only striker in the division who can match Adesanya’s technical level and he surpasses him in raw power. Grappling-wise, Adesanya has the edge but is unlikely to find prolonged success against the bigger Pereira.
This fight is exciting and has so many possible outcomes, but I like Adesanya to get the job done. I trust his experience, intelligence, and patience to fight his fight. Then, I like his edge in speed and evasiveness to avoid Pereira’s power. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a finish from Adesanya either, as Pereira should have no issues moving forward, playing into Adesanya’s precision counter-striking game.
Pick: Adesanya to win by knockout
The widespread discussion around this fight is that while Adesanya has cemented himself as the alpha of this division, there is an opponent circling the waters that holds two victories over him back in their professional kickboxing days, Alex Pereira. This narrative looming over the fight is what makes this matchup incredibly interesting and is why it is one of the most anticipated matchups of the year.
For Adesanya, the growth he has had since his last loss to Pereira, in an entirely different sport, allows him to continue his known self-confidence in this matchup. Often, the confidence he enters the octagon with is immense, given he can nearly guarantee two things: one, he will be the more technical striker, and two, he will be the more cerebral athlete. While many will contend Periera can match the skill level of Adesanya on the feet, few would be hard-pressed to make an argument that he will be more technical than Adesanya. For the latter, I have not seen an athlete, UFC or otherwise, have a greater mental awareness with regard to who they are as an athlete and how to exacerbate their skills as consistently as Adesanya does. Because of these continued traits, I fully contend that Adesanya will be able to have the same trust in himself leading up to this fight, albeit a fight against an opponent who is closest related to the elite kickboxing style as he is. This trust in himself will be paramount, as facing an opponent who beat you is a mental hurdle to overcome, but Adesanya has all the tools – physical and mental – to do so.
Under the preface that Periera is perhaps less technical than Adesanya, that does not mean he is a step behind Adesanya in the striking realm. The reason for this is that he not only is an elite kickboxer with exorbitantly high trust in his striking but also, has immense power in his striking which is a trait that perhaps exceeds that of the champ. The power cannot go understated, particularly with knowing how incredible Periera is with timing his variety of strikes to land clearly on his opponent. This ability was on full display in his last fight, where Periera showcased what a plethora of dangerous attacks can do to an opponent who is regarded as a strong striker in Sean Strickland. While Strickland’s striking style is perhaps 180 degrees different than that of Adesanya, it cannot go understated how dangerous and sharp Periera looked in the octagon. The question for him, in this fight, is if Adesanya looks to showcase the breadth of MMA skills he has – wrestling – against him, will Periera be able to fend them off and keep the bout a kickboxing-style? If so, which is indeed the likely scenario given many expect the champ to stand and strike against Periera, then, as Adesanya has stated himself, Periera is not only the best suited to beat the dominating champ but in fact, perhaps deserves to be priced as the favorite in this matchup.
The probability of this fight being kept standing is far greater than that of it turning into a grappling affair. If indeed kept standing, we will find out if the cerebral technician of Adesanya will overcome his 0-2 record against the powerful and sharp Periera. Under the strict kickboxing style of fight, I still favor Adesanya to win as he has repeatedly shown the ability to weaponize his intellect, a weapon which I value immensely. Knowing his mental ability is stark, I would not be shocked whatsoever if he shows Periera what being a champion of MMA entails, meaning he attempts to wrestle within portions of the fight. If this comes to fruition, I do expect Adesanya to successfully do so. Because of this, and because of my trust in his striking alone, I am backing the champion in this matchup, contrary to that of the fighter who is 2-0 in the individual fight matchup.
Bet: Adesanya to win