Israel Adesanya’s reign as the UFC’s middleweight champion has quickly become boring for the Kiwi. So boring that he is welcoming a fresh challenge this weekend.
Adesanya (23-1 MMA, 12-1 UFC) may have tore through the middleweight division, defeating the likes of Robert Whittaker and most recently Jared Cannonier, but this sixth title defence against Alex Pereira (6-1 MMA, 3-0 UFC) will be different.
The two have fought previously in kickboxing, with Pereira taking both fights — including a dominant knockout win back in 2017.
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Speaking at UFC 281 media day earlier in the week ahead of Sunday’s fight, Pereira told reporters the memories of that defeat is “still there” even if Adesanya denies it.
“I don’t know how it’s going to be or how he could possibly erase that from his mind, but I know it’s still there,” he added.
Adesanya though does not seem to think Pereira will be much different to any of the others who have come before him, claiming to have the secret weapon to dethrone the champion but ultimately falling short.
“I was making things look too easy,” Adesanya said of the middleweight division.
“Even I was getting bored with it, having to lap the division again. For me, I set the way. I lay the table out. The UFC know what they’re doing.
“They brought him up right. They gave him the right fights. I don’t think he fought a wrestler. He beat one top five guy. I fought a top 10 guy in my f***ing third fight in the UFC and I’ve just headlined since and stole the show.
“So my run is different. I appreciate my run because of the way I did it. Let him enjoy his time right now. Let him enjoy his 15 minutes.”
Pereira made quick work of Sean Strickland in his last fight while Adesanya was made to go the distance and take a more patient approach in a unanimous decision victory over Cannonier.
There was drama on Saturday as Pereira made weight with just five minutes remaining in the two-hour window, stepping onto the scales at 184.6 pounds (83.7kg) — just under the 185-pound limit.
But Pereira has now quickly piled on the pounds, posting an update to his social media account showing him weighing in at 211.4 pounds (95.9 kilograms).
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Israel Adesanya and Alex Pereira face off. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Source: Getty Images
Elsewhere, while all eyes will be on Adesanya in the main event, there are three other Kiwi fighters in action on Sunday’s card in a New Zealand takeover at Madison Square Garden.
First up was Carlos Ulberg, a fellow City Kickboxing product who trains alongside Adesanya, Dan Hooker and Brad Riddell — with all four fighters featuring on Sunday’s card.
Ulberg (6-1) opened the UFC 281 card in stunning fashion, knocking out Nicolae Negumereanu (13-2) with a brutal left hand before following it up with two more punches to bring an end to the fight.
“Oh my goodness,” exclaimed Daniel Cormier in commentary, who said the Kiwi has “never looked better” while Jon Anik described it as a “flawless” performance.
“Who doesn’t love a first-round knockout. I enjoyed it,” he said post-fight.
“Everything fell into place. I worked on a lot of the things I had done in the fight. It was frugal for me. I think by the time I put a bit of blood in his nose, I knew the knockout was there. I just needed to give it time.”
Later, veteran Dan Hooker (21-12 MMA, 11-8 UFC) will be hoping to turn around his losing run when he faces Claudio Puelles (12-2 MMA, 5-1 UFC).
Hooker has earned the respect and admiration of the UFC world with his willingness to take any fight at any time, although it has seen him drop four of his last five fights.
Speaking to Submission Radioearlier in the week, Hooker said he is no longer letting fans’ expectations influence his decision-making in the octagon.
Dan Hooker is hoping to bounce back. (Photo by Alex Bierens de Haan/Getty Images)
“That definitely came to me in the last two fights, where I wanted to go out there and put on a show, I wanted to go out and put on a fight,” Hooker said.
“That definitely led me astray and put me too close in the Islam fight, getting taken down…just wanting to push the fight and wanting to rush my way back to my feet.
“Getting forgetful and making a silly mistake. Wanting to put on a show for the fans, wanting one of those highlight reel moments… that reaction and that level of expectation became very confronting… when you’re thinking what other people are thinking, that’s a downward spiral… so instead of doing that, I’m a much better version of myself and to create another moment and not replicate a moment from the past.”
Izzy reveals X-rated weight cut secret | 00:52
As for Riddell (10-3 MMA, 4-2 UFC), he is coming off a crushing defeat to Jalin Turner, who submitted the Kiwi within 45 seconds in the opening round at UFC 276.
Speaking to media earlier in the week, Riddell said he is hoping to avoid another tough war in the octagon having taken on a host of challenging fights in his career thus far.
“I don’t want it to be,” Riddell told reporters.
“I’ve been in a war every single time so far. I guess that’s like the people that I keep getting matched up with. They’re very durable, very skilful, and I’ve got another one. So high possibility but hopefully not.”
Justin Poirier and Michael Chandler will also face off in a highly-anticipated lightweight bout that could decide the next contender who gets a shot at the title.
It was confirmed on Sunday that featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski would have the first chance to dethrone current titleholder Islam Makhachev in February.
Chandler (23-7 MMA, 2-2 UFC) and former lightweight champion Poirier (28-7 MMA, 20-6 UFC) enter Sunday’s fight sitting at No. 5 and No. 2 in the UFC’s official lightweight rankings.
It will be Poirier’s first fight since last December, when he fell short against then-lightweight champion Charles Oliveira.
This may be the best chance for both Chandler (36) and Poirier (33) to push for title shots as they enter the latter stages of their careers.
“Everything has led to this once again, the biggest stage I could possibly ask for: UFC, Madison Square Garden, and Dustin Poirier — arguably, I think, the most decorated lightweight we have on the roster,” Chandler said at this week’s media day.
“Knock him off, get my hand raised, continue to stake my claim as the best lightweight in the world in progress.
“I’ve believed for years that I’m the best lightweight in the world. I’ve had some ups and downs and some losses, but everybody does, and I believe knocking off Dustin Poirier puts me in line for the title.”
Tensions rise between Adesanya & Pereira | 01:51
FULL CARD RESULTS
Israel Adesanya (c) (185) vs. Alex Pereira (184.6) for the UFC middleweight title
Carla Esparza (c) (114.8) vs. Zhang Weili (114.8) for the UFC strawweight title
Dustin Poirier (156) vs. Michael Chandler (155.8); Lightweights
Frankie Edgar (135.6) vs. Chris Gutierrez (136); bantamweights
Dan Hooker (155.8) vs. Claudio Puelles (155.2); Lightweights
Brad Riddell (155.6) vs. Renato Moicano (155.8); Lightweights
Dominick Reyes (205.4) vs. Ryan Spann (206.6); Light Heavyweights
Molly McCann (125.4) vs. Erin Blanchfield (125); Flyweights
Andre Petroski (185.8) vs. Wellington Turman (185.2); Middleweights
FIGHT PASS PRELIMS
Matt Frevola (154.8) vs. Ottman Azaitar (155.6); Lightweights
Michael Trizano (147.6) vs. Choi Seung-woo (145.6); Featherweights
Karolina Kowalkiewicz (115.6) vs. Silvana Gomez Juarez (115.6); Strawweights
Montel Jackson def Julio Arce by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28) — Bantamweights
Carlos Ulberg defeats Nicolae Negumereanu by KO (punches) — Light Heavyweights