Rumble in the Concrete Jungle: Israel Adesanya’s toughest challenge yet

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Jamie Squire | Getty Images

James DePuy

Israel Adesanya, the usually cool champion who is a master of mind games, finds himself unable to keep his composure due to the looming threat of his challenger at UFC 281, Alex Pereira.

This challenge is not new to the champion; in two kickboxing matches between Pereira and Adesanya, Alex Pereira emerged victorious. Both matches, however, were very close, with Adesanya almost winning in the second fight. In the end, Pereira’s power was way too much, as he dropped Adesanya to the canvas and picked up a win.

There is obvious hurt in Adesanya’s voice when Pereira is brought up, evidenced by his immediate defensive reaction when Sean Strickland mentioned his two losses in kickboxing to Pereira.

But winning the mental battle is only a part of the war, as Pereira’s inexperience in MMA could be to his detriment. Adesanya is 23-1, with his only loss coming at light heavyweight to Jan Blachowicz. Adesanya has cleaned out the division’s top contenders like Robert Whittaker, Marvin Vettori, Paulo Costa and Jared Cannonier.

Adesanya’s MMA mind could confuse Pereira as the natural kickboxer has come into his own with clinch exchanges, as seen in his fight against Cannonier when he put on a technical masterclass that led him to an unanimous win.

Pereira is also different from Whittaker and other challengers due to his lethal punching power, capable of knocking out anyone on the ground in a matter of seconds. The champ must avoid this if he hopes to survive all five rounds with the man whose nickname “Poatan” means “hands of stone” in Portuguese.

Pereira’s striking is on a different level. He has the one-punch power to end a fight instantly, as evidenced in his bout with Sean Strickland, where he effortlessly dropped the seventh ranked middleweight contender Strickland two minutes and 36 seconds into round one, securing him this title shot.

Pereira’s striking is relatively untested in the UFC, with his win over Strickland being only his third UFC fight. His battle against Adesanya can expose the flaws in his game, and him being relatively untested in the UFC can make this bout easier for Adesanya, who has been fighting the UFC’s diverse array of talent since 2018.

But what Adesanya fails to consider is how different Pereira is from his challengers. Vettori, Costa and Whittaker all let Israel’s mind games take over, which made the fights easy for the champ.

Pereira is different: his stone-faced expression puts fear into any normal man,  and surely Adesanya has a certain fear he needs to get rid of if he wants to win.

This bout is a make-or-break fight for both fighters, with the stakes being high as possible for both men. Here in the city that never sleeps, one man will be put to sleep to establish dominance over a stagnant division.