When Alex Pereira knocked out Israel Adesanya in the fifth and final round of their championship fight at UFC 281, it wasn’t just the belt that was on the line, but rather pride, thanks to the history of the two fighters.
Pereira was famously the first – and for a long time only – man to ever defeat Adesanya in combat, taking back-to-back wins in kick-boxing against the former UFC champion.
But a lot had happened between drinks for both fighters, and many thought that the trilogy may have been completed in a much different way, especially heading into the fifth and final round, where Adesanya seemingly held a 3-1 lead.
According to Pereira, even his own corner acknowledged that he only had one path to victory. Luckily, it was a road he had traveled before.
“Coming into this fight I knew it was going to be a very hard fight, I tried to pace myself,” Pereira said.
“Glover [Texeira] kept it real for me, I look at him and say ‘do I have to knock him out?’, and Glover said ‘you do have to knock him out.’
“Then I say ‘okay, let’s do it’.”
And do it he did, stunning Adesanya in the fifth to claim a TKO victory after the fight was called to a halt.
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To some, the stoppage seemed premature, not least of whom being Adesanya himself, who claimed he had a whole lot of fight left in him.
“What a moment, crazy isn’t it, similar to the last one, it’s crazy, but yeah I was fine, the first thing I said to the ref was ‘I was fine’ because I was still lucid, I was in there, but shit happens… my eyes might have rolled back a little bit but I was lucid,” Adesanya said.
“My ego would say at least let me go out on my shield, but I don’t think I would’ve gone out, I was still there.”
Pereira, somewhat predictably, had a different view of things, confident that he earned the stoppage and the belt.
“People can say whatever but he was taking some pretty heavy hits and the referee is there for a reason, so I think the stoppage was absolutely correct,” Pereira said.
After such an insane 25 minutes in the octagon, many would be calling out for a rematch, despite the fact that Pereira now holds a 3-0 lead head-to-head against Adesanya. For the newly minted middleweight champion, the opponent does not matter to him, and he’ll face whoever dares stand across from him.
“It doesn’t matter to me, I want to fight with whoever they choose, whoever they want to fight, I’m going to be ready,” Pereira said.
Adesanya gave a more roundabout answer, but it seems clear that this hatchet is not buried, and he would desperately like the chance to finally get one over his foe.
“Of course, I’ve been doing this, this is my third fight in ten months, every time I fight I risk losing what you guys deem as the prestigious belt, but I put it on the line because I’m not trying to just fight once and then do my lap around and parade as a champion,” Adesanya said.
But for all the talk of rematches and legacy, Pereira is the one who currently wields the belt, and for him, that is enough.
“A lot of emotions went through my head, so many years of hard work and dedication, and here I am, champion of the world.”