It’s hard to deny that the UFC’s promotional strategy with Alex Pereira to get him to Saturday’s main event was brilliant.
Pereira will challenge Israel Adesnaya for the middleweight title in the UFC 281 headliner. As is well documented, Pereira holds two kickboxing victories against Adesanya – including a brutal KO victory in their second meeting before both fighters were signed to the UFC – which was key to building the fight that will take center stage Madison Square Garden.
While Pereira has won all three of his Octagon appearances, Adesnaya’s head coach Eugene Bareman has commented on whether it’s too soon for the challenger to get his chance.
“There’s no way he’s going to get a title shot if there’s no story there; it’s ridiculous,” Bareman continued The MMA lesson. “It’s just ridiculous for anyone to get a title shot [so quickly]. There’s history with Israel, and history and the UFC, hate it or love it, Dana has to encourage fights. That’s one thing they do really well. They picked up on that story, picked up that this was going to be a great fight that was going to turn heads and strategically pushed Alex so he could fight for the title.
“We’ll have to see on Saturday if he’s being rushed too early and if they should have been more patient.”
Regardless of the fact that the UFC has clearly booked this third meeting among the fight rivals, Bareman is aware of the nature of the powerful forward Adesanya will face on Saturday night.
Pereira got his shot with a first-round knockout from Sean Strickland at UFC 276 – the same event Adesanya refereed against Jared Cannonier. In the eyes of the City Kickboxing trainer, Adesanya needs to be as perfect as possible.
“He’s able to just knock you out and that’s a very rare gift that Alex has,” Bareman told The MMA Hour. “Not every fighter you meet has this ability, it’s very rare and fighting someone like that is the ultimate challenge.
“You have to be on for 25 minutes. You could be out for two seconds like Israel was in the last fight and then the whole landscape of the fight changes – win or lose doesn’t matter. That’s the ultimate challenge for me, I think.
“I think he’ll be less intimidated to come forward [than Cannonier] because he’s seen more strikers at such a high level,” Bareman continued. “It poses many risks. This is Israel’s special territory. If you come forward and get too aggressive, he makes you pay for it.”
For Adesanya he will aim for his sixth successful title defense. In his lone Pro-MMA loss, “The Last Stylebender” attempted to shortlist fighters to capture two titles in two different divisions, but was defeated by Jan Blachowicz’s unanimous decision at UFC 259 in March 2021 .
Since then, Adesanya has picked up decision victories over Marvin Vettori, Robert Whittaker and Cannonier. While Adesanya’s dominance wasn’t particularly exciting in the eyes of some fans, Bareman believes Adesanya will continue his championship reign in a similarly one-sided fashion.
“I think there’s a little personal stuff there,” Bareman explained. “The trick is, when fights like this get too personal, you try to separate them — the emotions of the fight, the strategy of the fight, the tactics — you want to separate all of that and make it very clear, place them in different groups and mix them up Don’t mix them up, because then something will go wrong.
“I see Israel doing what it does best and that is pile up damage, fight clean, stay out of danger and just pile up damage. Will he get a break? [or not]I always imagine it going the distance, Israel have a clean fight, Israel hits and doesn’t get hit, then goes back to his friends and family to celebrate and all the rest.”
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