UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya and Alex Pereira shared an intense face-off at the Madison Square Garden ahead of their title fight on Saturday night, The APROKOVIBES reports.
The former kick-boxers will fight for the third time in their professional history this weekend, having fought twice in the kick-boxing ring before Adesanya moved full-time into MMA, where he is considered a potential all-time great after a dominant run at middleweight. Pereira has just seven professional MMA fights to his name but has raced to title contention with three quick-fire wins in the UFC.
Fans were out in force to support Adesanya at Madison Square Garden, raining down boos as Pereira attempted to answer media questions through a translator. But the key moment was after the talking was done and the pair came head-to-head, with Adesanya sizing up his rival for the first time since their 2017 Glory bout.
Adesanya maintains that he won their first meeting and that he was dominating their second one before he was knocked out. However, he still holds two losses to his rival, and given the Brazilian’s considerable size there is a belief among some fans that he can defy the bookies odds and land another victory to dethrone the long-reigning champion.
“You can see the faces of myself and himself once his hand got raised,” Adesanya told reporters of their 2016 bout. “It was a close fight, sure. But if you’re scoring the fight according to the criteria of kickboxing, I was doing work. I watched the highlights as well – I seen the shots I was hitting him with back then but he was just able to eat them.
“I was a skinny boy, skinny clown back then. But I can find those same angles on him. My game is a lot different. My striking has always been better suited for MMA. I’ve said that from the jump. I’m just really good at striking that I dominated in kickboxing, but my striking has always been better suited for MMA. Yeah, again. We’ll see.”
Pereira will hold three victories over Adesanya, two in kickboxing and one in MMA, should he win on Saturday night. But given the Nigerian’s lengthy and dominant reign as champion in the middleweight division, there would likely be a call for yet another meeting between the pair in an immediate rematch for the 185lb title.
“It makes no difference who they want to put after,” Pereira said at the pre-fight media day of a prospective first defence. “He [Adesanya] deserves it, but after this fight he isn’t going to want it.”