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Amid Hall of Fame UFC career, Israel Adesanya faces a different challenge in Alex Pereira

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Israel Adesanya’s credentials have already been established. If he retired today, he has done enough to be inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame. He’s 23-1 in his MMA career and he’s getting close to all kinds of records.

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In just four years in the UFC, he posted a 12-1 record, with eight of those 13 fights for the world title. He won 7-0 in middleweight title fights and lost a light heavyweight challenge when he moved up to face Jan Blachowicz at UFC 259 in Las Vegas on March 6, 2021.

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However, over the next few months, you’ll hear that Adesanya’s career will be defined by his next fight, a title defense against Alex Pereira on November 12 at UFC 281 at Madison Square Garden in New York.

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You will hear that a title defense will determine his legacy, that public opinion about Adesanya will depend on how he performs in this fight.

However, this is all nonsense. John Cangelosi, a major league journeyman outfielder on seven teams from 1985 to 1999 with a career .690 OPS, batted .455 with a 1.016 OPS against Hall of Famer John Smoltz. Bill Virdon, a great quarterback who hit .696 over 12 seasons from 1955 to 1968, batted .404 for .958 against Sandy Koufax, arguably the best pitcher who ever lived.

Koufax is remembered as the most dominant pitcher of his era. Smolz is remembered as a great pitcher on some of Atlanta’s great teams. No one remembers what Virdon and Canzhelosi did against them.

And while the UFC will replay the knockout that Pereira scored on Adesanya on January 20, 2017 perhaps 50,000 times to promote the fight, this fight has nothing to do with Adesanya’s legacy.

Nor will Adesanya’s loss to Pereira at UFC 281 affect that.

Israel Adesanya (right) kicks Jared Cannonier in a middleweight title fight during mixed martial arts tournament UFC 276 on Saturday, July 2, 2022 in Las Vegas.  (AP Photo/John Locher)
Israel Adesanya (right) kicks Jared Cannonier in a middleweight title fight at UFC 276 on July 2, 2022 in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Now I’m not sure if Adesanya is going to lose this fight at all. Adesanya is nothing short of one of the greatest minds in combat sports, and he understands combat on a level that few people have ever had on this planet.

And so he knows what mistake he made in that fight and what he needs to fix.

What makes this story bigger is that it wasn’t the first time Pereira had beaten Adesanya with a 2017 knockout. He also defeated Adesanya via unanimous decision on April 2, 2016 in Shenzhen, China.

Perera fought on that UFC 276 card where Adesanya headlined the fight against Jared Cannonier. And while the main event was a yawn that was booed by a large number of fans towards the end, Pereira’s fight was anything but a yawn. He knocked out Sean Strickland with one devastating punch to earn the right to face Adesanya.

At the July 16 press conference following the UFC Long Island event at UBS Arena, UFC President Dana White exceeded all expectations by revealing the Adesanya-Pereira fight, which was made official on Friday for UFC 281.

“When you’re in my position, you can’t give too many guarantees,” White said on July 16. “But I can tell you that his next fight…I fucking guarantee you. I absolutely guarantee you that the next fight Israel Adesanya fights is going to be fucking crazy.”

Adesanya is everything White could dream of becoming a champion. He fights regularly, he looks for the best challenges, he puts his heart and soul into promoting events and basically puts on great shows.

The Cannonier fight was not one of them. As well as his victory over Yoel Romero in 2020.

But there is rarely a champion like Israel Adesanya. He won the interim middleweight title by defeating Kelvin Gastelum in one of the best fights of this century. He then knocked out Robert Whittaker to unify the belts in his next appearance in front of a crowd of over 57,000 in Australia.

Of the top six middleweight fighters in the UFC, he has already fought seven fights with them, with Pereira coming in eighth.

Pereira is a vicious finisher and is pleased to know that he has beaten Adesanya twice. There’s a chance he has Adesanya’s number, just like Canjelosi had Smolz’s number and Virdon had Koufax’s number.

But there is even more chance that Adesanya will make a very loud and decisive statement in the fight. He performed superbly in the rematch with Pereira before being caught and kicked out.

Give Pereira credit for that. He did what he had to do.

But Adesanya is no redneck who will repeat the same mistakes. MMA, for example, is a different sport than kickboxing. Kickboxing is part of MMA, but there are other elements to the sport that are not found in kickboxing.

Adesanya mastered them. He is one of the greatest UFC fighters of all time.

And something tells me that he will find a way to remind everyone of this on November 12 in New York.


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