Israel Adesanya reflects on Alex Pereira rivalry: ‘He’s a special human being’

Israel Adesanya and Alex Pereira had a fiery feud in the ring and in the cage, but outside it’s all love.

After two kickboxing matches and one UFC title fight, Adesanya finally defeated Pereira at UFC 287 in April 2023 to regain the middleweight championship and earn his first win in their four-fight series. Since then, Adesanya dropped the title to Sean Strickland and went on a self-imposed hiatus, while Pereira has moved up a division and become light heavyweight champion.

Adesanya and Pereira have had plenty of fun at each other’s expense through the course of their feud, but for the most part have spoken publicly about the mutual respect between them. “The Last Stylebender” sees his time with Pereira as one of the defining stories of his career, one that is yet to be fully written.

“Honestly, he’s a special fighter,” Adesanya told Demetrious Johnson on the MightyCast. “He’s a special human being. What he’s done in this game, in fighting and for his life, as well, I’ll always respect him. I’m grateful for those moments because for me, it taught me so much about myself and where I can go. Same with the Kelvin Gastelum fight, it let me know I can go more. That one, I was ready to die, but this one, I just knew, ‘There’s no f****** way, this guy, I swear to God, I will die… fourth time’s a charm.’

“Then I knew, ‘Israel, there’s levels. You can go more. You can go more. So stay tuned.’ It’s not going to take another seven years before I get [Sean] Strickland. Stay tuned, you watch.”

The history between Adesanya and Pereira is well-documented, with Pereira winning their first kickboxing bout via a controversial decision and their second kickboxing bout via a vicious knockout punch out of nowhere. When the two first fought in MMA at UFC 281, Adesanya was up 39-37 on all three scorecards before Pereira caught him with a fight-ending flurry in the fifth round.

When Pereira delivered a thudding KO in their rematch at UFC 287, he made sure to celebrate in style, even calling back to Pereira’s son mocking him when Pereira knocked Adesanya out in their second kickboxing fight.

“You know when you walk out?” Adesanya said. “You see everything because you’re so hyper aware. I saw everything. I knew there was [Donald] Trump, Kid Rock, and Mike Tyson next to Dana [White]. I knew where my family was, I knew where his family was. So as soon as it happened, because I got up, again, I just knew what I wanted to do in the back locker room. I was like, ‘I’m going to hit him with his s***, but now it’s my s***. So *bap* *bap* and then I walked around, ‘Where are they? Hey!’ (reenacts celebration).”

Adesanya has only tasted defeat three times in MMA, to Pereira and Strickland, and once to Jan Blachowicz in a light heavyweight title fight. He currently awaits his next booking, presumably a showdown with middleweight champion Dricus du Plessis, but as long as he and Pereira are active there will always be demand for a third fight between them.

Both fighters have repeatedly been asked about the possibility of an MMA trilogy bout, but Adesanya isn’t convinced that it’s necessary.

“This guy, first fight in China, I thought I won,” Adesanya told Demetrious Johnson on the MightyCast. “Anyone who’s watched the fight—these casuals don’t know, these plebs don’t know. I thought I won. Even he thought I won until he got his hand raised. OK, cool. Second fight, I’m beating his ass and he gets me. And again, New York, beating that, rocked him, took him down, held him down, beat him, and he gets me.”

“I just knew, I can beat this guy,” Adesanya continued. “It wasn’t about proving it to anyone else, it’s about myself. I know I can beat this guy, so that last Miami one, I was in different place. I had to tap into some darkness for that camp. People who knew me, I was different. I was like, ‘Ain’t no way this m*********** beat me four times.’ It’s about the story. So now I beat him once. How ironic, I beat him once, but then watch this: If I fight him again, I knock him out, what’s that? What are they going to say? ‘It’s 3-2. It’s now a best-out-of-seven.’ Bro, I’m 34. I’ve only got certain more fights left, why am I going to fight the same guy how many times? I just wanted to prove to myself who’s the best.”

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