There’s that old proverb that goes, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”
Nobody ever said what’s supposed to happen after that. Maybe it should go “Fool me three times, shame on the peroneal nerve.”
But Israel Adesanya (24-2, 13-2 UFC) is no fool, and the fourth time proved to be the charm after he vanquished his boogeyman at UFC 287 on Saturday night, knocking out Alex Pereira (7-2, 4-1 UFC) and reclaiming the UFC middleweight championship.
It was definitely an eventful night. We saw the derailment of another Dana White hype train when Raul Rosas, Jr. dropped a unanimous decision to Christian Rodriguez. We saw Kevin Holland try to start a fight outside the cage before finishing one inside it against Santiago Ponzinibbio. And we saw Jorge Masvidal “unquestionably” ending his night and career after getting out-grappled and out-struck by Gilbert Burns.
All a prelude to one of the most unique rivalries in MMA, one that began years ago in an entirely different sport.
Adesanya, the Nigerian born New Zealander, fought 80 times in kickboxing over seven years, leaving that sport with a 75-5 record before moving to MMA full time. From there, he scored twelve straight wins as a middleweight, including winning and defending the UFC middleweight championship five times.
The high level kickboxer found a home for his style in the UFC. ‘The Last Stylebender’ was on track to having a run as legendary as Anderson Silva.
At least that was until an old foe came to town.
Pereira’s kickboxing resume isn’t as long as Adesanya’s but it ended on a much higher note, as the Brazilian captured both the Glory Middleweight and Light Heavyweight Championships before cashing in his chips in LFA and then the UFC.
In the course of both men’s kickboxing careers, they faced each other twice. The first fight in 2016 was a close three round fight that Izzy arguably should have won by decision but ‘Poatan’ was the one who had his hand raised.
Eleven months later, their paths crossed again. Adesanya tried to make sure to not leave it in the judge’s hands a second time, putting enough heat on the future Glory double champ to initiate a standing eight count in the second round before Pereira flattened him with a left hook in the third to end the fight.
In the UFC, Adesanya found the success that eluded him in kickboxing but his past found a way to catch up to him. At UFC 281, Pereira, who was on his way to losing a five round decision, caught the champion against the cage late and landed enough strikes to earn the stoppage and the championship.
The one accomplishment Adesanya had that was his own and Pereira managed to take that away from him.
At UFC 287, Izzy vowed to not make the same mistake again (again) and, for his legacy’s sake, he didn’t.
He had his 8 Mile moment. He had one shot and he captured it.
After a tense first round defined by leg and body kicks, the action opened up in Round 2. The damage from the kicks appeared to be paying dividends for Pereira late in the round, as a right blast to the calf led to a barrage of knees and punches with Adesanya trapped up against the cage.
But this time, Adesanya didn’t buckle. He blocked the strikes before countering with a right hook that stunned the champ. Then a second overhand put him on the canvas. The punches after were unnecessary because Pereira was out cold and Adesanya was the one finally getting his hand raised.
After all the time Adesanya spent getting to this moment, through all the ups and downs and after being taunted with, of all things, a Pikachu jacket, he finally accomplished what he, time and again, hadn’t been able to.
The story began with Adesanya standing tall and that is exactly how it ended, with a middleweight champion who is rejuvenated and appreciative of what it takes to be best in his class.
He may be “The Last Stylebender” but that doesn’t mean this is the last of his time on top. Not by a long shot.
You can’t fool someone four times. It just doesn’t happen.
About the author