With a thunderous knockout and a regained championship, Israel Adesanya ended UFC 287 last Saturday not just back at the top of the middleweight heap, but over the hump of a rivalry with Alex Pereira that has dogged him for the last 7 years.
The now 2-time UFC middleweight champion said at the post fight press conference that the rivalry is “settled” but it doesn’t really feel like it is, does it?
The win was thrilling and surely a weight off the back of the man who has spent so many years establishing himself as the standard at 185, but what was one of the first things he did after scoring the KO?
He taunted his fallen foe, which itself isn’t too unusual (Tito Ortiz made doing so one of his signature moves), but then he went and taunted his foe’s son.
As Israel Adesanya explained, he intentionally spotted Pereira’s 12-year-old son in the crowd and flopped to the canvas in a move reminiscent of when the boy did the same following Izzy’s knockout loss to Pereira in kickboxing in 2017.
Adesanya was so worked up over being taunted by a KINDERGARTENER that he made the effort to return the favor years later.
Sure, you can argue he was letting go of pent-up emotion that he had been carrying all this time, and he did appear respectful after the fight, embracing Alex Pereira and even suggesting that they hangout in Brazil together.
But it does seem a bit odd to see him go from sharing uplifting messages inside the cage to joking about fighting the child of the man he just beat. These don’t seem like the actions of someone who is truly past the rivalry, does it?
Maybe Chael Sonnen was right and we’re seeing the official start of the Adesanya heel turn. Adesanya’s post fight actions were absolutely heelish, especially the way he said the rivalry is over when he’s still down 3-1 overall and the score in the UFC is tied 1-1.
Is that what a “settled” rivalry is supposed to look like?
That’s not how you end a proper pro wrestling storyline. To do it right, we need to see Pereira’s comeback. We need to see consequences come from Adesanya’s actions.
We need to see the heel get his comeuppance.
We need to see Israel Adesanya vs. Alex Pereira 3 (or 5, if you prefer).
Israel Adesanya, for his part (and still playing the part of the heel), used the post-fight press conference to not just try and move on from Alex Pereira but to try and set up his next challenger at middleweight.
Sure, he didn’t say Dricus du Plessis by name but he did say he would “drag [unnamed fighter who is probably du Plessis’s] carcass across South Africa” for suggesting he’s a more authentic African than Izzy or former champions Kamaru Usman and Francis Ngannou.
The efforts by du Plessis to set himself up as the next contender are commendable but, with only a single Top-10 win to his name, it’s hard to make a strong argument for him as the next in line beyond the fact that Adesanya has beaten everyone ranked higher than him.
And yeah, Alex had the same strength of schedule before he got the shot at UFC 281 but don’t forget that, in addition to his past with the champion, he was also a two-division champion in one of the top kickboxing organizations in the world. That counts for something, right?
No offense, Extreme Fighting Championship. Hey, how’s Ruan Potts doing? Always wondered what happened to that guy…
If Adesanya is looking for a new challenge at middleweight, then du Plessis would fit the bill. He can take the fight and we can hope that he is genuinely motivated by it and doesn’t just phone it in like he did against Jared Cannonier.
However, if he’s not over Pereira like he claims he is, it seems the easy choice would be to take the bigger fight and face “Poatan” one more time to put it all to bed.
If UFC is giving us an Amanda Nunes-Julianna Pena trilogy bout that no one asked for, it would be crazy they wouldn’t at least try to make Adesanya-Pereira 3 happen.
Alex Pereira to light heavyweight? Doesn’t matter.
Of course, Alex Pereira’s time as a middleweight could be over, as he has since officially announced a move to light heavyweight. Pereira is big for 185 and would surely like to be done with large weight cuts. Plus, with his head coach Glover Teixeira no longer competing in the UFC, and with a light heavyweight division that could politely be described as “a mess,” Pereira’s path to a second championship is almost as clear as his path to the first one was.
But that doesn’t mean the rivalry is over.
Adesanya can stick around at 185 for now, but how much longer does he want to be there swatting at flies while avoiding bigger opportunities? Maybe he can make some money building up a “Battle for Africa” with du Plessis but, if he wins that fight, then what? He’s beaten everyone in the Top 5. He’s beaten almost half of the current Top 15. If he beats du Plessis, who after that is considered deserving of facing a fighter the caliber of Adesanya?
Outside of waiting to see if Jan Blachowicz is actually serious about trying to make the drop down, there isn’t anyone. There’s no challenges left at 185 for Izzy. He truly is “The Last Stylebender” of the middleweight division.
That means a move up to light heavyweight is not just likely, it’s inevitable. And, if Adesanya makes the move in the next year or two, what better way to start his path towards two-divisional glory than to see his old foe inside the cage one more time?
Or maybe it happens further down the line. What if Pereira becomes UFC Light Heavyweight Champion and Adesanya marches up the rankings to get a title shot in a role reversal of what Pereira did?
There would be so many questions that need answering: Who’s the better light heavyweight? Who’s the better fighter overall? What will be the defining moment of this rivalry?
What side will Pikachu take?
In a story that has transcended combat sports like no other, with the power to truly bring people together, it’d be a shame to see it end now.
Because it’s not just about Israel Adesanya’s story or Alex Pereira’s story.
It’s about their story, and it’s far from over.
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