Israel Adesanya finally got one back in his rivalry with Alex Pereira. The New Zealander’s emphatic second-round knockout win at UFC 287 made him a two-time middleweight champion and put the score at 1-1 as far as MMA was concerned. Surely, there can be nothing other than a trilogy fight next to all but settle the score once and for all? Not exactly.
For starters, UFC president Dana White believes Pereira’s next move is up to 205 pounds rather than another rematch with Adesanya at 185 pounds.
“I know that he had, he still had like two pounds to cut leading up to [the weigh-ins],” White said at the post-fight press conference. “There was like an hour left at the end. I mean, I’m not saying he’s moving to 205, but I would assume he is. You guys can ask him himself, but it wouldn’t surprise me.”
Those sentiments were echoed by Adesanya who believes Pereira has to put in the work to earn a rematch with him. But as far as he’s concerned, the score is settled.
“I don’t keep score. I settle them, and now it’s settled,” Adesanya said at the post-fight press conference. “Look, I gave him a fast track to the belt, you know? I could’ve said, ‘Nah, who has he fought? He only fought one top five.’ But no. He did well. He fought some all right guys. He beat Strickland, and I was like, ‘Fine, There’s no one else.’
“… The rematch, I got the immediate rematch because of what I’ve done in the game. … So I did the hard yards and I earned my f*****g rematch … now he has to do the hard yard if he wants to do it. But I don’t think he’s gonna. Go cause problems at 205 and good luck to everyone else because he’s a motherf****r to deal with, I’ll tell you that.”
Of course, Pereira will need some time to recover after suffering such a brutal knockout. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him not fight until late 2023 at the earliest.
But unless he’s going to be out for the considerable future, there is absolutely no reason not to have Pereira fight Adesanya in a trilogy fight. Granted, Adesanya makes a fair point about Pereira needing to put the work in, but the state of the division is such that the Brazilian can be warranted in getting an instant rematch.
Looking at the top five of the middleweight division, Adesanya has already defeated Robert Whittaker and Marvin Vettori twice. He’s defeated Jared Cannonier and Paulo Costa and neither men have done much to warrant a second shot even though they have a win in their most recent outing.
Adesanya did plant the seeds for a potential fight with Dricus Du Plessis, but he’s outside the top five with not a single top-five win as of yet. Having only competed at UFC 285 last month, Du Plessis will need at least one more win before getting a title shot and that won’t be for another few months at least.
There is the wild card of Khamzat Chimaev, but even White wouldn’t give him a title shot without a single ranked win at middleweight.
Speaking of White, he does make a fair point about Pereira struggling to make the weight. After all, Pereira is a monstrous human being and the fact that he has made 185 pounds multiple times is miraculous to say the least.
But a number of champions have had regular trouble making the weight in the past and that didn’t lead to White suggesting they move up. Max Holloway and Khabib Nurmagomedov come to mind in that regard.
And even if a move up 205 is eventually on the horizon, “Poatan” never missed weight in the first place.
But more than anything, the trilogy could end up being one of the most eagerly-anticipated fights of all time. The score is 3-1 in Pereira’s favor overall thanks to his kickboxing wins, but it’s 1-1 in MMA. Their rivalry has transcended multiple sports and years and could quite possibly be the best storyline in MMA, especially with Adesanya’s recent redemption.
Why would the UFC and Adesanya not cash in on it? Even if Adesanya ends up with another win and being 3-2 behind, he can still win their MMA trilogy. He can still put a stamp on their rivalry. The score might be settled for him personally, but for many fans, that’s a hard one to take while he’s still 3-1 down overall.
Adesanya received plenty of criticism for his drab fights prior to Pereira, but his two contests with him have been some of the most entertaining by far, simply just going by how they ended alone. It’s safe to say the majority of fans would rather watch Pereira bring out the best in Adesanya than watch him fight any other fighter in the top five. And let’s not forget that Pereira will absolutely be gunning for revenge, making a third fight between them a mouthwatering occasion.
Nobody can fault Israel Adesanya for wanting a new opponent — especially having faced one four times now — but the right move for everyone would be a trilogy fight and to finally conclude one of the most compelling rivalries in combat sports history.
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