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UFC 281: Israel Adesanya unbothered by talk of KO loss to Alex Pereira, vows to 'expose' his rival

The video went viral, and is now up to 14 million views on the Glory of Heroes’ YouTube channel. Israel Adesanya is flat on his back, knocked out on March 4, 2017, by a massive left hook from Alex Pereira.

Less than a year later, Adesanya was in the UFC, a full-time mixed martial artist, but he hasn't to this point been fully able to put that vicious KO in his rearview mirror. He’s answered questions about it before nearly every fight during his UFC run.

He’s now the middleweight champion, No. 2 on the UFC’s pound-for-pound list, and one of the most popular fighters in the world. Despite all the success he’s had, despite the high-profile he’s built for himself, Adesanya is still remembered in large part because of that loss.

It wasn’t the first time they’d met, and, as it turns out, it’s not going to be the last, either.

On Saturday at Madison Square Garden in New York in the main event of UFC 281, Adesanya will be forced to confront his demons when he defends his middleweight title against Pereira.

Adesanya, though, may take issue with the phrase, “confront his demons.” He has, he insists, dealt with the KO and all the backlash he’s received for it just fine. He knows he’s going to answer the same two questions ("What happened?" and "How do you prevent it from happening again?") repeatedly this week, almost up until the bell rings to start the fight.

Then, he’ll have to confront Pereira and his massive punching-power man-to-man.

If you know Adesanya, though, you’ll know it’s no big deal to him. He’s viewed the video more than enough times and he’s been asked about it ad nauseam. A few more times in the build-up to the fight isn’t going to bother him now.

“I’ve seen it, I don’t even know how many times,” Adesanya said. “I’ve never shied away from it. For years, it never really showed up on my radar, but then, once I started to get popping in the UFC, it started to pop up again because he was posting it. And it’s like, ‘Why are you trying to live off me? You already beat me, but yeah, you’re still chasing me because I’m doing way better than you.’ But yeah, I’ve already seen that so many times, it doesn’t affect me. I’ve seen it.

“And that's also one thing that frees me. In this fight, if he goes out there and knocks me out, I’m like, ‘OK, I remember what it was like.’ A lot of people, their worst fear is getting knocked out in a big fight. That’s already happened to me, so I’m like, ‘Cool, it’s already happened.’ That frees me. That frees me enough where it doesn’t hold me, you know what I mean? It doesn’t restrict me in a sense that I’m going to go out there and be like, ‘This can’t happen.’ I’m like, ‘No it can happen, and it has happened.’ But I also know what can happen and almost happened, and that’s what I’m going to make happen [Saturday].”

The knockout wasn’t the first time that Adesanya and Pereira had met. Nearly a year earlier, on April 2, 2016, in Shenzen, China, Adesanya had appeared to box the ears off Pereira, but Pereira somehow was given the decision victory. Adesanya was stunned, his mouth agape, when the verdict was read, but he took a lot from that fight.

He countered superbly, and made Pereira pay. He moved and used his brilliant footwork to create openings and hit Pereira with clean shots.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - JULY 02: Israel Adesanya of Nigeria prepares to enter the octagon for his middleweight title bout against Jared Cannonier during UFC 276 at T-Mobile Arena on July 02, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)
UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya is a showman and says he plans to "expose" opponent Alex Pereira on Saturday when they meet at UFC 281 at Madison Square Garden in New York. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

Now, in those two kickboxing fights, they wore 10-ounce boxing gloves. On Saturday, they’ll wear four-ounce MMA gloves. And while many see that as an advantage for Pereira, it may well be advantage, Adesanya. Pereira has proven he can knock out Adesanya with the big gloves, which Adesanya couldn’t do to him.

But with the small gloves, Pereira can’t afford to keep taking the clean shots he did in the two kickboxing matches with Adesanya. In their rematch in which he was knocked out, Adesanya was hitting Pereira so cleanly that the referee jumped in and gave Pereira a standing eight count (which isn’t in the MMA rules).

Perhaps fueled by that, despite cleanly outboxing Pereira, Adesanya decided not to go for the finish and he paid for it dearly.

“I remember clearly what bothered me was me not staying true to my style, me not staying true to who I am, me,” he said. “You watch my other fights in kickboxing, King of the Ring, the heavyweight one, when I had someone hurt, I wait, look for the shot — Boom! — look for the shot — Boom! — and they’re gone. I put them away. But this one, because I was coming off a loss that was controversial that I should have won, a kickboxing world title, I was younger then so I got influenced by people’s words, and I just threw spam right hands at him. Threw a couple of uppercuts, but right hands.

“ … I should have gone to the body. I should have taken away his legs and then go back to the head, stay true to my style. So that’s what bothered me the most. Not the knockout. The knockout never really bothered me. But for me, what bothered me was me not staying true to my style.”

He’ll have a massive cage with which to use his legs and stay away from Pereira’s power. He won’t be able to use the ropes to pull away from shots, so expect him to try to stay away from the cage.

Adesanya believes the fact that he’s clearly a full-fledged MMA fighter, and isn’t so sure that Pereira is, also is an advantage. He feels almost as if the UFC has put Pereira’s head on a tee for him to whack.

“Put it this way: He’s only [fighting for the title in the UFC] because of me,” Adesanya said. “If it were someone else, if Rob [Whittaker] were still champion, [Pereira] would have had a tougher road to get to the belt, and I bet you he would have gotten exposed way quicker.

“But I’ll expose him. I’ll expose him, yeah. He’s only here because of me and it was favorable. Everything was set up for him because it made sense, and I agree it made sense. We don’t want him to lose before he gets to fight me. … I’d rather take him out now, because he’s actually easy. I’ll say he’s a good athlete. I think he’s the kind of guy who learns quickly, so I’d rather take him out now. And then, that way, I’ll cause a blemish on his career.”

And then it would be one blemish apiece.

DALLAS, TEXAS - JULY 30: Israel Adesanya of Nigeria attends UFC 277 at American Airlines Center on July 30, 2022 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)
Israel Adesanya defends his middleweight title against Alex Pereira in the main event of UFC 281 on Saturday in New York, looking to avenge a pair of kickboxing defeats to Pereira. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)