MMAOB staff writer Adam Martin takes a deeper look at the main event of UFC 281, a five-round middleweight title bout between champion Israel Adesanya and challenger Alex Pereira. The event takes place on Saturday, November 12 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York.
Israel Adesanya (-165)
Adesanya (23-1) is the UFC middleweight champion. The 33-year-old New Zealand native joined the UFC in 2018 and he has a 12-1 record so far in the promotion, with notable wins over the likes of Robert Whittaker (twice), Kelvin Gastelum, Jared Cannonier, Marvin Vettori (twice), and Paulo Costa. Adesanya has been one of the best fighters in the world ever since he joined the UFC roster. He has shown absolutely elite striking skills and hasn’t really been tested in any of his fights at 185lbs, especially when they remain standing, as he’s just so much better there than his opponents. However, he did lose once in the UFC to Jan Blachowicz up at 205lbs where his grappling was exposed. That being said, that was against a bigger opponent, and in this fight against Pereira, he’s taking on another striker with a limited ground game. It will be interesting to see who ends up having the better striking skills in MMA, but on paper, Adesanya should actually have the grappling edge.
Alex Pereira (+140)
Pereira (6-1) is the No. 4 ranked UFC middleweight. The 35-year-old Brazilian is 3-0 since joining the UFC last year, with a brutal knockout win over Sean Strickland in his last fight. Pereira is one of the most powerful and devastating strikers in the UFC middleweight division and he will always have a puncher’s chance to beat anyone in the weight class. So far in the UFC, he has shown elite striking in his fights and his grappling is also improving. He’s still untested in MMA against a top talent such as Adesanya, but at the same time, he does have two previous wins over Adesanya in kickboxing. It will be very intriguing to see how Pereira matches up with Adesanya in MMA this time.
Fight Breakdown: This should be an amazing fight between two of the best middleweights in MMA. The most interesting part about this fight is that it’s actually a trilogy bout after these two have previously met twice in kickboxing, with Pereira winning both of those fights. That’s what makes this fight in MMA so interesting. While Adesanya has been utterly dominant in the UFC middleweight division, he is now fighting someone who had his number in kickboxing, and it will be interesting to see how that plays out inside the Octagon. There is no doubt Pereira has a puncher’s chance to win this fight, and likely even more of a chance than that. At the same time, this isn’t kickboxing, it’s MMA, and Adesanya has proven far more in the Octagon than Pereira has. I actually think this might be the fight where Adesanya goes to his grappling instead of just relying on his striking. While I can’t completely dismiss Pereira winning the fight, overall, I believe Adesanya can win the decision here.
Prediction: Israel Adesnaya