Israel Adesanya is ready to "remind people how great I am" when the UFC's former middleweight champion aims to reclaim his title in an immediate rematch with long-time nemesis Alex Pereira.
Adesanya had held the middleweight belt for more than three years, since beating Robert Whittaker in October 2019, and had five successful title defences. That was until UFC 281 in November last year when, despite leading on the scorecards, he was stopped in the fifth round by Pereira.
Determined for an immediate shot at the title, the Nigerian-born New Zealander will be back in the Octagon on Saturday for UFC 287 in Miami for a rematch against a fighter he has lost to in each of their three encounters across different disciplines.
Even though he is the challenger, the 33-year-old Adesanya is the slight favourite, a status he is choosing to ignore, instead offering his own narrative of a comeback he called “one of the greatest storylines in MMA history”.
“Not many people get the opportunity to show how great they are, to rise to the occasion when all the odds are stacked against them, when people have counted them out," Adesanya said. "For me, this fight I feel like the underdog. I feel like everyone’s counting me out. They’ve forgot what I’ve done in this game. They’ve forgot who I am, and it’s time to remind people how great I am.”
Perhaps one reason Adesanya (23-2) wants this fight against Pereira (7-1) so quickly was because he was beating the Brazilian 39-37 on all three scorecards entering the fifth and final round at Madison Square Garden in New York. Pereira could only win by knockout, and that's what he got 2:01 into the round.
That loss ended Adesanya's 12-match winning streak at middleweight, one short of Anderson Silva's record.
“I know how I can beat this guy,” Adesanya said. “I know every time I fight this guy I’m dominating him and beating him, and then he has this special ability to recover and put his foot on the gas. So I have to find a way to take take him out of the driver’s seat, which I will.”
Pereira has never lost to Adesanya. Before the two met in November, Pereira defeated Adesanya twice in kickboxing.
Pereira stuns Adesanya at UFC 281
Even in the most recent bout, Pereira said he believed he had the upper hand despite trailing on points, and he proved that with the stoppage.
Pereira, 35, could have passed on Adesanya's rematch request when considering which opponent he wanted for his first title defence.
“He was a dominant champion,” Pereira said through an interpreter. “Maybe he could've done two or three (fights) before that, but he wanted to do it right away. I said, ‘No problem.’"
UFC president Dana White said he preferred Adesanya's desire for a quick rematch over a fighter choosing the more cautious route.
“This guy’s a real fighter that wants to prove himself against the best, wants to be looked at as the best, wants to be looked at as one of the greatest of all time,” White said. "You've got to respect that. Those are the kind of guys I love. The guys who are strategic drive me crazy. There is no strategy. You have to fight everybody in the top ten. That’s it.
“What you want to do is create a legacy for yourself and prove to the world that not only are you the best in the world, but you’re the greatest of all time. That’s what everybody should be striving to do.”
Pereira is giving Adesanya that chance, but said one rematch was enough. He didn't plan on creating the possibility for a UFC trilogy.
“I believe that me beating him this Saturday," Pereira said. "I will never face him again.”
Fifth-ranked welterweight contender Gilbert Burns (21-5) will face No 11 Jorge Masvidal (35-16) in the lead-up fight to to the main event.