Knockout artist, Alex Pereira, looks to capture UFC gold by stopping reigning Middleweight kingpin, Israel Adesanya, this Saturday (Nov. 12, 2022) at UFC 281 inside Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York.
It’s not uncommon for fighters decorated in other combat sports to make quick rises up the ranks. Look at Adesanya himself: he went from green prospect to interim champion in just 14 months on UFC’s roster. Pereira — as he’s prone to do — is looking to one up the champion, as he could potentially leave the cage Saturday night as UFC champion almost exactly one year after joining the promotion. Unquestionably, he’s been given a shorter road to the belt as a result of his shared history with “Stylebender,” as well as the general lack of contenders who Adesanya hasn’t defeated. When considering other options, however, he’s clearly the best choice, even if there are still lots of unknowns about his mixed martial arts (MMA) game.
Let’s take a closer look at what we’ve seen so far:
“Poatan” is a a two-division Glory kickboxing champ with monster power in both hands. Naturally, a bulk of the following analysis will be regarding his kickboxing prowess and how well he’s adapted his power-boxing style to MMA.
First and foremost, the simple fact that Pereira is massive for Middleweight has to be mentioned. He has a nearly identical height and reach to Adesanya, but Pereira is significantly more muscular. Even as he’s leaned out to make weight, those pictures a few months ago of him dwarfing Dominick Reyes were pretty eye-opening.
Unlike Adesanya, Pereira does not meticulously manage distance. He does good work from the kicking range, sure, but the Brazilian invites trades from the pockets. Much of the time, Pereira is content to work from distance, only to either intentionally close a few more inches or allow his opponent to do so, which can very suddenly introduce a very different dynamic.
At range, Pereira is effective with his kicks and jab. One of the more unique quirks to Pereira’s kicking arsenal is the very kickboxing habit of tying kicks together. Quite often, Pereira will touch his opponent’s mid-section with a switch kick then quickly rip the lead thigh as his opponent backs off. He’ll do the opposite as well, touching low before committing high. Aside from his round kicks, Pereira can snap his right foot into the belly painfully as well.
It probably should be mentioned that Pereira can cover distance with jump knees like few others as well (GIF).
Pereira’s ability to switch up his rhythm is a huge part of what makes him such a special striker, and the habit of pairing kicks is just one small example. A majority of the time, Pereira is throwing short combinations of his jab, cross/overhand, and left hook. These are the three primary punches of most every fighter in the game, but Pereira separates himself from the pack due to punching form and ability to switch up his timing.
For example, the 2-3 or right hand-left hook combination is pretty fundamental piece of boxing/kickboxing/Muay Thai. Given that Pereira leads with his cross/overhand often, and the fact that his money punch is the left hook, it’s not surprising that Pereira makes good use of the 2-3.
Pereira mixes up that simple combination so well, however. He’ll throw the right as a quick darting cross or as a crushing overhand. Pereira can then follow up with a fast left hook that checks the guard, more rotational power by drifting backwards as he hooks, or a shift forward that has him crashing forward (how he knocked out Adesanya in the first place).
Pereira’s stoppage win over Sean Strickland was really a master class in setting up the left hook. Fight fans have openly mocked Strickland for trying to pressure and jab a world class kickboxer, and it’s true that his strategy wasn’t the wisest. However, it’s also important to understand why Strickland fought how he did, and how well Pereira baited him and played into his confidence.
Strickland routinely pressures MMA fighters. He stands tall, gets in their face, and trusts his ability to parry and slip to keep him safe in the pocket. Frankly, he’s earned the right to be confident. Strickland has statistically excellent striking defense, and based on training stories, he spars all the time to remain sure of his defense.
Strickland did not, however, have the right to be confident in the pocket against Alex f—king Pereira. “Poatan” taught him the error of his ways quickly but craftily. For about two minutes, Pereira fought from his back foot and did everything but throw the left hook. He jab the chin and mid-section, flicked up quickly kicks to the body and lead leg, and at one point did land a nice right.
Strickland has a habit of raising his lead leg in a preemptive check to close distance. That’s great against low kicks, but getting blasted on one leg is BAD. Pereira timed his left hook kill shot perfectly, immediately after a hard jab poke to the chest. Strickland’s base was not beneath him as the shot landed, and his excellent parry was inaccurately down low expecting a body jab (GIF).
While on the topic of the left hook, take a second to admire the following clips and note how well Pereira rotates his shoulders, twists his hips, and really digs his lead foot into the ground to generate power. In both of the below clips, also note how Pereira hides the weight shift behind his lead shoulder by first throwing a right kick/knee.
Pereira plays off the threat of the left hook well. Squaring up his chest before throwing gives the shot a bit more of a tell in addition to more power, but that’s not a problem since Pereira offers up other threats. He’ll shift his weight and then instead rip a left hook to the body or fire a left uppercut from that loaded position, keeping his opponent uncertain. This left hook can be unleashed while leading or as a counter.
One interesting potential flaw in Pereira’s game in regards to MMA is that he seems surprised when his left hook misses. Obviously, in bigger gloves fighting men with higher guards, it’s easier to create a connection even if it’s not a clean shot to the chin. Against Bruno Silva, there were several times where Pereira’s left went right over Silva’s head or was too short. That’s a dangerous situation, but Pereira didn’t react well, standing frozen — not unlike Elsa — as Silva flurried at him with hooks and overhands.
Another aspect of his kickboxing that separates Pereira from most MMA fighters is his ability to pick shots after hurting an opponent. He does not simply alternate big crosses and hooks, even if Pereira could stop many men with just those shots. Instead, Pereira attacks carefully, doubling up on power shots from one side. Often, Pereira will double up either side by throwing left hook-left uppercut or right hand-right uppercut, loading up between shots. When really flowing, those doubled up duos of power shots will continue into a combination from his other side, as Pereira works in major connections around his defensive opponent’s guard.
The clinch has proven to be another area of effective offense for the Brazilian. Routinely, opponents have pressed him into the clinch expecting to control Pereira. Instead, he makes the most of small moments of framing, using small opportunities to dig hard knees into the body. When he’s the man initiating the clinch, Pereira blends elbows and knees together well, taking whatever is available to maximize damage.
Thus far, it seems that Pereira’s defense has yet to really adapt to MMA. In response to aggression, Pereira has two responses: he either takes one step back and fires his left hook, or he shuffles away from the exchange entirely. That left hook is to be respected, but Silva landed a lot of hard shots by timing the shuffles.
Pereira was putting himself out of position to answer with strikes. As a result, Silva could flurry and connect on wide hooks, and he did great work with low kicks at the end of these combinations from close range. Generally, trying to low kick Pereira from within the pocket is a recipe to get murdered by a left hook, but that’s not the case if he’s shuffling out-of-stance. In addition, Pereira seemed surprised on several occasions when his back hit the fence, leaving him vulnerable.
The Brazilian is definitely guilty of relying on tall man defense like fading away and leaning back, a riskier proposition in smaller gloves. Adesanya is able to make that style work because he’s so careful with his distance management, but Pereira is much more willing to trade from any range, so it’s far riskier.
Wrestling And BJJ
Pereira has yet to score a takedown or attempt a submission inside the Octagon.
Defensively, Pereira very much shows his inexperience. He’s been taken down several times, often after being caught standing too tall to defend a double. His sprawl is strong, but mostly, Pereira seems to rely on size and strength to stop takedowns. That’s not a bad strategy given his physical gifts, but it also means he just turns his back and stands up to return to his feet after giving up a takedown.
Pereira is still new to MMA, and training with Glover Teixeira is not a miracle fix. There is a reason Pereira has never fought someone like Derek Brunson or even Gerald Meerschaert en route to his title shot. Based on his previous performances, a truly dedicated ground specialist could likely give him a ton of trouble.
Pereira doesn’t have to be the best Middleweight alive this weekend. There are numerous match ups, even some outside the Top 15, who would probably end his rise in an instant. Fortunately for the Brazilian, he’s done his job to set up this showdown versus “Stylebender,” and he has an excellent chance at becoming champion anyway.
Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, is a professional fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport’s most elite fighters.
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