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UFC 287 preview: Israel Adesanya calls Alex Pereira rivalry ‘greatest storyline in MMA history’ ... but is it?

UFC 287 Press Conference Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Israel Adesanya has a long and violent history with Alex Pereira.

“The Last Stylebender” first went to war against Pereira nearly seven years back, dropping a unanimous decision to “Poatan” at Glory of Heroes 1 in Shenzhen, China. Adesanya would try to avenge that loss the following year at Glory of Heroes 7 in Sao Paulo but fell to the Brazilian by way of devastating knockout.

Watch the gruesome replay here.

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Adesanya would later transition to the far more lucrative world of mixed martial arts (MMA) and eventually blast his way through “the gauntlet” to earn his spot on the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) roster. Pereira appeared to be in the rear-view mirror for the foreseeable future but then “Poatan” followed suit, getting pen to paper for UFC — likely due to this longtime relationship — after just four professional fights.

Three straight victories (and two brutal knockouts) were enough to land Pereira in the UFC 281 main event opposite his longtime rival and unfortunately for Team Adesanya, the results were not much different than they were on the kickboxing scene. “The Last Stylebender” was stopped in the fifth frame of their “Empire State” showdown, losing his middleweight title and setting up an immediate rematch for UFC 287 this Sat. night (April 8, 2023) in Miami.

“This is probably the greatest storyline in MMA history,” Adesanya told reporters during the UFC 287 media day (transcribed by MMA Junkie). “It’s probably one of, if not the greatest storyline in MMA history, and 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 are counting them out.”

Whether or not you consider Adesanya vs. Pereira to be the sport’s greatest storyline — or even a “great” storyline — may depend on your allegiance to the former champion. The rivalry has been fairly one-sided over the years, leaving little room for drama. That could change if Adesanya is able to win convincingly this weekend in Miami, making them tied at one apiece under the UFC banner, potentially leading to a third (and final) MMA fight.

“It’s spanned across years, across two different combat codes, spanned across different countries,” Adesanya continued. “The history of matches between Alex. Even in the way that, in his head, he’s the protagonist. In my view, I’m player one. I’m the protagonist, he’s the antagonist. I’m just doing so much better in life. He kept on trying to chase what he already had. He got to this point and I made it easy for him to get to the title. I didn’t make it easy for him to get the title, but to get to the title because he already had that win over me in kickboxing. He dodged the gauntlet.”

It’s also difficult to place Adesanya vs. Pereira over some of the other great rivalries in MMA for the same reason the greatest of all time (GOAT) debate doesn’t hold much water. Different eras yield different variables and circumstances are rarely the same. You would be hard-pressed to find a more compelling storyline than Kazushi Sakuraba vs. the Gracie clan back in the heyday of Japanese MMA.

There was also the Chuck Liddell vs. Tito Ortiz rivalry that helped usher in a new era of mainstream attention in the early-to-mid aughts. Conor McGregor vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov stands as a more recent example and has the pay-per-view (PPV) record to validate its place in history, though you could argue their championship conflict didn’t have the legs as some of the longer feuds that preceded it.

And “The Eagle” pretty much steamrolled “Notorious” to close out that brief chapter.

“This is the point where I’m down two fights in kickboxing, one fight in MMA,” Adesanya said. “I’m down three. This is in every movie, that one shot. This is my Eminem moment, my ‘8-Mile’ moment. ‘You get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow. This opportunity comes once in a life time.’ This is it for me.”

This could be it for their rivalry, as well, with another loss to “Poatan.”

Remember that will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 287 fight card RIGHT HERE, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard on ESPN/ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC 287: “Pereira vs. Adesanya 2” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here. For the updated and finalized UFC 287 fight card and PPV lineup click here.

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