Guy Giles makes his pick as Israel Adesanya defends his middleweight belt against Alex Pereira at UFC 281 in New York.
Adesanya v Pereira odds
The main event of UFC 281 is one of the most anticipated fights of the year as middleweight champion Israel Adesanya defends his belt against old rival Alex Pereira.
These two fighters have a long history dating back to their days in kickboxing, when Pereira handed Adesanya two losses in 2016 and 2017.
Following his second loss to Pereira, Adesanya made the jump to MMA full time, going on to become one of the biggest names in the sport and one of the most dominant UFC champions in recent years.
Since unifying the 185lb belt in October 2019, ‘The Last Stylebender’ has reeled off five title defences against the very best in the division, putting him right up there among some of the best champions in history.
He is coming off a decision win over Jared Cannonier in July, and now holds a career record of 23-1, with his sole loss coming when he stepped up to fight for the light heavyweight belt against Jan Blachowicz in March 2021.
The Nigerian-born New Zealander heads to Madison Square Garden as the favourite.
Pereira, meanwhile, remained in kickboxing for a few more years and only transitioned to MMA full-time in November 2020.
He holds a career record of 6-1, and has made an instant impact in the UFC with three wins and two knockouts – including a brutal one-two punch against Sean Strickland in July – to earn a quick shot at the title.
Pereira enters his first UFC championship bout as the underdog.
Adesanya v Pereira prediction
One thing that is very clear is that this is a fight which will won on the feet. In 31 career bouts between these fighters, neither has ever secured a submission win, while Pereira’s only loss came via rear-naked choke.
These are two of the purest strikers in the middleweight division and both will be desperate to prove their superiority over the other on the feet.
For Adesanya, this is his chance to avenge those losses and underline his status as one of the best middleweights of all time – this fight will go a long way in defining his legacy.
For Pereira, this is his chance to best his old rival for a third time while stealing his belt and potentially ushering in his own period of dominance in the UFC.
Unfortunately for the Brazilian, Adesanya is a different beast these days, having moulded himself into a truly world-class mixed martial artist.
His greater MMA experience – Adesanya has more than three times as many MMA fights to his name than Pereira – will be a key factor in this fight, as will the fact that he has gone five rounds in six of his last eight trips into the octagon.
Pereira is likely to come on strong early, seeking a quick finish, and Adesanya will likely face the biggest test of his MMA career in those opening exchanges.
But, if he survives, his ability to read his opponent, download information, and exploit openings will begin to tell as the fight wears on and Pereira tires and begins to make mistakes.
Adesanya would love nothing more than a knockout win to take revenge for those kickboxing defeats, and a late win via stoppage isn’t out of the question, the most likely outcome here is another decision win for the champ.
He has proved time and again his ability to grind out results, and the risk of being knockout out by Pereira for a third time may be too great for him to take too many chances in the later rounds.
Adesanya to win by decision