The most recent instalment in what is becoming one of the most epic saga’s in combat sports history came to its conclusion on Saturday April 8 at the Kaseya Center in Miami, Florida. Israel ‘Stylebender’ Adesanya and Alex ‘Poatan’ Pereira stood across from one another for the fourth time in their respective careers on that night, the excitement palpable and the tension thick. Alex Pereira was the slight favorite in the UFC betting for the fight, though it was tight.
However, it was Stylebender who emerged victorious with arguably the most impressive victory of his career, knocking the Middleweight champion unsconscious with a huge overhand-right. This, despite being wobbled by a vicious flurry of strikes from Poatan. In victory Izzy won back his Middleweight title but perhaps most importantly to him, finally removed the Albatross round his neck that was his losing record against the former Glory kickboxing champion.
This is a saga that is spread across two different sports. It first began in 2016 when Pereira beat Adesanya, albeit controversilly, via decision at the Glory of Heroes kickboxing event. A year later, the Brazilian would beat his longtime for second time, knocking Izzy out with a left hook at another Glory of Heroes event. It was this fight that would see Stylebender move to greener pastures, leaving kickboxing behind to instead focus solely on mixed martial arts, in which he had been competing since 2012. From there we would witness his rise to prominence as one of the greatest fighters in the sport and arguably the greatest striker of all time.
Nearly two years to the day from his loss to Poatan, Izzy would get his hands on the interim Middleweight UFC title before unifying the belt later on that year when he knocked Robert Whittaker out at UFC 243. He tore through the division defending the belt five times against the likes of Yoel Romero, Paulo Costa and a second win over Whittaker.
Meanwhile, Pereira had begun to turn his attention towards MMA himself. After a four and a half year break from the sport whilst kickboxing, he returned in 2020 and just under a year later he found himself in the UFC, hunting down the man he had already proven he could beat.
After three wins in three fights, Poatan was handed a title fight by UFC President Dana White. The story was already there. Adesanya had established himself as one of the greatest but his own personal boogeyman had hunted him down across sports. In a back and forth bout, Pereira completed his hattrick against Izzy taking the belt off of him via TKO in round five and seemingly establishing himself as the only Middleweight in the world that Stylebender could not beat. Izzy would not take it lying down however. He returned this April and finally exorcised his demons, beating the only Middleweight who had been able to put an L on his MMA record and did so in style.
Following the fight, he was quick to quash calls for a fifth fight saying he was ‘done’ with the Brazilian.
“We closed (the rivalry). It’s done. I’m done with this s**t…I don’t want to fight the same guy three times in a row” he stated.
Not to soon after the fact, Pereira announced his move up to Light heavyweight which is none too surprising considering he was cutting nearly 50lbs to fight at 185. This all but confirms that the MMA trilogy is off the cards, but should this be the case?
The right move?
In favour of Izzy, Pereira’s move up to 205lbs is one which is welcomed. The light heavyweight division is looking bare right now and he could breathe a new lease of life there. Izzy also has a point when it comes to not wanting to fight the same heads consistently. Of the seven fighters ranked below him at middleweight, he has already beaten five of them with Dricus Du Plessis and Sean Strickland yet to have a chance at the gold. Du Plessis seems the next logical fight for the champ and the two have already been engaged in a war of words since Izzy’s win at 287.
On the flip side, there is quite clearly still unfinished business between the two. Exorcised demons or not, there is no escaping the fact that Pereira has bested Adesanya three times to his one. Even when removing kickboxing from the equation, the two are still tied for wins and it can be argued that we are yet to see who the better man at 185lbs in the sport of MMA is truly. Poatan will move up to 205lbs and likely be fast tracked to a title shot should he win his opening fight so it is likely the two will be apart from each other for at least a year plus. However, whilst this is the end of the chapter, the book is far from closed and it is hard to see a world where we do not see this trilogy closed out at some point in the future. It is sporting storytelling at its very best and these two world class athletes were born to stand across from one another.