Alex Pereira went from unranked to champion in the span of 12 months.
The former two-division Glory Kickboxing champion had a lot of hype when he was signed to the UFC in late 2021 and lived up to it with a flying knee knockout of Andreas Michailidis at UFC 268.
With Pereira’s history with former middleweight champion Israel Adesanya, it was clear the UFC was trying to fast-track him. But the narrative was: This is MMA, not kickboxing.
To kick off his 2022, Pereira was matched up with Bruno Silva – a Brazilian finisher who had knocked out his past seven opponents. Pereira won the fight, but he wasn’t able to put Silva away – which appeared to have put a slight halt to his momentum. But the UFC didn’t appear to think so and matched Pereira up with top-ranked and streaking contender Sean Strickland at UFC 276 in July.
And it was that performance that sold the title fight between Pereira and Adesanya. Pereira knocked Strickland out with his signature left hook in Round 1 – the same strike he knocked out Adesanya with in their kickboxing rematch. Adesanya headlined UFC 276 and outpointed Jared Cannonier to notch his fifth title defense.
Finally, the stars aligned and Pereira was awarded a title shot against Adesanya. Was his body of work enough to earn him a shot? Perhaps not, but the story sold itself. Even Adesanya was invested and eager to avenge those two losses he had against Pereira in kickboxing.
No one had an answer for Adesanya at middleweight. Those who tried to stand with him couldn’t, and those who tried to take him down didn’t find too much success. With Pereira’s kickboxing background, fans salivated at the matchup, but the question was: Will Adesanya wrestle?
Pereira challenged Adesanya at UFC 281 on Nov. 12 at Madison Square Garden in the same arena in which he made his UFC debut. After a back-and-forth four rounds – which included striking and wrestling, Pereira’s corner urged their fighter to finish the fight in Round 5 and they were right.
Pereira was down 3-1 on all three judges’ scorecards, but in Round 5, he found a home for his left hook, which started the fight-ending sequence. Pereira had Adesanya hurt against the ropes, prompting referee Marc Goddard to stop the fight.
It was a poetic ending to the fight, considering Adesanya was doing well in their second kickboxing fight before he was stopped. There have been rumblings of a potential immediate rematch between the two, but the fact Pereira started the year with just one UFC fight under his belt and ended it by dethroning a middleweight great, it’s been an incredible 12 months for the Brazilian.
Not only that, but Pereira’s eight MMA fights before becoming UFC champion is the second fewest in modern history behind Brock Lesnar’s four.