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Editorial: UFC fast-tracking Alex Pereira is about exploiting the storyline — and the fans

The UFC does what it wants. The potential booking of Israel Adesanya vs. Alex Pereira is another example of that fact.

Alex Pereira is likely to be the next opponent for UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya
Alex Pereira is likely to be the next opponent for UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya
Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

At this time last year, Alex Pereira was a Glory kickboxing champ. Sure, he had dabbled in MMA, going 2-1 between 2015 and 2016 and picking up a third win in November 2020 under the LFA banner and had inked a deal with the UFC, but he was the Glory titleholder at light heavyweight, having vacated his middleweight Glory belt in May 2021.

In September 2021, Pereira lost his light heavyweight title and then retired from kickboxing inside the ring, following that loss at Glory 78.

Pereira was linked to UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya long before he signed his deal with the UFC because he had two wins over Adesanya under the Glory banner. A unanimous decision in 2016 and a knockout in 2017. When Pereira inked his deal with the promotion, you would have been hard pressed to find a headline about that signing that failed to mention his knockout win over Adesanya — who by that time had defended the UFC middleweight crown three times (four if you count his title unification win - and we know Adesanya counts that victory as a defense.)

It’s hard to imagine what dried faster the day Pereira signed his UFC deal, the ink from his signature or the drool pouring from the mouths of the UFC matchmakers as they dreamed of the money they could earn the promotion by booking Pereira opposite Adesanya.

With that, those matchmakers set out to pave the way for that fight to take place. In his UFC debut, the promotion booked him opposite Andreas Michailidis, who was 1-1 with the promotion and is no longer a UFC fighter. Pereira knocked him out. In his next bout, Pereira faced Bruno Silva, who was 3-0 in the UFC. Silva had a career record of 22-7 and had won 19 of those bouts via knockout. In his three UFC fights, Silva had attempted three takedowns. He had secured zero. Pereira won the fight via decision. However, Silva went two for eight in takedowns while accumulating 3:15 in control time over the course of the 15-minute scrap.

In his most recent outing, Pereira, who was unranked after his two wins, faced Sean Strickland. Strickland was ranked No. 4 in the official UFC middleweight rankings heading into that matchup.

Strickland fought to his opponent’s strengths. Everyone knew Strickland’s route to victory in this fight was via grappling. Instead, he decided it was wise to use his upright, low guard, jab-heavy striking approach against a kickboxing champ. Strickland might as well have been wearing a giant paper mache clown head with a neon “punch me” sign pointing at his chin.

I don’t mean to demean Strickland too much here. He is an excellent fighter and he was on a six-fight winning streak ahead of the Pereira matchup, but he made an awful tactical decision to engage in a kickboxing match in an MMA setting with a kickboxing champ. I’m guessing Strickland realized that about the time he staggered to his feet after getting knocked out at the 2:36 mark of the first round.

With that, and Adesanya’s much criticized win over Jared Cannonier in the main event of that fight card, it looks like Pereira will fight for the UFC title after just three UFC fights.

Is that silly? Yes. Does Pereira deserve a title fight? No. Will fans buy this fight? Yes. Will the UFC make a killing at the box office and in pay-per-view buys when the fight takes place? Hell yes. And that last one is the primary reason this fight is going to take place. The second reason is that the UFC middleweight division is — more or less — Adesanya and former champion Robert Whittaker.

If Pereira had not defeated Adesanya in another sport, this fight would not be happening at this point in his career. However, the UFC is not a meritocracy and the promotion has often put short-term gains over long-range plans. For the UFC, this fight is a slam dunk. It has an easy to market backstory, it has a villain in Adesanya for his “boring” style in his recent title defenses and it has a potential savior in the exciting knockout artist in the underdog, Pereira. This fight is all about exploiting the fans for the UFC’s financial gain.

Adesanya’s coach, Eugene Bareman in speaking to Submission Radio, hit the nail directly on the head when he said, “They (UFC) need to get Pereira to Israel as fast as they can, because obviously Pereira has a lot of vulnerabilities, and if they wait too long, those vulnerabilities will get exposed, and then there’s no fight. So you’ve got to push him toward Israel as fast as you can before any of those vulnerabilities are exposed. So that looks like it’s a next fight. Israel would love that fight. Israel would love that fight. I think he wants the fight. So, I mean, Israel’s the champ, he’s the man that’s put himself in a position where he can choose what he wants to do. So, it wouldn’t surprise me if that’s the next fight.”

This reminds me of the fast track the UFC put Conor McGregor on when he joined the promotion, but even McGregor’s rise wasn’t this fast or the desire to get him into a title fight as soon as possible this transparent.

The UFC saw a potential matchup between Adesanya and Pereira a long time ago. And when Adesanya established himself as the king of middleweights, it honed in on that storyline with laser focus. Testing Pereira to make sure he’s ready for an MMA fight with Adesanya could possibly ruin that storyline and cost the UFC a lot of money. With that, Pereira will not face a solid MMA competitor who might mess around and test Pereira’s grappling acumen. The UFC was never interested in Pereira as a fighter, their only interest in him is in getting him inside the octagon with Adesanya in order to sell this specific matchup to the fans who might have only seen Pereira knockout Adesanya in their kickboxing matchup and not the action that preceded the stoppage. Like I said, it’s an exploitable story that can be backed up by pulling a few seconds from a video from five years ago from another sport.

In a sport where entertainment is often more important to the promotion than merit, this is the type of matchup that can get made. Does it matter that five other fighters are ranked higher than Pereira right now? Does it matter that he has not been tested against a fighter who will employ a true “mixed” martial arts approach to a fight? No and no.

The storyline is more important than the facts when it comes to Adesanya vs. Pereira fighting for the UFC, but these are the fights that happen when the only thing that holds the UFC accountable is the UFC itself.