The video went viral and has now been viewed up to 14 million times on the Glory of Heroes YouTube channel. Israel Adesanya is flat on his back, knocked out on March 4, 2017, by a massive left hook from Alex Pereira.
Less than a year later, Adesanya was in the UFC, a full-time mixed martial artist, but so far he hasn’t been fully able to put that vicious KO in his rearview mirror. He has answered questions about it for almost every fight during his UFC run.
He is now the middleweight champion, No. 2 on the UFC’s pound-for-pound list, and one of the most popular fighters in the world. Despite all the success he has had, despite the high profile profile he has built for himself, Adesanya is still largely remembered for that loss.
It wasn’t the first time they met, and it turns out it won’t be the last.
On Saturday at New York’s Madison Square Garden in the main event of UFC 281, Adesanya will be forced to confront his demons as he defends his middleweight title against Pereira.
However, Adesanya may disagree with the phrase “confront his demons.” He, he emphasizes, handled the KO and all the reactions he received for it very well. He knows he’ll be answering the same two questions (“What happened?” and “How do you keep it from happening again?”) repeatedly this week, almost until the bell rings to start the fight.
Then he’ll have to face Pereira and his massive punch hand-to-hand.
However, if you know Adesanya, you know he doesn’t care. He has watched the video more than enough times and has been asked about it to his dismay. A few times leading up to the fight won’t bother him now.
“I’ve seen it, I don’t even know how many times,” Adesanya said. “I have never shied away from it. For years it never really got on my radar, but once I started popping up in the UFC it started popping up again because he posted it. And it’s like, ‘Why are you trying to live off me? You already beat me, but hey, you’re still chasing me because I’m doing a lot better than you.’ But yeah, I’ve seen that so many times, it doesn’t affect me. I’ve seen it.
“And that’s also something that liberates me. In this fight, when he goes out and knocks me out, I’m like, ‘OK, I remember what it was like.’ Many people, their biggest fear is getting knocked out in a big fight. That’s happened to me before, so I’m like, ‘Cool, it’s already happened.’ That liberates me. That frees me enough where it doesn’t hold me, you know what I mean? It doesn’t limit me in that I go out and say, ‘This can’t happen.’ I’m like, ‘No, it can happen, and it happened.’ But I also know what can happen and almost happened, and I’m going to make it happen [Saturday].”
The knockout wasn’t the first time Adesanya and Pereira had met. Almost a year earlier, on April 2, 2016, in Shenzen, China, Adesanya Pereira seemed to knock the ears off, but Pereira somehow got the decision win. Adesanya was stunned, his mouth wide open, when the verdict was read, but he took much of that fight.
He responded excellently and made Pereira pay. He moved and used his brilliant footwork to create openings and hit Pereira with clean shots.
Now, in those two kickboxing fights, they wore 10-ounce boxing gloves. On Saturdays, they wear four-ounce MMA gloves. And while many see that as an advantage for Pereira, it may well be an advantage, Adesanya. Pereira has proven that he can take out Adesanya with the big gloves, which Adesanya couldn’t do to him.
But with the small gloves, Pereira can’t afford to keep taking the clean shots he did in the two kickboxing matches with Adesanya. In their rematch in which he was knocked out, Adesanya hit Pereira so cleanly that the referee jumped in and gave Pereira a permanent eight count (which is not in the MMA rules).
Perhaps fueled by that, despite Pereira’s neat outboxing, Adesanya decided not to go for the finish and paid dearly for it.
“I clearly remember what was bothering me, not staying true to my style, not staying true to who I am, me,” he said. “You look at my other fights in kickboxing, King of the Ring, the heavyweight, when I hurt someone I wait, look for the shot – Boom! – find the shot – Boom! – and they’re gone. I got them But this one, because I had a controversial loss that I should have won, a kickboxing world title, I was younger then, so I was influenced by people’s words, and I was throwing spam at him Throw some uppercuts, but right handed .
“… I should have gone to the body. I should have taken his legs away and then went back to the head, staying true to my style. So that bothered me the most. Not the knockout. The knockout never really bothered me. But what bothered me was that I didn’t stay true to my style.”
He will have a huge cage that will allow him to use his legs and stay away from Pereira’s power. He won’t be able to use the ropes to pull away from shots, so expect him to try and stay away from the cage.
Adesanya believes that the fact that he is clearly a full-fledged MMA fighter, and not so sure if Pereira is, is also an advantage. He almost feels like the UFC put Pereira’s head on a tee to slap him.
“Say it like this: he’s alone [fighting for the title in the UFC] because of me,” said Adesanya. “If it was someone else, if Rob [Whittaker] were still champions, [Pereira] would have had a harder road to get to the leash, and I bet he would have been exposed much faster.
‘But I will expose him. I’ll expose him, yes. He is only here because of me and it was beneficial. Everything was set up for him because it made sense, and I agree it made sense. We don’t want him to lose before he fights me. … I’d rather take it out now, because it’s actually easy. I will say he is a good athlete. I think he’s the kind of guy who learns quickly, so I’d rather take him out now. And then, in that way, I will stain his career.”
And then it would be a blemish apiece.