Depending upon how closely you have followed the careers of UFC middleweight king Alex Pereira and former champion Israel Adesanya, Saturday's UFC 287 main event in Miami is either an immediate MMA rematch or the fourth fight altogether between the two in combat sports.
Pereira (7-1), who previously owned a pair of kickboxing wins over Adesanya (23-2), scored a massive upset of "The Last Stylebender" in November when he dramatically stopped Adesanya in Round 5 to capture the UFC's 185-pound championship. The pair of middleweights will face off once more inside Kaseya Center.
The co-main event is a hometown special. Miami native Jorge Masvidal is back in action, fighting for the first time in south Florida under the UFC banner, when he takes on top contender Gilbert Burns at welterweight. Masvidal, despite being on a three-fight losing streak in title fights, could end up near a fourth with a win over Burns given that Leon Edwards now holds the title and the two fighters have beef dating back to 2019.
Let's take a closer look at the biggest storylines entering this weekend as the UFC returns to south Florida.
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1. There was nothing lucky about Alex Pereira's UFC 281 win over Israel Adesanya
Now, would Pereira also likely had been stopped if Round 1 of their first MMA meeting had been an additional 10 seconds longer? The likelihood seemed very possible as Adesanya visibly hurt him before the buzzer with a combination of clean shots. Such is the very thin line at the elite level between winning and losing. But even though Adesanya's shocking loss happened just months after former pound-for-pound king Kamaru Usman similarly yielded his UFC title in Round 5 of his rematch with Leon Edwards, there was nothing fluky about how Pereira eventually caught up with Adesanya. And given the detailed history of Pereira doing just that -- not only defeating Adesanya but rallying from behind to do so by knockout -- it feels pretty clear that besting Adesanya has become a pattern for "Poatan." Sure, it's a style matchup that only inflates Pereira's danger on the feet considering Adesanya isn't much of a grappler and has been unable to expose the weakest parts of the Brazilian slugger's game on the ground. Pereira has shown time and again, however, that he simply has Adesanya's number. Despite being down on the scorecards late in their first UFC meeting, Pereira never lost his focus, never gassed out and rarely stopped acting the role of aggressor by crowding Adesanya and never letting him get comfortable. For whatever Pereira lacks in pure MMA experience, he has made up for thus far with violence and by leaning on his strengths as a seasoned warrior who appears uniquely created for such a harrowing profession.
2. Pereira's UFC takeover has been nothing short of remarkable
Can we pause and take stock of how unlikely Pereira's exact path to a UFC title, in just his eighth pro MMA fight and fourth walk to the Octagon, has turned out to be? Despite a decorated career in kickboxing, Pereira's MMA experience is still limited -- at best -- as we speak today. He turned pro in 2015, lost via third-round submission and fought twice more -- both TKO wins -- in 2016 before taking four additional years off while focusing on his first love. Even though he defeated Adesanya in 2016 and 2017 under the Glory of Heroes kickboxing banner, his eventual full-time move to MMA lacked the crossover fanfare of Adesanya's 2018 UFC debut and meteoric two-year journey to the middleweight title. Pereira, who became a two-division champion with Glory just as Adesanya was becoming a household name in the UFC, finally transitioned on a full-time level back to MMA in 2020 with LFA. He had just four pro fights when he entered the Octagon for the first time in November 2021 and parlayed a trio of victories into a meeting with Adesanya that was sped up because of their history. Now, four months shy of his 36th birthday, he's a UFC champion. Becoming an apprentice of Glover Teixeira and moving to the former UFC light heavyweight king's Connecticut gym proved to be an indispensable part of Pereira's rise. But let's not act like the speed and unlikeliness of how quickly Pereira transitioned to the game is reminiscent of even Brock Lesnar.
3. What would a second straight defeat mean to Adesanya's legacy?
It's an interesting question few are talking much about given that so much of the narrative heading into Saturday has surrounded Adesanya's path to redemption. At 33 and 14 fights deep into his remarkable UFC career, no one is questioning whether Adesanya has already established himself as both historically relevant as one of the top pound-for-pound fighters of this era and among the best middleweights in the sport's history. Victories over Anderson Silva, Marvin Vettori (twice), Derek Brunson, Kelvin Gastelum, Robert Whittaker (twice), Yoel Romero, Paulo Costa and Jared Cannonier speak for themselves. But like Usman just experienced, consecutive losses to the same fighter have a way of quickly sobering the upper bound limits of what we once thought was possible for a great fighter's legacy once they have tiptoed so close to securing status as an all-time great. Putting too much emphasis on one or two fights in relation to how a fighter will be remembered is often an in-the-moment response that often balances itself out over time. No one is saying that it's fair to judge so sharply in a sport often flawed by its obsession over any fighter being only truly as good as their last performance. But few can deny how close Adesanya recently toed to outright MMA immortality when he clowned Paulo Costa in 2020 before talking about a possible future as a three-division UFC champion. Adesanya, who was then embroiled in a social media feud with Jon Jones, was even the betting favorite when he moved up to 205 pounds to challenge defending champion Jan Blachowicz the following year. That was two years ago, and to Adesanya's full credit, he bounced back from the decision loss to Blachowicz by defending his middleweight title three more times. But should he lose again to Pereira, the narrative might quickly shift toward the idea of Adesanya having once been a great fighter who couldn't quite reach the upper room because of a heated rival in the same division who consistently had his number.
4. Jorge Masvidal enters his final chance at cutting the welterweight line
Remember that time in 2019 that Masvidal came out of nowhere to snap a 16-month layoff, score a trio of highlight-reel stoppages and stunningly claim both the fighter of the year award and the UFC's mythical "BMF" title? How about the three years that followed as Masvidal fought just once per calendar year, including twice for the title against Usman, only to drop a trio of one-sided defeats on pay-per-view? At 38, Masvidal still brings a puncher's chance and a huge following as a street icon and antihero. He will also be fighting in his own city of Miami as a heavy underdog against veteran Gilbert Burns. Even though UFC president Dana White has already said Colby Covington will draw the next shot at Edwards' 170-pound title, one has to wonder whether Masvidal could cut the line -- especially considering how angry UFC fans are that Covington was chosen ahead of Belal Muhammad -- should he pull the upset against Burns. Remember, Masvidal's catch phrase of "three piece and a soda" went viral in 2019 following a knockout of Darren Till when he attacked Edwards backstage in London. Now that Edwards is champion, Masvidal likely has one final shot at fighting for gold. It's not a great shot, however, mostly because of Burns' savagery and dominant grappling skills. For whatever lightning in a bottle Masvidal captured three years ago, the jury remains out as to whether he still has any of that left over. The larger reality is that age has likely caught up with Masvidal, who is just 7-8 inside the Octagon since 2014.
5. Clear the way for UFC's teenage bantamweight sensation
The UFC has never been shy at rushing a young prospect with a seemingly bright future directly into high-level contention in order to ride the hot hand as far as it will go. It's far from an exact science -- Sage Northcutt and Paige VanZant, anyone? -- yet the cream often does rise to the top, even if a fighter's lack of experience often stunts their longterm growth by losing difficult early fights. Look no further than current middleweights Khamzat Chimaev and Bo Nickal to see how fun it can be for fans to enter each matchup unsure of whether the next big thing is truly ready. Yet so far, bantamweight Raul Rosas Jr. has looked as if he belongs. Rosas was just 17 when he earned a UFC contract in 2022 on the Dana White's "Contender Series" and he won his UFC debut in December via first-round submission. The 18-year-old Rosas will take on 8-1 Christian Rodriguez, a 25-year-old who split his pair of Octagon appearances in 2022. This should give both fans and matchmakers an updated picture of where Rosas is at and how bright his future just might be.
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