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When former UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya thinks back on the combined 11 rounds he has competed in opposite current 185-pound king Alex Pereira across the sports of kickboxing and MMA, he has come to one simple conclusion. 

"I know exactly what to do with this guy," Adesanya told UFC's Jon Anik during a pre-taped sitdown that aired this week. "If you watch me when I fight him, I have him every single time until I don't. I know exactly what to do."

The main problem for Adesanya (23-2), however, throughout their six-year professional rivalry has been those three harrowing words … "until I don't." 

Despite his best efforts, the 33-year-old Adesanya is still 0-3 against Pereira (7-1), including two knockout defeats in fights he was ahead on the scorecards. The second of such results came last November at UFC 281 in New York when Pereira, in just his fourth UFC fight and eighth pro MMA contest overall, stopped Adesanya on his feet in Round 5 to dramatically commandeer the title. 

On Saturday, inside Kaseya Center in south Florida, the pair of middleweight strikers will square off once more in the pay-per-view main event of UFC 287. And regardless of whether you deem this as merely an MMA rematch or, instead, a quadrilogy of their combat history against one another, it's a rivalry that history has shown has been dominated by the 35-year-old Pereira. 

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So the question naturally becomes: how much of Adesanya's growing legacy is on the line this weekend when he looks to run back the lone knockout defeat of his remarkable 25-fight run in MMA not that far removed from a time when historical immortality seemed within arm's reach? 

A native of Nigeria who fights out of his adopted home of New Zealand, Adesanya has been purposefully quiet in the build up to UFC 287. But when asked by Anik about his legacy and how much of it might be dependent upon whether he can finally fend off the boogie man who has followed him from around the globe, regardless of sport or promotion, "The Last Stylebender" noticeably perked up.

"I care about my legacy. It's not everything but it's important to me," Adesanya said. "The way I am remembered when I am done is important to me. The way I carry myself is important to me. The way I fight and the way people feel when I fight -- it's important to me but it's not everything. 

"Once this is done, I'm going to ride off into the sunset and do something beautiful. The world is my oyster."

Perspective is often everything in a sport so violent and with so many ways to lose. And while Adesanya's focus upon controlling the narrative largely to maintain his own edge from a mental preparation standpoint is both understandable and strategic, the realities of what's truly at stake -- regardless of whether that's fair -- remain worth investigating. 

On one hand, Adesanya has accomplished more in just five years as a UFC fighter than most do throughout an entire career. Should he never fight again, his 12-2 record inside the Octagon, five title defenses and reputation as possibly the most dynamic striker in the sport's history certainly speak for themselves in terms of his resume as, already, a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer in waiting. As does victories over Derek Brunson, Marvin Vettori (twice), Kelvin Gastelum, Robert Whittaker (twice), Yoel Romero, Paulo Costa and Jared Cannonier. 

Adesanya's middleweight title rise and reign

Jared CannonierJuly 2022Unanimous decision
Robert WhittakerFebruary 2022Unanimous decision

Marvin Vettori

June 2021

Unanimous decision

Paul Costa

September 2020


Yoel Romero

March 2020

Unanimous decision

Robert Whittaker

October 2019

TKO2* (undisputed title)

Kelvin Gastelum

April 2019

Unanimous decision* (interim title)

Anderson SilvaFebruary 2019Unanimous decision

Derek Brunson

November 2018


Marvin Vettori

April 2018

Unanimous decision

Yet it wasn't that long ago when Adesanya appeared as if he was being fitted for a crown much bigger and the idea that fans were watching not just a great champion compete in his physical prime but someone on the short list of the greatest fighters to ever compete in the sport at large. It was just three years ago, in fact, following a demolition of Costa in Abu Dhabi, where fans and critics alike openly wondered whether Adesanya could become the sport's first three-division champion along the way after teases about potential moves up to 205 pounds and even heavyweight. 

To Adesanya's credit, he did make a move in that direction by challenging then-champion Jan Blachowicz for the light heavyweight title in 2021, coming up short in a close decision. And he followed that defeat up with three straight defenses of his 185-crown to cement his status as a perennial threat to the top spot on the pound-for-pound list. 

But unresolved history in life has a way of haunting and repeating itself when it's not clearly dealt with. And just as Adesanya appeared to close in on possible status as the best middleweight in history alongside his idol Silva, Pereira appeared to remind Adesanya of that recurring nightmare that just won't go away.

Should Adesanya exorcise his demons and finally conquer his career rival, he will likely be reinstalled as someone closing in on the larger G.O.A.T. debate. While maintaining a perfect record is always the goal in such an unforgiving sport, many fighters -- including fellow champions like Georges St-Pierre and Amanda Nunes -- have seemed to be buoyed historically by their ability to respond to failing in the face of legitimate adversity by dusting themselves off and righting the wrong.

In that sense, no one has been able to spin defeat into resounding redemption quite like former heavyweight boxing champion Lennox Lewis, who twice lost by knockout only to avenge both by stoppage victories in title rematches. It's a feat that shows resiliency and capitalizes on the public's relatable lust for a comeback story and a second chance. In Lewis' case, it also allowed him the distinction of saying he defeated everyone he faced in his career. 

But what happens if Adesanya loses -- again -- to the one fighter who has had his number at every turn? That's where things get a bit dicey.

When comparing greatness among greats, it can be like splitting hairs. But one thing seemed to happen to UFC legends like BJ Penn, Jose Aldo and even Adesanya's countryman, former welterweight champion Kamaru Usman, after each suffered back-to-back defeats to the same fighter (Frankie Edgar, Max Holloway and Leon Edwards) while still in their prime as defending champion -- it put a ceiling on their legacy.  

If any of the above is true, UFC 287 marks an important turning point in the overall arc of Adesanya's career.

Will he be remembered as a great UFC champion who, like Daniel Cormier before him, simply couldn't get over the hump despite multiple opportunities against his chief antagonizer? Or will Adesanya add to the aura of "The Last Stylebender" by winning the most important chapter of their story to date? 

Adesanya, who enters as the betting favorite on Saturday despite his 0-3 record against Pereira, enters with no shortage of motivation.

"I still feel like the underdog," Adesanya said. "He has bragging rights but I put the pressure on myself because pressure makes diamonds. So I will be shining."

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