The video went viral and now has up to 14 million views on the Glory of Heroes YouTube channel. Israel Adesanya is 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 he has yet to put that vicious KO in his mirror. He has answered questions about it before 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 the success he had, despite the high profile he has built for himself, Adesanya is still largely remembered for this loss.
It wasn’t the first time they met and, as it turns out, it won’t be the last.
On Saturday at Madison Square Garden in New York in the main event of UFC 281, Adesanya will be forced to face his demons when he defends his middleweight title against Pereira.
Adesanya, however, may take issue with the phrase “face his demons”. He has, he insists, dealt with KO and all the backlash he received for it just fine. He knows he’ll be answering the same two questions (“What happened?” and “How do you prevent it from happening again?”) over and over again this week, almost until the bell rings to start the match.
Then he’ll have to deal with Pereira and his massive man-to-man punching power.
If you know Adesanya, though, you’ll know it’s no big deal to him. He has seen the video more than enough times and was asked about it. A few more times in the build-up of the fight are not going to bother him now.
“I’ve seen it, I don’t even know how many times,” Adesanya said. “I never avoided it. For years, it never really came up on my radar, but then once I started showing up in the UFC, it started coming up again because he was posting it. And it’s like, “Why are you trying to live off me?” You already beat me, but yeah, you’re still after me because I’m doing so much better than you.” But yeah, I’ve already seen it so many times, it doesn’t affect me. I saw it.
“And that’s also a thing that frees me. In this fight, if he goes out there and gets knocked out, I’m like, ‘Okay, I remember what it was like.’ A lot of people, their worst fear is getting knocked out in a big fight. That’s already happened to me, so I’m like, “Good, it’s already happened.” This sets me free. That frees me up enough where it doesn’t hold me back, you know what I mean? It doesn’t limit me in a sense that I’m going to go out there and say, “That can’t happen.” I say, “No, it can happen, and it has.” But I also know what can happen and almost did, and I will make it happen [Saturday].”
The knockout was not the first time Adesanya and Pereira met. Almost a year earlier, on April 2, 2016, in Shenzen, China, Adesanya was seen getting pinned by Pereira, but Pereira was somehow awarded the decision victory. Adesanya was stunned, his mouth hanging open, when the verdict was read, but he took a lot from this fight.
He countered brilliantly and made Pereira pay. He moved and used his brilliant footwork to create openings and hit Pereira with clean shots.
Now, in these two kickboxing matches, they were wearing 10 ounce boxing gloves. On Saturday, they’ll be wearing four-ounce MMA gloves. And while many see this as an advantage for Pereira, it may well be an advantage, Adesanya. Pereira has proven that he can knock out Adesanya with the big gloves, something Adesanya couldn’t do to him.
But with the small gloves, Pereira can’t afford to keep landing the clean shots he did in his two kickboxing bouts with Adesanya. In their knockout rematch, Adesanya was hitting Pereira so cleanly that the referee jumped in and gave Pereira a standing eight (which is not in MMA rules).
Perhaps fueled by this, despite having outlasted Pereira, Adesanya decided not to go for the finish and paid dearly.
“I remember clearly what bothered me was that I didn’t stay true to my style, I didn’t stay true to who I am, me,” he said. “You watch my other kickboxing fights, King of the Ring, heavyweight, when I was hurting someone, wait, look for the shot — Boom! — look for the shot — Boom! — and they left. I put them away. But that, because I was coming off a loss that was arguable that I should have won, a world title in kickboxing, I was younger then and I was influenced by people’s words and I just spammed them. He threw some uppercuts, but right hands.
“… I should have gone to the body. I had to remove his legs and then go back to the head, stay true to my style. So this is what bothered me the most. Not the knockout. Knockout never really bothered me. But for me, what bothered me was not staying true to my style.”
He’ll have a huge cage to use his legs with and stay away from Pereira’s power. He won’t be able to use the ropes to get away from shots, so expect him to try to stay away from the cage.
Adesanya believes that the fact that he is clearly an accomplished MMA fighter and not so sure Pereira is, is also an advantage. It almost feels like the UFC has put Pereira’s head in a t-shirt to beat on.
“Put it this way: He is alone [fighting for the title in the UFC] because of me,” Adesanya said. “If it was someone else, if Rob [Whittaker] they were still champions, [Pereira] he would have had a harder road to get to the belt, and I bet he would have been exposed a lot quicker.
“But I will expose him. I will expose him, yes. He is only here because of me and it was favorable. Everything was set up for him because it made sense, and I agree that it made sense. We don’t want him to lose before he can fight me. … I’d rather take him out now, because he’s really easy. I will say he is a good athlete. I think he’s a quick learner, so I’d rather get him out now. And then, in this way, I will cause a blemish in his career.”
And then each would be a blemish.