How Alex Pereira Upsets Adesanya at UFC 281 – Video Analysis

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Headlining UFC 281 live from Madison Square Garden in New York City will be a middleweight title fight between former foes, Israel Adesanya and Alex Pereira. This will mark the third fight between the two, who competed twice in GLORY kickboxing, last time back in 2017. On this occasion, it was Saturday’s challenger, Pereira that scored a brutal left-hook knockout. He is still the only person to ever finish The Last Stylebender.

We take a look at how Alex Pereira can yet again defeat Adesanya, this time in MMA and consequently lift the middleweight title.

Alex Pereira’s Keys to Victory at UFC 281

We can predict how this one will play out. Don’t expect clinching, don’t expect wrestling but do expect a high-level chess match on the feet, potentially for 25 hard minutes. Although we saw Francis Ngannou surprise us all in his bout with Ciryl Gane by wrestling, we don’t suggest that Adesanya or Pereira will shoot for a takedown. This analysis will focus on the stand-up game of both men.

Invest in the Left Hook

We know just how capable Pereira is of landing a brutal left-hook knockout. In his first bout with Adesanya, he was able to land ‘that’ left hook that sent his opponent crashing to his back, out cold and unable to answer the count. He set this up by throwing a looping right overhand before coming through with a tight left hook, which arguably caught Adesanya by surprise.

It’s important to note that this isn’t Pereira’s only set-up to the left hook. In his last outing, he knocked out Sean Strickland with his famous left hook. He set this up throughout the first exchanges between the two men. He constantly used his lead left hand to jab Strickland, sometimes to the head but invested heavily in jabs to the mid-level of Strickland, the chest area. This lead Strickland to react to the potential jabs to the chest by slightly dropping his hands.

Pereira lands a jab to the mid section

Pereira lands a jab to the mid section

Note here how Pereira’s jabs to the body come straight, without any looping action and how they have no intention to strike the head of Strickland.

The knockout comes as Strickland drops a hand down in order to parry the potential jab to his mid-section, however, Pereira mixed it up, came over the top of the missed parry and landed on the chin of Strickland. A beautifully set-up shot which got Pereira the win on this occasion. We can see a still of Strickland looking to parry the shot and how big the distance is between his blocking hand and his chin, as well as the full knockout below.

Strickland looks to block the jab Stickland looks to parry instead of blocking

The champion has a tendency to try and lean out of the way of exchanges and holds a lot of power at the very end of his shots. We saw in his knockout of Robert Whittaker in their first fight that Adesanya was able to absorb a shot from Whittaker and avoid the following straight, all in order to land a brutal right hook, followed by his own left hook knockout.

We know that Adesanya is willing to stand and trade in the pocket with his opponents, we saw it against Whittaker and we also saw it against Kelvin Gastelum. In the third round, Adesanya and Gastelum exchanged a series of shots, of which almost all landed. If Adesanya plays that game with Pereira, it’s far riskier but it is something that the Brazillian can capitalise on.

Gastelum’s reach is just 71″, in comparison to the 79″ reach of Pereira. Adesanya has to be careful when exchanging with Pereira because if Pereira lands ‘that‘ left hook on Adesnaya’s chin, it could be an early night for the current champion. He’d be better suited to get his guard up and block Pereira’s attacks and get way out of range, rather than attempt to slide narrowly out of the way of his shots.

Slam the Leg kick, especially when Adesanya is standing in the orthodox stance

In Israel Adesanya’s last fight, we suggested that his opponent, Jared Cannonier should slam the leg kick to hamper the movement of his opponent. He did land 22 of 28 leg kicks, however, they didn’t seem to affect the champion in any way. With that being said, in this one at UFC 281, nothing changes. Alex Pereira has to punish the legs of Adesanya to slow him down, take some of the sting out of his shots and ultimately make his own night slightly easier.

If a fighter is hampered due to leg kicks, they can’t put as much weight on their lead leg to really ‘sit down’ on shots in order to get the most power output. Similarly, the more damage a fighter’s leg has, the less explosivity they will have in order to slide away from shots, something that Adesanya is known for.

Luckily for Pereira, he has a style that lends itself to leg kicking. Of course, he has a history in kickboxing where there is no danger of being taken down, which will more than likely be the case in this upcoming fight also. When throwing leg kicks, he tends to touch opponents, rather than commit to trying to injure his opponents. Not only this, but he also is effective at landing leg strikes and then avoiding counters, again, something that Adesanya is good at. We can see below how, back in his kickboxing days, Pereira lands a leg kick but is then able to get out of danger.

We can also see here how he doesn’t fully commit to a leg kick against Strickland. It gets Strickland thinking about the potential of a low kick, when, in the back of his mind, he knows Pereira has a strong high kick. We also see on the second kick how he gets his guard up to parry the counter from Strickland, which only lands on the forearms of Pereira.

In his kickboxing days, Pereira committed a lot more to leg kicks, arguably due to there being no chance that he would be taken down. It will be a similar situation against the champion on Saturday night, who will be unlikely to look to take him to the ground. Therefore, we can predict that Pereira will look to commit to the leg kick far more at UFC 281. We can see below how, when he faced Yousri Belgaroui in 2017, in Copenhagen that he commits to throwing a heavy leg kick and follows it up with his signature left hook, a combination we could see against Adesanya on Saturday.

It would benefit Pereira to attack Adesanya’s lead leg when he’s stood in the orthodox stance. Although he often switches stances, when he stands in the orthodox stance, he appears to stand heavier on the lead leg. He hand fights a lot and when doing so, he uses his rear hand to play with the hands of his opponents. When doing this, he stands heavy on the lead leg, leaving himself open to a leg kick. Below are examples of this when he faced Cannonier and also how Paulo Costa attacked Adesanya’s leg when in the orthodox stance effectively.

Adesanya's heavy lead leg

Use ‘alternative’ attacks

As a renowned stand-up artist, Pereira’s attacks come from all different angles. In his UFC debut, he scored a phenomenal flying knee knockout, something that he’d also done multiple times in GLORY, especially of note is his knockout at GLORY 65 over Jason Wilnis. After knocking him down with a high kick, he landed a beautiful switch knee to finish things.

We saw a similar knockout in his UFC debut, so it is clearly something that he has in his arsenal of shots and is confident of throwing.

With Adesanya being such a technical kickboxer, it would benefit the Brazillian challenger to throw strikes that he will potentially won’t expect. Aside from the standard kickboxing strikes, muay Thai techniques and boxing attacks, he has to throw alternative strikes. The flying switch knee is something that he could throw, especially when closing the distance.

Elsewhere, we’ve seen him throw spinning attacks regularly, which again, he should look to use against Adesanya. It’s something that Adesanya isn’t used to seeing in front of him. Former opponents of Adesanya have never thrown any spinning attacks against him. Cannonier, Marvin Vettori and Derek Brunson were never going to look to spin against the champ, which is why Pereira should. Below we can see how Pereira throws a spinning attack, but keep an eye on his hips. There is no obvious loading of the hips, he doesn’t make it obvious that he will throw the spinning heel kick, which is important to catch his opponents out.

It would also be a miss not to include the example of when he threw a spinning head kick against Adesanya in their first bout. On this occasion he missed, however, we have to note how he managed to return to his stance instantly, whereas Adesanya, who threw a spinning attack as a reaction went crashing to the canvas. It’s important when throwing a spinning attack against a counter striker that Pereira doesn’t finish out of position and leave himself vulnerable.

Against Adesnaya in their first fight, he also missed on a strike and threw a spinning backfist. Again, although he missed on this occasion, we know that it’s in his arsenal of strikes and, as we assume that Adesanya will look to counter-strike as much as possible, the spinning backfist is a strike which could catch The Last Stylebender on his way in.

Other keys to Victory

  • Counter big off the Adesanya low kick. Against Ertugrul Bayrak, he did just this, which in turn set up a brutal left hook knockout on the bell at the end of the first round.
  • Work his brutal knees to the body if the fight gets in the clinch. Not only is it something he is particularly good at, we’ve never really seen anyone target the body of Adesanya.
  • Try to get in his head during fight week. Use every opportunity to try and get in Adesanya’s head and remind him that he’s 2-0 against the current champion.

Whatever happens in UFC 281’s main event, one thing is for sure… fireworks.

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Frazer Krohn has been with MMASucka for nearly 5 years. He is the host of the MMASucka podcast, which is released every Monday. He's the author of a series of six books about MMA, which were published in 2023.

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