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Israel Adesanya and Alex Pereira's history colors UFC 281 headliner

The trilogy shifts to Madison Square Garden inside the octagon, where there's a clear advantage.
israel-adesanya

Israel Adesanya has only been knocked out once in his combat sports career. The man who achieves that feat, Alex Pereira, is Adesanya's opponent this Saturday in the main event of UFC 281.

Pereira (6-1 MMA, 3-0 UFC) owns two kickboxing victories against Adesanya (23-1 MMA, 12-1 UFC), but the one that is receiving the most attention is his knockout victory in March 2017. Despite keeping Pereira on the back foot, Adesanya ate a walk-off left hook that night. A half-decade later, with Adesanya running through the middleweight division, that KO is the reason for this title bout. 

Pereira has only seven MMA fights. Without his history with Adesanya, Pereira would not be challenging for the middleweight title this Saturday at Madison Square Garden. Their history plays a central role in this matchup, and Pereira and his team seem to relish in reminding Adesanya about what unfolded in their second fight.

"It's giving Costa vibes in the lead-up to this fight," says Adesanya, who defeated Paulo Costa by TKO two years ago, making Costa regret issuing statements full of bravado prior to the fight. "Maybe they're trying to get in my head, but I'm not even reacting.

"I don't mind. He beat me, so he has bragging rights. That was his time, this is mine. I'll respond, with violence, on November 12."

There are plenty of reasons to believe Adesanya will be victorious Saturday. Pereira is considerably less tested in the octagon, a realm where Adesanya has dominated – and remains undefeated as a middleweight. Adesanya possesses more ways to win. Though it would represent an unorthodox route for him, an effective way to avoid Pereira's dangerous left hook would be for Adesanya to control this bout with his grappling.

"Grappling really isn't my thing," Adesanya says. "I like striking. But if that opportunity presents itself, then why not?"

Adesanya has bulked up his frame over the past three months, which further supports the idea that he will be looking to grapple Saturday.

"I know I'm stronger, and I'm bigger now, too," Adesanya says. "I have a new strength and conditioning coach, and this is the best I've felt physically in a long time."

A chance to fight Pereira comes with an overwhelming number of positives for Adesanya, primarily benefitting from the extra motivation of a rematch against an opponent that has previously defeated him. Pereira motivates him in a way no other fighter could in the division. His search for redemption has added another component to his preparation.

"I had let this fight go a long time ago," Adesanya says. "I never chased this fight, I wasn't looking for revenge. I just accepted that I was in MMA, and he was in kickboxing. So this a rare opportunity. I won't be able to wipe away the blemishes on my record because those losses are there forever. This is a chance for me to put a blemish on his record and add to his loss column."

Five years after his knockout loss, Adesanya plans to show Pereira how much he has evolved as a mixed martial artist.

"There are levels to this sh-t, and I'm going to remind him of that," Adesanya says. "I know what he does, I know what he's banking on. He throws that right hand to set up the left hook. His knees aren't going to work on me. I'm not going to just stand there and take it. If he throws those, he'll pay for it."

Headlining a card at Madison Square Garden is a long-awaited moment for Adesanya. Yet the goal is not solely to compete at MSG. He plans to win, removing any shred of doubt still remaining that there is anyone on his level of greatness.

"This moment speaks volumes to my career, and it's the culmination of all my hard work," Adesanya says. "I'm going to steal the show and close this chapter."

This story first published at SI.com/MMA.