Israel Adesanya has heard enough about that time Alex Pereira knocked him out.

“Without me he wouldn’t be here,” Adesanya said.

The 2017 knockout has been the constant theme of the past month, as the pair build towards Sunday’s UFC middleweight title fight, with the Brazilian holding the lofty achievement as the only man to stop Adesanya in either kickboxing or mixed martial arts.

Following the third round loss – the result of a devastating left hook – Adesanya left kickboxing to forge his exceptional MMA career.

But when Pereira joined the UFC last year, the trajectory towards Adesanya was a marketing necessity for the organisation, given the champion has seen off all comers for his middleweight throne.

“It was inevitable,” Adesanya said. “It’s like destiny, it’s the arc in the story that I needed, so I accepted it.”

Pereira earned the title shot after knocking out Sean Strickland in the first round – with the same left hook he used to dispose of Adesanya.

On Monday, Pereira told MMA Fighting podcast Trocação Franca that not only has Adesanya been actively avoiding this fight, but that he and his entire team are “mentally shook” by the prospect of entering the octagon against him.

“Right after I got in the UFC he said he would like to fight me maybe after four fights but ‘calm down’,” Pereira said.

“He wanted [to fight me], but only after I did four fights. Why? He had in his mind I could lose to someone and he would say, ‘Is that the guy you want me to fight?’ I never believed that, but some people did. Others realise now he was bluffing. That’s not what he wants.

“Right after it was announced that my next fight would be for the belt against him, he and his whole team said it was a bit unfair that I was fighting for the belt because I just got here, that Adesanya did so many fights and I should do the same.

“Man, I’m just hearing that and taking it as something positive for me. That shows me he pretended he wanted [to fight me] and when I got here, his whole team was against it. That shows all of them, he and his team are mentally shook.”

Adesanya was unaware of those comments when speaking to News Corp Australia on Tuesday, but explained: “After he beat Sean, I kind of already knew I was being set up. He beat the No.5 guy, and I allowed it.

“Without me he wouldn’t be here. I cleared the division, so I pretty much cleared that straight path to me.

“There’s no one else that really makes sense to fight right now, so that’s why we’re in this fight. But I wasn’t going to give him a fight off two fights, with no top 10 guys or anything, hell no.”

As for the simmering backstory, Adesanya said it would help neither man at New York’s Madison Square Garden.

“Motivation, yes, there’s no lack of motivation in this. But ill feelings? No,” Adesanya said.

“I don’t like the guy, I’ll put that on record, we don’t like each other. But I’m not banking on that, that’s not going to help me in the fight at all. Skills is where this is at.

“He can believe what he wants if that helps him.”

Asked what he dislikes about Pereira, Adesanya replied: “His face”.

While Australia’s Robert Whittaker is chasing a trilogy fight against Adesanya, and he’s defeated the rest of the top six ranked fighters in Jared Cannonier, Marvin Vettori, Derek Brunson and Paulo Costa (Pereira is ranked No.4), the New Zealander says he has more to do at middleweight before he permanently moves up to light-heavyweight.

“There’s always someone, so I’ll pick and choose when I’m done, but right now I’m focused on one man,” Adesanya said.

“I haven’t looked past, or even looked at the future past this fight. I’m focused on one man and I’m going to get it done against this guy.”

Originally published as UFC 281: Israel Adesanya says rival Alex Pereira only in title shot because he cleared the path

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