At UFC 293, Strickland authored one of the biggest upsets in MMA history, taking a dominant five-round decision win over Adesanya to claim the UFC middleweight title. It was a shocking outcome, especially given that just over a year prior, Strickland found himself flat on his back, staring up at the lights after facing Pereira at UFC 276. But while the outcome surprised most in the MMA world, Pereira was one of the few who knew it was possible.
“Since this fight was booked, people were asking me what I think about this fight, and I always said from all the guys out there, the one that had the biggest chance was Sean Strickland,” Pereira said on The MMA Hour through his translator. “The way that he fights and putting everything together, he’s a good fighter. From their fight, I saw some stuff that Sean was doing that was working for him. I’m not going to get into details so I don’t help Adesanya in a rematch, but I’m not surprised. Sean did a great job and I was expecting that.”
Following Strickland’s win, talk quickly turned to who his first title defense would come against, with UFC CEO Dana White suggesting that Adesanya deserves an immediate rematch. While that matchup is still far from set in stone, if it does come to pass, Pereira is confident that Strickland can get the job done again.
“Adesanya is a tough guy, but styles make fights,” Pereira said. “Their games don’t click. For Strickland, if Adesanya fights the same way, it’s just going to be a continuation of the first fight. Ten rounds. Rounds 5 to 10, the same way.”
Part of Pereira’s confidence in the new champion comes from the fact that after facing each other, Pereira and Strickland ended up spending some time training together. And now that they’ve struck up a friendship, Pereira says that any thoughts about him dropping back down to 185 pounds are well and truly gone.
“No, no. It’s not in my plans,” Pereira said. “My plan was if Israel Adesanya was still the champion there, maybe win the light heavyweight belt and make a fight with him. But now, no. Sean’s my friend, and also, it’s not a weight cut I’m looking to do. I always made weight, never missed weight or anything like that, but it is a hard weight cut, so right now it’s not in my interest.”
Pereira famously won the middleweight title following his victory over Strickland, knocking out Adesanya at UFC 287. Adesanya reclaimed the belt at UFC 291 in July, sending Pereira up to light heavyweight, where he is set to challenge Jiri Prochazka for the vacant title at UFC 295 on Nov. 11 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.