Written By Dylan Knostman
The Ultimate Fighting Championship heads to Miami, Florida for the first time since UFC 42 in 2003 where Matt Hughes defended his welterweight title against Sean Sherk in the main event. This time around, 20 years later, we see the second mixed martial arts meeting between Israel Adesanya and the current champion, Adesanya’s boogeyman Alex Pereira for the Middleweight championship of the world. This is the fourth time these two have faced each other, with Pereira victorious in all 3 bouts. In the co-main event, we see the 305’s own Jorge Masvidal take on top ranked welterweight contender fighting out of Brazil, Gilbert Burns, and also action fighters such as Adrian Yanez, Kevin Holland, and 18 year old up-and-comer Raul Rosas Jr. making his pay-per-view debut. This article will break down the top matchups top to bottom throughout the entire event and should prepare any MMA and combat sports fan to fully enjoy this great card coming on Saturday, April 8th, 2023.
In the main event of UFC 287, we will see the fourth total and second MMA meeting between Israel “The Last Stylebender” Adesanya taking on the current champion, and the consuMMAte hunter Alex “Poatan” Pereira. These two fighters have developed one of the most fascinating, one-sided rivalries we have ever seen in combat sports, starting long before both these men’s MMA careers began. Both former Kickboxers, Adensenya and Pereira both had excellent respective careers, with the two times they met ending with “Poatan” getting his hand raised, and in their second meeting handing Adesanya his only loss by knockout in his Kickboxing career. After this loss, “Stylebender” transitioned fully to MMA and went on to win the middleweight title, defend it six times, with his only defeat in MMA coming when he attempted to move up to take the UFC Light Heavyweight belt from then-champion Jan Blachowicz, but failed in the process. During this time as king of the middleweight division in Kickboxing, Pereira had won titles in two divisions for Glory Kickboxing, and transitioned to MMA. After signing with LFA, Periera knocked out his first opponent in brutal fashion and was quickly signed to the UFC. Dominating his first few opponents he earned a ranked opponent in Sean Strickland. Strickland attempted to stand and strike with perhaps the most powerful Kickboxer in the world, and paid the price. Pereira knocked him out with his signature left hook and earned his shot once again to take on Adesanya for the middleweight title. Israel insisted that this time, because they’re now fighting in MMA, the outcome would be different and for the first four rounds of their championship bout it seemed that way, until Pereira came storming out of the gates in round five and put Israel Adesanya away just as he had done before in the Kickboxing ring, raising his record to 3-0 versus one of the most dominant champions the UFC had seen to date. This all sets the stage for the second championship bout between the two, and the technical aspects of this matchup between them may be the most fascinating to date out of their four matchups. Let’s dive into it here, starting with the champion Alex Pereira.
Pereira is a world renowned Kickboxer with otherworldly power in every aspect of striking. He is primarily known for his brutal knees, thunderous kicks, and his absolutely murderous left hook that he can, and will, land on anyone. His nickname “Poatan'' translates to “Hands of Stone”, and watching this man fight will show you why it is so fitting. Training with former UFC Light Heavyweight champion Glover Texeira at his gym in Connecticut, he has been working hard to catch his grappling and wrestling skills up to his striking prowess and acumen. This is important as many people expect Adesanya to come out looking to primarily grapple in this fight as he has had such little success in terms of victory on the feet. Periera’s power is simply so terrifying that Adesanya knows at this point in his career he cannot trade shots, therefore it’s gonna be very important to see how Poatan’s ground game has developed even since their last meeting. In rounds 3 and 4 Adesanya used a great deal of grappling and wrestling to nullify Pereira’s offense but the issue with this approach is the power is simply so devastating with Pereira that it simply takes one shot and the fight could be over. I believe that Glover Texeira is a great coach and they have been working hard on takedown defense and get-ups, and will look to stay on the feet and do what they’ve done before and knock Adesanya out when the opportunity presents itself.
On the other side of this matchup, Israel Adesanya will once again look to right the wrongs he has suffered in his career versus Alex Pereira. Coming off his first loss as the Middleweight champion, Israel will look to climb the mountain once more, this time at 34 years old and coming off less than stellar performances in his last three fights. Formerly one of the more flashy and electric Kickboxers we have seen, Adesanya has evolved much more into a point fighting, low risk style fighter, oftentimes kicking the legs and managing distance as opposed to going for the highlight knockout like he used to. Still an extremely high level mixed martial artist, that is what he is going to have to do in this fight is mix the martial arts to get the victory. It’s clear he cannot simply Kickbox with Periera, therefore he must find a way to use wrestling, clinchwork, striking, and even some Jiu Jitsu to get the much needed victory in this fight. This could be asking a lot of Adesanya as he is nearing the end of his prime, and the mental aspect of dealing with such an intimidating opponent who has beaten you three times now is a tall task. Adesanya may honestly be looking for a submission in this fight, and I expect him to wrestle heavy and often much to the chagrin of many of the fans, as this may be his only path back to holding the belt again.
We say hello to a familiar face once again as Jorge Masvidal makes his appearance back in the octagon following his legal troubles with fellow welterweight contender Colby Covington. He takes on the #2 welterweight in the UFC, Gilbert Burns, who is looking to further cement his bid for a title shot in a crowded 170-pound division. Masvidal’s decline has been anything but graceful over the last few years, embroiled in drama, right-wing politics, legal issues, and poor performances inside the octagon. Outside of his highlight flying knee knockout over Ben Askren in 2019, he does not have much success to show for, unless you count getting demolished in title fights versus Kamaru Usman as success. Gilbert, on the other hand, has been fighting top contenders such as Neil Magny and losing a close, but incredible fight to top talent Khamzat Chimaev at UFC 273 last year. This fight feels to me like a last chance for Masvidal to get back into real contention or be sent to the pasture, as he is already getting more involved as a promoter and other ventures outside of fighting, while Gilbert Burns is a fighter in his prime looking to put another known name on his list of wins.
Masvidal is one of the prime examples a tough anti-wrestler who uses good long striking on the feet and great get-ups such as the American Top Team Wall Walk technique, which has been popularized across all of MMA over recent years. As he’s aged, “Gamebred” has become more and more content with sitting on his back foot, attempting to counter strike with straights and jabs, and ends up getting controlled or simply outworked. His path to victory will be landing a sharp shot on Gilbert, but with his condition as of late I don’t see it happening that way. Burns on the other hand is an extremely talented fighter, who uses outstanding wrestling and Jiu Jitsu to take out many of his opponents. His work from half guard and ability to pass is tremendous, and was evidenced in his latest victory with the arm triangle submission vs Neil Magny. “Durinho” is also incredibly active off of his back, both with submissions and get ups which is not always seen with traditional BJJ practitioners. Not just a talented grappler, Burns has strong power and good hands so look for him to use his grappling to set up his strikes, and bully Masvidal against the cage with a variety of techniques. The only issue I see with Gilbert Burns going into this fight is he has shown the tendency to be a little bit vulnerable to straight punches, even jabs, so he needs to keep his head off the center line and keep Masvidal guessing at what’s coming next.
In the third fight of the main card we have a bantamweight banger between Texas native Adrian Yanez taking on Bostonian Rob Font. Rob Font has been an exciting name in the bantamweight division for a long time now, while Yanez is a streaking prospect looking to get his name into the packed bantamweight title picture. This fight should be a technical masterpiece and mostly fought on the feet.
Rob Font has been fighting in the UFC since 2014, holding a promotional record of 9-5. A very good boxer, Font usually uses his hands and his footwork to walk down his opponents and trade heavy shots in the pocket. Font also boasts a strong Muay Thai skill set, doing most of his training at Team Sityodtong in Boston along with Calvin Kattar. Font shows questionable decision making in many of his fights, whether it is repeating the same technique to the point where it costs him, taking his foot off the gas in critical moments, or even his striking defense simply being inadequate for his stand-and-trade style. He is one of the tougher fighters and harder hitters in the bantamweight division, but at 35 years old I believe we have seen the best of Rob Font already. The brutal beating he suffered to Marlon “Chito” Vera last time out begs the question if his chin is fading as well. On the other side of this matchup, Yanez is coming in on an impressive nine-fight winning streak, with his most recent win being an electric knockout over controversial fighter Tony Kelley. Yanez is a tremendous boxer with both speed and power in his hands. He changes levels extremely well, working the body and head equally and it seems everything he throws comes in three, four, and five punch combos. He’s a pressure fighter, always moving forward, and has a penchant for the finish with 12 stoppages in 16 wins. He can be a bit over aggressive at times, so for him to have success against someone like Font, he’ll need to take his time, pick his big shots and keep consistent pressure, but Yanez has the tools to get a massive win at UFC 287.
Fan favorite Kevin Holland returns to the octagon to take on veteran powerhouse Santiago Ponzinibbio. Holland is coming into this fight on a two-fight losing streak, most recently a 4th round corner stoppage loss to Stephen Thompson and before that the debacle that was UFC 279, where he lost to Khamzat Chimaev via first round submission. After the Chimaev fight, Holland claimed retirement from the sport, as he did not want to wrestle anymore. The UFC gave him the Thompson fight as a complete opposite to the wrestling style, and while it was a great fight Holland did fall short. The UFC has given him another striker in this match as he faces “The Argentine Dagger”.
Santiago Ponzinibbio is a longtime staple in the welterweight division, competing since 2013 and notching wins over the likes of Sean Strickland, Gunnar Nelson, and most recently an incredible comeback victory versus Alex Morono. Representing Argentina, Ponzinibbio is in the twilight of his career, but has been one of the pioneers of MMA for his country and looks to end his career with a couple of wins. There is a very real possibility we could see Santiago retire after this fight, so let’s enjoy him while we have him.
Kevin Holland is a very creative striker on the feet. Standing at 6’3 and a former middleweight, he’s huge for the division and uses every bit of his reach with king kicks, straight punches, and is not afraid to enter the clinch with sharp elbows. An all-action fighter, he’s got a strong fan base and despite suffering two straight losses, he is a staple in terms of exciting names in the welterweight division. He will need to stay on his horse and counter strike well, as Ponzinibbio can spark anyone with a well timed overhand. Santiago has certainly lost a step, but power is the last to go and his chin is still in good shape. Ponzinibbio will most likely hunt for the knockout here, and if you look at his last victory versus Morono he was losing most of the bout until he cracked him with an overhand in the third round and got the stoppage. This fight will have action throughout, and if Holland can avoid the explosive punches of “The Argentine Dagger”, he should easily blaze his trail to the victory.
The opening fight of the pay-per-view has 18-year old MMA phenom Raul Rosas Jr. taking on upstart bantamweight Christian “CeeRod” Rodriguez. Rosas is entering his second UFC fight after dismantling Jay Perrin in his debut, and he looks to keep the momentum rolling, but CeeRod is a significant step up in competition. After a war at featherweight with Johnathan Pearce, Rodriguez returned to bantamweight and made quick work of Joshua Weems in his last fight and is hoping to set back the hype on the youngest fighter in UFC history.
Rosas is a Jiu Jitsu ace, with five of his seven victories coming by way of submission. Decent on the feet, he is game to strike but most everything he throws is to set up his clean double leg or get to a body lock. Once the fight is on the ground, he is extremely gifted in his awareness and possesses human backpack qualities once he takes the back. Although eighteen is extremely young to be fighting against the most skilled fighters in the world, thus far his skillset has justified the level he is fighting at. He will look to grapple his way to victory here, most likely with many submission attempts from various strange positions. Grappling will not be easy against Christian Rodriguez, an outstanding grappler, who won via anaconda choke in his last fight, and has four submissions total out of his eight wins. He is also game on the feet, previously training out of Roufusport MMA in Milwaukee, although he can be a little wide and loopy with his punches. When he lands he lands with force, as evident with three of his eight wins coming by knockout. Prospects like Rodriguez are often hard to analyze from fight to fight as he has shown such leaps in development, it’s difficult to say what he’ll look like after his last bout. Despite the hype around Rosas, I believe Rodriguez will be able to win this fight, or at the very least give Rosas the toughest test of his mixed martial arts career.
As the featured prelim of the evening, former middleweight title challenger Kelvin Gastelum makes his long awaited return to the octagon. After multiple cancellations over the last 6 months, Gastelum is scheduled to face Chris “Action Man” Curtis, a veteran of the sport who has seen a significant late career resurgence in the UFC. 4-1 over his last five, Curtis is an excellent boxer who also possesses some of the best takedown defense in the UFC, and according to UFCstats.com he has never been taken down in the promotion. Gastelum is a former wrestler who loves to mix his takedowns to create a wild, brawling style and has shown incredible toughness throughout his career, giving Israel Adesanya and Robert Whittaker one of the toughest fights of their respective careers. Unfortunately for Gastelum, his skill set plays perfectly into what Curtis will look to do, which is to use crisp boxing, counters and defense to frustrate Kelvin into making a mistake, and end the fight similar to how he ended Joaquin Buckley’s night in his last fight. For Gastelum, he has not fought since 2021 where he was outclassed by Jared Cannonier, so after nearly two years off Kelvin desperately needs to find his old form, beat up Curtis, and look for either a knockout or decision, but this is a very difficult first fight back.
In this middleweight contest, we will see longtime veteran of the sport Gerald Meerschaert take on up-and-coming finisher Joe Pyfer. Meerschaert is entering this fight with 50 professional fights, and at 35 years old he’s here to prove he can still hang with the young guns. A consuMMAte grappler, he will consistently take both his opponents and himself into the deep waters in the later rounds, and often manages to find a guillotine choke or other submission when he seems all but exhausted and out of the fight. He is tremendous off of his back for the division, but relatively slow and somewhat sloppy on the feet, his path to victory in this fight will be wearing Pyfer down and submitting him late. This is a style that is hard to continue as your body wears down with age, and it’s no easier with an explosive fighter like “Bodybagz” across the octagon. Pyfer, one of the more notable Dana White’s Contender Series alumni of the last few years, is coming into this fight after knocking out Ozzy Diaz on DWCS to earn a contract and absolutely starching Alen Amedovksi in his official UFC debut. Training out of Renzo Gracie Philly with the likes of Sean Brady, Andre Petroski, and many other UFC killers he is surrounded by an outstanding training camp both with striking and grappling. Tall and long on the feet and able to establish top pressure of the fight goes to the ground, look for Pyfer to get after it early with big right hands and give Meerschaert the Khamzat Chimaev treatment in his PPV event debut.
In the opening bout of the evening, top strawweight prospect Jaqueline Amorim will make her UFC debut against Sam “Sampage” Hughes. Amorim is an electric prospect with 6 wins, all by first round stoppage and is recently coming off her second defense of the LFA Strawweight title. A multiple time world champion in Jiu Jitsu, Amorim is dangerous wherever the fight takes place, but look for her to get the fight to the ground and utilize her excellent grappling game to get the finish. Sam Hughes has had a mixed UFC run, with a promotional record of 2-4. A decent wrestler, Hughes is not particularly flashy or specialized in any one area, but she is tough and showcased her strength and resolve in her third round ground n pound finish of Elise Reed in her last fight. She will have her hands full against Amorim, and unless Amorim is highly overrated as a prospect I do not see much of a path to victory for Hughes here, outside of nullifying Amorim’s offense and grinding her way to a decision.