There’s a certain lore about Madison Square Garden. The greatest athletes tend to step up their game in the World’s Most Famous Arena. Boxers and basketball players staked claims as all-time greats with career-best performances there, and since the sport’s legalization in New York, mixed martial artists followed suit. From Conor McGregor’s dominant win over Eddie Alvarez at UFC 205 earning him double-champ status to 2021’s Fight of the Year between Justin Gaethje and Michael Chandler, Madison Square Garden just adds to the magnitude of sports’ biggest moments.
Alex Pereira has already tallied his fair share of signature moments there, as well. In 2018 as a kickboxer, he earned a first-round knockout over Yousri Belgaroui and defended his Glory middleweight title in their rubber match. Three years later, he would successfully debut as a member of the UFC roster with a flying knee finish against Andreas Michailidis at UFC 268. His signature moment in the Octagon, however, came another year later at UFC 281 when he rallied to finish Israel Adesanya and earn the middleweight title.
As he approaches his third Octagon appearance in Madison Square Garden in as many years, Pereira has his eyes locked on the light heavyweight title, which is up for grabs in his main event bout against Jiří Procházka at UFC 295. The Brazilian striking savant is eager to go 3-for-3 in New York City, but he is also excited to make the short trip down to the city from Danbury, Connecticut, where he trains under the tutelage of former light heavyweight champion Glover Teixeira.
“If I could, I’d stay (in Danbury) and just go for the weigh-ins and then fight the next day,” Pereira told UFC.com. “It’s basically my backyard. It’s a one-and-a-half-hour drive to Madison Square Garden. It’s very important, the fact that there isn’t that stress of traveling for five, six, 10 hours, maybe even more, to be fighting. Everyone knows that’s exhausting. Now, I don’t have to deal with that. I'll spare my energy just for the fight.”
Pereira has turned Danbury into an adopted home. The 36-year-old lives there, teaches classes at Teixeira MMA and recently bought a house with his partner. He isn’t the only Brazilian to make the move north. UFC middleweight Wellington Turman lives and trains in “Hat City,” following in Teixeira’s footsteps.
“Poatan” is also following in Teixeira’s tracks toward Procházka, whom Teixeira fought and ultimately lost his title to via submission at UFC 275 during one of 2022’s best fights. While there’s some first-hand insight Teixeira can impart onto his friend and training partner, Pereira understands Teixeira’s value regardless of the opponent.
“Glover is always guiding and helping me,” Pereira said. “Not just because he already fought Jiri. Even if it was another fighter that Glover hasn't fought, Glover is really experienced and can teach me some techniques and just his whole fighting experience with any type of opponent. I'm really confident about it.”
As far as his thoughts on Teixeira’s loss in Singapore, Pereira believes the grueling nature of Teixeira’s grappling-heavy gameplan wore on the then-41-year-old late into the bout and contributed to the late finish. He credited Procházka’s defensive grappling and energy management, but he knows only so much can be taken from someone’s fight against a different opponent.
Seeing Pereira shoot for a takedown would certainly surprise everyone, and while Pereira says to not count it out as a possibility, he knows playing to his strengths will result in a much different look to the fight.
“We can see that (Jiri is) unpredictable, but I have a lot of kickboxing experience,” he said. “I've already faced this type of opponent and situations like this, so let’s go to another war. I know what to expect. It definitely won’t be easy. I always look at it as the toughest fight. That’s why things have been working. That’s my mindset and it’s been working out.
“Two experienced guys, strong and durable. I'm prepared for this. He won’t be surprising me in there. I’m expecting a tough fight. It's going to be a war, a great fight, and I'm very excited.”
Although he says he sees each upcoming fight as the most important one of his life, Pereira acknowledges the stakes at hand. Beating Procházka puts him in rarefied air. Only eight fighters have earned belts in two weight classes in UFC’s 30-year history, and the usually stone-faced Pereira can’t help but see what that would do to his already decorated legacy, which includes titles in two weight classes under the Glory Kickboxing banner.
“It means a lot to me to win another belt,” he said. “It’s the culmination of the hard work I’ve put in, always giving it my all. Every day, I’m putting in the time and effort. I wake up, come to the gym, do my workout, go back home, then I train again. I have two, three sessions a day. Nothing has been given to me. I work hard for it.”
The blood, the sweat, the sacrifice of moving thousands of miles away from home and all the sacrifices in between culminate at UFC 295. When Pereira makes the second-to-last walk of the night, he’ll feel the fears that come up for any fighter, but he’ll also think, “I’m ready; it’s what I always wanted.” Those concerns bolster his courage as he marches to the Octagon, firing an imaginary arrow and a three-piece combo along the way.
So while the fight is just like any other for Pereira, it also means more than that. The arena is familiar - one which housed some of his best Octagon moments – but the fact that it is Madison Square Garden just means more. The light heavyweight title is just one of many for which he’s fought, but that, and what winning it could mean for his legacy as one of the greatest mixed martial artists, just means more, too.
UFC 295: Procházka vs Pereira took place live from Madison Square Garden in New York City on November 11, 2023. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!