By stopping ex-champ Jiri Prochazka this past Saturday, Pereira picked up his second UFC belt in just his seventh octagon appearance, an unheard-of championship pace.
“It means a lot to me to conquer this after so many years of training and dedication, and it’s also very important for me to be able to show to everybody where I came from, my humble beginnings,” Pereira said via translator at the post-event press conference. “So to get here and achieve this is a big achievement for me.”
Pereira joins a short list of fighters to claim belts in two separate divisions, but he is in a class of his own when it comes to speed.
Given his trajectory, there was a question of whether he might try for a third belt at heavyweight. On that, Pereira acknowledged the fighter’s realest limitation: age.
“Since I’ve been fighting at middleweight, people have been asking me if I’ll fight at heavyweight, and I keep saying the same thing: I have to listen to my body,” he said. “I’m 36 years old now, and I don’t know how far I can still fight. So now, my focus is just this.”
Pereira immediately called for an MMA trilogy with his longtime rival, champion Israel Adesanya. The ex-middleweight champ, on a self-imposed hiatus, poked fun at Pereira’s callout, and UFC CEO Dana White wasn’t eager to green light the idea with recovering ex-champ Jamahal Hill guaranteed a shot at the winner of the vacant title bout.
Hill defeated Pereira’s longtime friend and mentor, Glover Teixeira, to capture the vacant belt earlier this year. But Pereira’s concern was more on Hill’s schedule than anything else.
“I don’t know if he’ll be able to be ready on time or not,” the champ said of Hill. “When it comes to revenge ... nothing personal.”
Not everyone was happy with the way Pereira acquired the second title, finding fault in the UFC 295 main event’s stoppage by Marc Goddard. The veteran ref stepped in after Pereira clipped Prochazka with a pair of hooks and then landed a blitz of elbows to the head, prompting Prochazka to fall back.
Prochazka later defended Goddard on several occasions, while Pereira believed it was a just call.
“I felt he was feeling those punches, and when he got in, [I hit him with] the left hook and a cross, once he dropped on my legs, which was not like getting a takedown, but he actually fell, I started punching, and I could feel he was fading away,” Pereira said. “I think it was a good stoppage. I know his friends and supporters, his people, are maybe going to try to say it was not, but I think it was the correct way.”
Pereira hopes to convince Adesanya to move up to his new weight division for a showdown. If he can’t, he’ll fight whomever the UFC puts in front of him. As far as he’s come, he’s still going fight by fight to measure his own progress.
But with a new UFC belt in front of him, he’s beginning to soak in the dizzying amount of success he’s had as of late.
“In the beginning, I didn’t even know if I could support myself as a fighter, if I could make a living out of that,” Pereira said. “Thanks to a lot of good people around me, they kept me motivated, and I’m here as a champion in two different weight classes.”