Alex Pereira at heavyweight? Not now, thanks

Alex Pereira at heavyweight? Not now, thanks

Alex Pereira continues to chase bigger and better goals, but is he getting ahead of himself?

The incumbent UFC Light Heavyweight Champion made quick work of Jamahal Hill last Saturday, stopping him in the first round. After the fight, he threw out the ambitious idea of not only fighting as soon as next month in Brazil but doing so up at heavyweight.

Let’s ignore the highly unlikely scenario of him appearing at UFC 301 and discuss the much more possible division move for the champ. Pereira at heavyweight doesn’t seem like a bad idea, and there are certainly interesting matchups in the weight class for him. This includes a fight against interim champ Tom Aspinall, which has even been teased by the heavyweight titleholder on social media. But the question should be asked: Is now the right time for Alex Pereira to chase another belt? Here are a few reasons why it might be best for the champ to keep defending his belt.

The Case For Alex Pereira To Stay At Light Heavyweight

Alex Pereira unlikely to fight at UFC 301 next month after suffering second broken toe against Jamahal Hill
Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas – USA TODAY Sports

The first reason is simple: Alex Pereira has the chance to become the next face of the light heavyweight division and to dominate it in a way that hasn’t been seen for a while.

For the past few years, light heavyweight has been without a consistent face of the division. After long-time light heavyweight king Jon Jones—who ran rough shot for the better part of a decade—left for heavyweight in 2020, it was hard to tell what would happen next.

Poland’s Jan Blachowicz looked to be someone who could have a run, but his time with the belt wasn’t substantial. After defending it once, beating middleweight champ Israel Adesanya who made the jump up 20 pounds for a fight, he lost the title to Glover Teixeira in an upset result.

Teixeira immediately dropped the title to Jiri Prochazka. An injury made Prochazka then also lose the belt. Blachowicz and Magomed Ankalaev fought for a vacant belt, but it ended in a draw. Jamahal Hill beat Teixeira for the vacant title, then also had to relinquish the championship after suffering an injury.

Safe to say, light heavyweight was a mess for years. But since late 2023, it has looked like the class might be settling in with a new star in Alex Pereira.

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Fresh off his dramatic two-fight series against long-time rival Israel Adesanya at middleweight, Alex Pereira made the move up to light heavyweight. Considering how thin Alex Pereira had to become to make the 185-pound limit before, there was no worry about how he would look up a class. He fit like a glove instantly, beating Blachowicz to earn a title shot in 2023.

Pereira captured his second-ever UFC title last November, stopping Prochazka in a fight for the vacant title. This didn’t prove too much about a long-time star staying on top of the division yet: We have seen so many become champs but have only witnessed one actually defend their title since Jones.

Fast forward to last weekend, Alex Pereira made the first big step toward cementing a long-term legacy at 205 pounds: He cleaned the clock of Hill, sleeping him in just over three minutes to win in the main event of UFC 300. The victory was his third time beating a former champ in the division and was his fourth UFC title fight.

But the win was just that: A first step. There’s so much more that Alex Pereira has to do at light heavyweight before going into legacy discussions. How many more times can he defend his belt? How can he do in the weight class against fighters that can challenge him more with grappling or wrestling?

Light heavyweight was the division of one top star for a long time. But when looking at the past few years, it’s clear that nobody has been able to fill Jones’ shoes. Can Alex Pereira change that? Absolutely. In fact, based on the performances we have seen so far, it looks like he has the talent to stay on top of the class for quite some time. But here’s the thing: That legacy hasn’t been fully built yet. As much as Alex Pereira has the potential to be something bigger, that doesn’t matter until he has actually gone out and done the work.

Light heavyweight has gone through turmoil for years, with the title picture being a revolving door. After burning through so many names at the top, it would be entertaining to see if Pereira can break that pattern and stay on top for a longer period of time. Personally, that is a much more intriguing storyline than pursuing fights elsewhere.

You might be asking: Well, can’t he achieve those goals at light heavyweight and chase a career at heavyweight? Sure, that’s of course possible. However, it just seems too unlikely. Jumping between divisions would mean it would take longer to build up his resume at 205 pounds, as opposed to simply fighting just in one division. And remember, Alex Pereira is 36. He’s not past his prime by any measure, but he’s the oldest current champion and won’t be getting any younger.

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When you think about how much Jones’ run appealed to the public and how his time as champ made the light heavyweight division one of the most popular in the UFC, there’s also a marketing opportunity here. If Alex Pereira can focus on the division he’s currently in and try to become the next man to actually have dominance, popularity will follow. But it’s much harder to achieve that level of success when you’re also heading up a weight class and working on side projects. Sure, getting another belt would be big as well. But becoming a top name in a division that has lacked consistency for years would be just as big.

The Logistics Of A Double Champ

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Mandatory Credit: Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

An important factor to remember with top fighters switching between divisions is that they hold up weight classes. Let’s look over at KSW, where arguably the best two-division champion in MMA exists. Salahdine Parnasse, a titleholder at featherweight and lightweight, has fought between two divisions for a couple of years. Because of the time that it takes to rest in between title fights, coupled with the fact that he can only accommodate one division at a time, KSW has had to put together many interim title bouts over the past couple of years. Even in a case like Parnasse, the top of the standings gets clogged.

If the light heavyweight division was moving slowly at the moment and there was time for Alex Pereira to try something else, it would make sense. But we’re simply not in that situation at the moment.

Second-ranked Magomed Ankalaev is in great positioning for another shot at the belt, coming off a dominant finish win over Johnny Walker last January. And riding the momentum of his win against Aleksandar Rakic on Saturday, Prochazka has the case to eventually get another chance as well. There are other names rising up the rankings that, in a year or so, could be solid names to challenge Alex Pereira.

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If Alex Pereira hopes to maintain champion status at light heavyweight, it feels right to say he should establish his run a little more before looking outside his division. When there are worthy contenders who are ready for that fight, there’s no real reason to ship your champion out to another class. Once he can truly clean out the class—something he will certainly do if he can keep putting on performances as dominant as last weekend’s—a discussion about a trip up to heavyweight should be had.

The Truth: Being Double Champ Ain’t Easy

Conor McGregor
NEW YORK, NY – NOVEMBER 12: UFC lightweight and featherweight champion Conor McGregor of Ireland celebrates after defeating Eddie Alvarez in their UFC lightweight championship fight during the UFC 205 event at Madison Square Garden on November 12, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

The past decade has shown that it’s incredibly hard for a double-champ to sustain success in the UFC. Through the five times that a fighter has become a two-division champion, just one reign saw a talent defend either of their belts more than one time, and that was Amanda Nunes. Brazilian standout Nunes, however, is an oddity. She competed at bantamweight and featherweight, a pair of divisions that have few fighters. Featherweight, in fact, basically died out after she retired last summer.

The most notorious double-champ, Conor McGregor, never defended either of his belts during his time as double champ. Daniel Cormier and Henry Cejudo won just one fight after entering double champ status (However it’s worth noting that Cejudo relinquished one of his belts to focus on a single division).

This is clearly a small sample size, so it isn’t any case-closing argument. However, it poses this question: If becoming a double champ is an accomplishment so rare that it has only happened a few times in the UFC’s three decades of existence, shouldn’t the opportunities only realistically be given to those who surpass their peers by a wide margin? A two-division title opportunity shouldn’t be given to any champ with just one win in his class, but instead, someone who has shown a level of consistency at the top.

None of this is to take away from the stellar work that Alex Pereira has put on. He’s an incredibly accomplished champion who showed Saturday that he deserved to be in the main event spot at UFC 300. To say that he can do big things outside of his current weight class someday is not unrealistic. However, it’s not a discussion that should be entertained just yet. Let’s see more magic from “Poatan” at light heavyweight, then maybe come back to this conversation.