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Last man to beat Alex Pereira in kickboxing says UFC opponents ‘are already defeated before the fight starts’

Artem Vakhitov doesn’t think UFC light heavyweights are confident enough when they enter the octagon to challenge 205-pound champion Alex Pereira, but believes he could be the one to dethrone his old rival down the line.

Vakhitov and Pereira fought twice in kickboxing, with “Poatan” winning a split decision to become undisputed two-division champion in GLORY in 2021, and Vakhitov then avenging the loss with a majority decision eight months later. Pereira walked away from the sport after that, joined the UFC, claimed belts in two weight classes, and became a global star.

Vakhitov officially made his own transition to MMA in 2023. He lost his professional debut after dislocating his elbow just 55 seconds, however the Russian striker rebounded to score back-to-back first-round knockouts in early 2024. Vakhitov dreams of fighting in UFC and getting another crack at Pereira, who recently defended his UFC light heavyweight title with a second-round head kick knockout of Jiri Prochazka at UFC 303.

“MMA was always interesting for me anyway, but obviously I am very motivated by the prospect of getting that trilogy match with Pereira,” Vakhitov told MMA Fighting. “He’s a superstar now and I am happy for him, but when I hear people saying he’s the best striker in the world … well, I think it’s time for MMA fans to learn about me and my team, put it that way.”

Pereira lost only once since joining UFC, falling victim to a highlight-reel knockout at the hands of fellow kickboxing ace Israel Adesanya.

Vakhitov is confident Pereira’s striking isn’t flawless.

“His biggest weakness is that he is all attack, he has no defense,” Vakhitov said. “Because of his lack of defense, he is open to taking a lot of punches to the head if he’s facing a skilled striker. You saw that in his second fight with Adesanya. He got caught because he leaves a lot of openings for people who know what they are doing.

“These other guys haven’t done well against Alex because their striking isn’t at a high enough level. They aren’t confident against him and they think he’s unbeatable, so in their heart they are already defeated before the fight starts. But I have beaten him before in pure striking competition, and I am sure I’ll do it again if we can get our trilogy match in the UFC.”

Vakhitov recently moved to Florida to train at Kill Cliff FC and evolve as a mixed martial artist. He is rounding out his MMA skills every day and hopes to earn a UFC deal soon.

“It needed a striker as good as me but also a team as good as mine, people who can really analyze top-level strikers and find their weak points and the way to beat them,” Vakhitov said. “But I cannot say that I have some secret to beating Alex. If I have any secret, it’s the team at Kuzbass Muay Thai under our head coach Vitaly Miller. He is by far one of the best striking coaches in the world. He analyzes all the opponents to the smallest detail, so I am very well prepared to face them when I step in there.

“We are 1-1 against each other, so the next fight will be the trilogy fight and I think that will be a big fight for fans all over the world. We are both top-level strikers, we are throwing punches, knees and kicks constantly. Watch our two fights in GLORY Kickboxing and then imagine we are in the UFC octagon with small gloves on. And I’ll be very confident for that fight. Alex will be completely analyzed by Vitaly Miller and the Kuzbass team, we will have all his mistakes identified, and I will be fully prepared to take advantage when I step in there.

“Alex and I know each other well,” Vakhitov added. “His team and my team are in good relations and we message each other sometimes, so I am always wishing victory for him when he fights. But when it is my turn to share the octagon with him, it will be time to demonstrate finally who is the best striker. All questions will be answered on that day.”

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