Coach: Michel Pereira not just an ‘attraction’ but ‘destined to win’ UFC belt

Michel Pereira battles Niko Price in the preliminary portion of UFC 264 on July 10. | Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

MMA conditioning coach Rafael Alejarra has a message for those who see Michel Pereira as nothing more than an attraction to entertain fans in the UFC.

“He’s not just an attraction, he’s destined to win the belt,” Alejarra said in an interview with MMA Fighting. “His fight with Khaos Williams proves that. There was no showboating, nothing. It was a serious fight. We knew how important that fight was, the dangers that the opponent presented. In our opinion, [Williams] fought waiting for one shot, so Michel fought differently, more seriously. I think Michel knows which opponents he can do what he likes but knows when to take a step back and not take risks.”

Pereira, who returns to the octagon against Niko Price at UFC 264, was signed by the promotion in 2019 after going viral online with stoppage wins in South Korea, throwing backflips and somersaults mid-fight. He delivered the same spectacle in his octagon debut win over Danny Roberts. Consecutive defeats to Tristan Connelly and Diego Sanchez, however, had some wondering if the Brazilian welterweight could really become a serious player in the UFC.

For Alejarra, the sky’s the limit for “Demolidor” following 2020 wins over Zelim Imadaev and Khaos Williams.

“[Pereira] is versatile,” he said. “He knows when he can or can’t do it, but Michel is a serious candidate for the title. We’re coming. We’ll get there with time. I hope his next fight after this one is against a top-15, and then he’ll start getting the top contenders. Michel is ready to test himself against whoever comes.”

In Price, Pereira faces a UFC fan-favorite with a long list of entertaining bouts since joining the company in 2016. Price has stopped the likes of James Vick, Tim Means, Randy Brown and Alan Jouban.

Is he the type of fighter that Pereira can go back to his traditional showboating?

“We respect him, we know he’s also trying to grow in the organization and we must be careful with him, but I can’t answer that question,” Alejarra said. “Michel will be in there and will feel it. But we know it’s a good fight for Michel. Not taking anything away from Niko Price. Quite the opposite, he’s a great athlete, and it will probably be the fight of the night.”

Pereira is now living in Las Vegas and training at Alejarra’s new gym Overcome Academy, and the coach sees him in a “new phase” that will ultimately lead to the welterweight gold.

“I think that moving here changed his head,” Alejarra said. “He got out of his comfort zone. He’s here by himself. No family, new friends, so he focuses more. He was living the life in Brazil. He’s living the fight here, basically. That makes the difference in the end.”

Alejarra made Las Vegas his home for years in the past as the coach of Wanderlei Silva’s gym during his final UFC days. The experienced conditioning coach, who has worked with the likes of Demian Maia, Junior dos Santos and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, now focuses on the “new generation” of the sport, training Pereira and Manel Kape, among others, also reuniting with Bellator champion Cris Cyborg.

“I was away for a while, but I’m back to working with MMA now, moving back to the United States, back in the market,” Alejarra said, “and I’m helping the new generation make their way to the top.”

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