Ahead of his return to the octagon at UFC Vancouver this weekend, we took a moment to reflect on Michel Pereira’s promotional debut.
Some of the greatest fighters to ever do it didn’t manage to bring half the electricity to proceedings in their own debuts as this relatively unknown 25-year-old from Rio de Janeiro did during his first appearance as a UFC fighter back in May.
And that’s the thing with your maiden outing inside the octagon, it often has very little bearing on the future trajectory of your career.
We’ve seen guys turn in absolutely scorching debuts in the UFC only to hit a fairly solid wall shortly after but for the sake of this argument, what transpires after a debut matters very little.
UFC Rochester was an event that flew under many a radar during its fight-week. Of course, the welterweight clash between Rafael dos Anjos and Kevin Lee was receiving the bulk of the attention but to those in the know, curiosity drew them to one fight, in particular, that sat on the prelims.
Michel Pereira had come to the attention of the MMA community following several viral videos that showed him displaying a complete and utter disregard for the commonly-held foundations of striking and grappling.
Where others would jab, Pereira would showtime kick.
Where some would attempt to cut through a guard clinically, Pereira would somersault over it.
It was almost comical to see in motion and virtually everyone who knew about this guy were in agreement that this incredibly risky but unquestionably entertaining style would not be useful at the top levels.
I had the opportunity to speak to English welterweight Danny Roberts in the leadup to that card – an interview in which he expressed a supreme confidence in his ability to shut down the hype-train.
And that confidence was justified.
Roberts is a very talented fighter and a proven veteran – one who brought eight fights worth of experience with him to the octagon as well as every reason to believe that he would be able to make the difference in skill apparent.
Despite being just 25, Pereira had already fought professionally 31 times, going 22-9 – a record that shows that he is certainly beatable.
At this point, I will point out that the future for this explosive Brazilian doesn’t matter.
If he never gets his hand raised in the UFC again, it doesn’t matter.
No matter what happens next, there is a very credible argument to be made that we witnessed the greatest UFC debut of all-time on that night.
So what makes a good debut?
We’ve seen established fighters making the cross-over from one major promotion to the UFC in the past, bringing with them massive levels of hype, a proven skill-set, and above all else, a major ‘what if’ that will soon be answered.
The most notable examples of this in the recent times have been Marlon Moraes and Ben Askren – two guys who entered the UFC as proven elite-tier talents.
In the same vein as the classic debut that saw Anderson Silva confirm everything that was suspected about his talent against the in-form Chris Leben, seeing these guys perform to the level we expect of them provides validation of sorts and excitement for where they could fit into their divisional title-picture in the future.
But as they say, it’s the shots you don’t see coming that affect you the most.
Michel Pereira entered that octagon and made us and the crowd in attendance in Rochester grasp onto a range of very different opinions in a very short space of time.
As soon as he walked into the arena, he was overcome with emotion to such a great extent that tears began to flood from his eyes – causing him to stop for a moment to attempt to gather himself.
Rough footage of his walkout can be watched below:
👊 Michel Pereira! I loved his energy. I loved his post-fight celebration. I loved the KO. But most of all, I loved how he was so moved on his walk to the octagon. I love that this sport means that much to him. This was his dream. Walkin out was his ship of DREAMS: #UFCRochester pic.twitter.com/J6QJ1wIEFN
— Hey, hey ☺️ (@USAHEYUSA) May 18, 2019
There was almost a nervous feeling in the commentary booth as Paul Felder and co. hinted that this was not going to help him once the cage doors closed.
Emotions can help a fighter in certain situations, for sure but watching this young man cry his way to the octagon was enough to make us feel doubt.
That doubt soon turned to bewilderment as the now seemingly fired-up Pereira started breakdancing he listened to his name being announced for the first time.
Again, Felder wondered out loud if this was the smartest move for the Brazilian while commenting on his sheer size and how that cut down to 170lbs must have been harsh.
Burning stamina like this helps nobody except your opponent.
— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) May 18, 2019
Two massive pre-fight no-no’s and already we were worried.
It’s hard to know exactly what was going through Michel Pereira’s head as the referee called upon him and Danny Roberts to start the fight but after leaving us all in a state of confusion and in some cases annoyance after his extravagant entrance, this young man proceeded to completely blow the roof off of the place.
Jumping off the fence 😮
Frightening KO power 🔥
As far as UFC debuts go… Michel Pereira’s was right up there with the best!
What a showman 🙌 pic.twitter.com/9V1rvr9Q3O
— UFC on BT Sport (@btsportufc) May 19, 2019
Whether we were genuinely getting a peek into Pereira’s mind through this outing or if it was all just a masterful display of misdirection, this was the debut to end all debuts.
Theatre at its absolute finest.
Between the walk to the octagon and the fight’s 107-second run-time, this unknown fighter made us question him intensely before delivering the answer in the most emphatic fashion possible.
It’s hard to know how things will play out for Michel Pereira and his truly eye-catching style from here on out, but for what its worth, he left us all with our jaws on the floor when all was said and done.
Keep your eyes peeled for this guy’s fight on Saturday night, folks!
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena