UFC Middleweight Champion Alex Pereira has looked back on the darker times of his life, which saw him battle an intense addiction prior to finding global success in combat sports.
Currently, Pereira is on top of the world. While he reached that peak in his previous sport, achieving two-division champion status under the GLORY Kickboxing banner, the Brazilian has now conquered mixed martial arts having swapped the ring for the cage a few years back.
In quick time, “Poatan” has gone from a relative newcomer in MMA to the reigning 185-pound king on the sport’s biggest stage. He accomplished that feat with a momentous come-from-behind effort at UFC 281, stopping Israel Adesanya in the final round.
But overcoming and fighting through adversity is nothing new to Pereira.
Like many sporting figures, not least in MMA, championship glory brings with it an inspiring success story. For “Poatan,” the middle chapters of his life book show a harrowing tale of a growing addiction forged by a tough upbringing.
During a recent appearance on the Nem Me Viu podcast, hosted by former UFC heavyweight champion Fabrício Werdum, Pereira opened up about his past struggle with alcoholism, an addiction that plagued him through his teenage years and at the start of his kickboxing tenure.
“We weren’t living in a great situation. My dad was a bricklayer, my mother was a housekeeper,” Pereira said. “So I started working early on, in a tyre shop. I was 12 years old, doing a grown man’s job… I got better and better, doing stuff that was really heavy for a 14, 15-year-old boy. So, at this time, I learned good and bad things. I learned how to drink.”
At a youthful age, Pereira came to understand that success and the appearance of it doesn’t tell the full story. Behind it, immense struggles can be taking place.
“(It) really got in my way. At first, I wasn’t drinking daily,” Pereira explained. “Then, I kept working and I learned that this is life. There’s a lot of good people that are struggling. They’re good in their heart but they have some addiction, so they don’t have a nice life… I saw both sides of life. I learned how to work and be a good man. I also learned to drink.”
Pereira Turned To Sport To Battle Growing Addiction
While battling against his addiction, Alex Pereira’s began to focus on sport. After venturing into kickboxing, the São Paulo native quickly became a national champion, winning the Brazilian 85kg championship under K-1 rules at Jungle Fight 37.
In the years that followed, Pereira began to make a name for himself, competing under the banners of WGP Kickboxing and as an amateur at the W.A.K.O World Championships.
But while “Poatan” was beginning to thrill audiences with his striking and power, behind the combat mask, his addiction to alcohol was only growing deeper.
“I didn’t have any control over my addiction. Every time, I drank more and more,” Pereira recalled. “I said to myself, ‘I can quite drinking whenever I want.’ But that’s not how it works. I knew that the sport was going to save my life. I discovered the martial arts, mainly kickboxing. At first, I couldn’t train much and I drank a lot. After a while, I started training a lot and still drinking a lot…. Then, I finally started to train and drink a lot less. But it still wasn’t enough.
“At this time, I was already the national champion in kickboxing. My addiction was pulling my career down. I tried to drink only on weekend, but I couldn’t. It was too hard for me. (I think I was) 27, or something,” Pereira continued. “I just drank everyday, everyday man. I could hardly stay one day off of it. At the worst times, I drank almost one liter of booze a day.”
Pereira Was Fighting More Than Just Opponents
As he was beginning to compete at the highest levels of the sport less than a decade ago, where he went on to engage in a two-fight series against Adesanya under the GLORY banner, the Brazilian was still fighting addiction.
The battle saw him compete against opponents inside the ring and the drinking habit side by side for multiple years. Knowing that he couldn’t reach the success his talent made possible, “Poatan” forced change and overcame the almighty obstacle.
“I started fighting in 2009. I spent four years fighting inside the ring and also fighting my addiction. I couldn’t just quit overnight. It took me four years. But I knew if I didn’t stop, I would be just a nobody,” Pereira continued. “From then on, I never drank again and never did any drugs.”
In the years since, Pereira has reached his full potential, lining his cabinet with gold across two sports and cementing his legacy as one of the few who’ve reached the top in both kickboxing and MMA.
In recent times, a number of fighters have waved the flags for admirable causes, including the likes of Paddy Pimblett and Jared Gordon in terms of men’s mental health. In Alex Pereira, the topic of addiction has a prominent story of recovery.
What do you make Alex Pereira’s inspirational journey from addiction to UFC champion?
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All Quotes Translated by Bala Mist Sports