Sport

Alex Pereira ends Israel Adesanya’s title reign with comeback TKO at UFC 281



Pereira, 35, had made an ominous entrance at Madison Square Garden, his arrival in the Octagon carrying an air of foreboding, but the charismatic Adesanya sought to seize the moment as he followed suit with a ring walk paying homage to the Saw horror-film franchise.

Adesanya’s grasp on the occasion seemed to tighten over the following 20 minutes, as he got the better of the striking exchanges in Round 1 and even briefly snatched Pereira’s consciousness from him with a right cross and left hook on the buzzer.

Pereira was able to stay standing and regain his senses, and he arguably edged a competitive second round, before Adesanya answered one of the key questions around the fight in the ensuing two rounds. The 33-year-old outgrappled “Poatan” in the clinch and on the canvas to pull ahead on the scorecards, with a sixth straight successful title defence minutes away at that point.

Adesanya displayed superior grappling skills as he pulled ahead on the scorecards

Pereira’s cornermen were clear in their messaging, however: “You need to knock him out.”

At once, the 35-year-old pressured Adesanya, backing him up to the fence as he had done at every prior opportunity, and this time the Brazilian was able to connect with meaningful strikes. Uppercuts and left hooks slid through Adesanya’s guard and scattered the champion’s wits.

Referee Marc Goddard stepped in to save Adesanya, signalling just the second defeat of “Stylebender”’s MMA career – his only previous loss having come in a light heavyweight title shot against Jan Blachowicz last year.

Meanwhile, the result saw Pereira ascend to the sport’s summit in just his eighth bout, with six of his seven wins having come via knockout/TKO.

Pereira leaves Madison Square Garden as the new UFC middleweight champion

In the co-main event, Zhang Weili became a two-time women’s strawweight champion by submitting Carla Esparza in the second round, after Dustin Poirier similarly beat Michael Chandler via rear naked choke in the third round of their lightweight clash.

Meanwhile, former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar fought for the final time, suffering a devastating first-round knockout loss to Chris Gutierrez, who won with a jumping knee.

Full UFC 281 results

Main card

Alex Pereira def. Israel Adesanya via fifth-round TKO (punches, 2:01)

Zhang Weili def. Carla Esparza via second-round submission (rear naked choke, 1:05)

Dustin Poirier def. Michael Chandler via third-round submission (rear naked choke, 2:00)

Chris Gutierrez def. Frankie Edgar via first-round knockout (jumping knee, 2:01)

Dan Hooker def. Claudio Puelles via second-round TKO (body kick, 4:06)

Zhang Weili (top) regained the strawweight title by submitting Carla Esparza

Prelims

Renato Moicano def. Brad Riddell via first-round submission (rear naked choke, 3:20)

Ryan Spann def. Dominick Reyes via first-round knockout (punch, 1:20)

Erin Blanchfield def. Molly McCann via first-round submission (Kimura, 3:37)

Andre Petroski def. Wellington Turman via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)

Early prelims

Dustin Poirier (left) won a thrilling bout with Michael Chandler

Matt Frevola def. Ottman Azaitar via first-round knockout (2:30)

Karolina Kowalkiewicz def. Silvana Gomez Juarez via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)

Michael Trizano def. Seung Woo Choi via first-round knockout (4:51)

Recommended



Montel Jackson def. Julio Arce via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)

Carlos Ulberg def. Nicolae Negumereanu via first-round knockout (3:44)

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