Alex Pereira has Israel Adesanya’s number in kickboxing, and now the Brazilian knockout artist also has his rival’s UFC middleweight championship.
Pereira fought back out from a slow start and rocked Adesanya in the fifth round to score the TKO win and claim the 185lbs championship in the main event of UFC 281 on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden.
The 35-year-old Pereira defeated Adesanya twice – once by knockout – in their kickboxing days and the wins got the challenger fast-tracked to a title match after just three UFC fights.
“For everybody that said I couldn’t do five rounds, look at what I did just now,” Pereira said after the fight.
Pereira capped his rapid rise to the title in front of a Garden crowd going wild as he tagged Adesanya with a vicious right that sent the champion into the cage and then socked him with a hook. Adesanya, the Nigeria-born, New Zealand-raised fighter, slumped against the cage and Pereira went for the finishing blows but referee Marc Goddard stopped the bout at 2:01 in the fifth.
Knocked at times for his methodical style, the 31-year-old Adesanya (23-2) known as “The Last Stylebender” got the MSG crowd on his side once he clobbered Pereira with a pounding right and then a fast left hand to the face that ended the first round and sent the challenger reeling.
Trying to shake off the beating, Pereira stood and beckoned fans to get louder as he waited for the bell to signal the second. He raised his arms again to the sellout crowd of 20,845, only this time in victory.
Adesanya had been champion since 2019 and his loss snapped his 12-fight win streak at middleweight, only one shy of Anderson Silva’s division record.
Elsewhere on Saturday night, Zhang Weili won the 115-belt for a second time and UFC’s first Chinese champion made quick work against Carla Esparza with a rear naked choke submission at 1:05 of the second round.
Zhang (23-3) only successfully defended the championship once during her first championship reign. She beat Jessica Andrade in 2019 and won a decision against Joanna Jedrzejczyk before she suffered consecutive losses to Rose Namajunas. Back in the title picture, Zhang didn’t disappoint and capped the victory with a cartwheel.
Former UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar lost the final bout of his MMA career when he was dropped by Chris Gutierrez at 2:01 of the first round of their fight. The 41-year-old Edgar absorbed a flying knee to the head for a brutal KO loss in his last time in the cage in a career that started in 2005. Gutierrez and Edgar had a long embrace after the spectacular finish in the 135lbs fight that quieted the crowd.