Nigerian-born New Zealand kickboxer, Israel Adesanya has lost his middleweight title after a stunning fifth-round knockout by Alex Pereira.
Prior to the main event of UFC 281 at Madison Square Garden in New York on Saturday night, Adesanya was unbeaten at middleweight in mixed martial arts. His sole professional loss came while challenging for light heavyweight gold last year.
Brazil’s Pereira came into the fight with two wins over Adesanya; one a controversial and the other a rally knockout. At UFC 281, he added an MMA win to the head-to-head series with a standing, come-from-behind TKO.
Pereira walked to the cage first to the sound of a traditional indigenous peoples’ song. Madison Square Garden was illuminated in Brazilian green. Then it was Adesanya’s turn. There were no “Undertaker” or samurai outfits, but “Jigsaw” from the SAW movies made an appearance on-screen.
In the final seconds of a competitive Round 1, Adesanya landed a pair of punches that had Pereira hurt on the feet. In Round 2, Pereira bounced back, however, as he continued to pressure Adesanya relentlessly throughout. Pereira scored a late takedown on Adesanya to the audible surprise of the crowd.
In Round 3, the tides switched back to Adesanya, as the fight took an unexpected left turn and became a grappling match. He carried the momentum into Round 4, as he picked apart the oncoming Pereira.
The tides turned in Round 5, however, as Pereira came out with a real sense of urgency. Potentially aware he was likely down three rounds to one, Pereira upped the ante. A checked leg kick knocked Adesanya off balance. Back up, Adesanya regained himself. Moments later, the barrage was back on. Pereira tagged Adesanya with a series of power punches.
Adesanya, with his back against the cage, tried to bob and weave his way out of danger, but referee Marc Goddard saw enough. He waved off the fight as Adesanya ducked and dodged. Initially, in protest, Adesanya didn’t complain further, during the official decision or otherwise.
With the victory, Pereira wins the title in just his eighth professional MMA fight. Prior to UFC 281, Pereira defeated Andreas Michailidis, Bruno Silva, and Sean Strickland. The defeat snaps a six-fight winning streak.
With the defeat, Adesanya loses for the first time at middleweight. His consecutive title defense streak ends at five, having been the champion since 2019.
Watch videos from the fight below…
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