NEW YORK – (AP) – Alex Pereira has number Israel Adesanya in every fight sport – make it 3-0, and now the Brazilian knockout artist also has his rival’s UFC middleweight championship.
Pereira fought back from a slow start and rocked Adesanya in the fifth round to earn the TKO victory and capture the 185-pound championship in Saturday night’s UFC 281 main event at Madison Square Garden.
Pereira, 35, defeated Adesanya twice – once by KO – in his old kickboxing days, and that propelled the challenger to a title shot after just three UFC fights.
His rapid rise to the title left the Garden crowd freaking out as Pereira tagged Adesanya with a vicious right hand that sent the champion into the cage. Adesanya, the Nigerian-born, New Zealand-raised fighter, slumped against the cage and Pereira went for the final punches but the referee stopped the fight at 2:01 in the fifth.
Tapped at times for his methodical style, 31-year-old Adesanya (23-2), known as “The Last Stylebender,” drew the MSG audience to his side as he smashed Pereira in with a pounding right hand and then a quick left hand the air hit face that ended the first round and staggered the challenger. T
Trying to shrug off the punches, Pereira stood up and motioned for the fans to raise their voices while waiting for the bell to signal the second.
He raised his arms to the crowd again, only in victory.
Adesanya’s loss ended his 12-fight middleweight win streak, just one shy of Anderson Silva’s division record.
Zhang Weili won the 115 belt for the second time and the first Chinese UFC champion made quick work against Carla Esparza when she submitted a rear naked choke at 1:05 of the second round.
Zhang (23-3) patted her championship belt after UFC President Dana White wrapped it around her waist in an octagon. Zhang successfully defended the championship only once during her first championship reign. She beat Jéssica Andrade in 2019, winning a decision against Joanna Jedrzejczyk before suffering back-to-back losses to Rose Namajuna.
Back on the cover, Zhang didn’t disappoint, capping the win with a cartwheel.
Esparza (20-7) was a two-time champion.
Former UFC Lightweight Champion Frankie Edgar lost the last fight of his MMA career when he was dropped by Chris Gutierrez at 2:01am in the first round of their bout. 41-year-old Edgar absorbed a flying knee to the head in a brutal KO loss in the last time in a career that began in 2005. Gutierrez and Edgar hugged long after the spectacular finish in the 135-pound bout calmed another crowd at MSG.
A native of Toms River, New Jersey, Edgar finished his career with 24-11-1 overall and 18-11-1 in the UFC.
Edgar went into the night with a UFC record 7 hours, 55 minutes and 9 seconds total fight time. His 1,799 significant hits was second best and 73 takedowns was fourth on the career list. He held the lightweight championship for almost two years from 2010 to 2012.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is the final fight of his illustrious Hall of Famer career,” Octagon announcer Bruce Buffer roared to a roaring crowd.
The intros to a garden full of A-listers including Sylvester Stallone, Halle Berry, Miles Teller and Mike Tyson were about as long as the fight.
“I have have my family here,” said a dejected Edgar. “That’s all that matters.”
Dustin Poirier knocked out Michael Chandler in the third round of the bloody slugfest, sending the crowd into a frenzy. Poirier hit the rear naked choke to end a frantic match that saw both fighters seemingly on the verge of victory – the Official scorecards even had the fight Entry into the third round – on several occasions. On the second lap, blood flowed from his nose like an open faucet as he mounted Poirier. Poirier complained that he had blood in his eyes and he told the referee that Chandler put fingers in his mouth and pulled his head back.
“He was a little more durable than I thought,” said Poirier. “I figured if I hurt him, I’d put him away.”
A KO couldn’t stop it. Poirier increased his record in UFC to 21-6 with the submission finish, while Chandler fell to 2-3 since the former Bellator lightweight champion joined the UFC in 2020. Poirier became the sixth fighter in UFC history to win at least 21 fights.
The card fell on the 29th anniversary of the first Ultimate Fighting Championship event in Denver and six years after the day of the first UFC card at Madison Square Garden. New York became the last state to legalize mixed martial arts cards, and that opened the door to some of the richest cards in UFC history at both MSG and the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
UFC Hall of Famer Royce Gracie won three fights that night in Denver in a ruleless tournament that was just the beginning for a company that is now a world leader in MMA.
“3 fights in one night, no time limit, no weight distribution, no gloves, no rules,” Gracie posted on Instagram.
A fan favorite, Edgar has witnessed the development of the UFC like any other fighter since debuting with the company in 2007. UFC has one year left on a $1.5 billion, five-year deal with ESPN that seemed as unthinkable in 2007 as it did in 1993.
So you see, Zhang is hugely popular and a key figure in the growing importance of MMA in China, Hollywood stars are in front of the cameras at the biggest events and the company’s attempt to become a billion dollar company has been a hit.
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