UFC 281: Alex Pereira knocks out Israel Adesanya in final round to become middleweight champion (2024)

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UFC 281: Alex Pereira knocks out Israel Adesanya in final round to become middleweight champion (1)Image source, Getty Images

By Manvir Rai

BBC Sport at Madison Square Garden

Alex Pereira knocked out Israel Adesanya to become middleweight champion at UFC 281 in New York.

The 35-year-old sensationally stopped Adesanya in the fifth round with a flurry of punches which led to the referee calling a halt to the contest.

The Brazilian secured the title, which Adesanya had held since 2019, in only his fourth fight in the UFC and eighth in mixed martial arts.

"I've trained my whole life for this. I've worked so hard," Pereira said.

In the co-main event, Zhang Weili beat Carla Esparza to become the new strawweight champion.

Weili controlled the tempo of the fight before submitting Esparza in the second round with a rear-naked choke.

Meanwhile, Britain's Molly McCann was comprehensively beaten by Erin Blanchfield in the first round of their flyweight contest.

Pereira comeback stuns Adesanya

Pereira stunned the crowd at Madison Square Garden, leaving it late with victory coming with two minutes to go in the final round.

Adesanya, who was attempting to record six consecutive title defences, was on course to retain his title until Pereira rocked him with a right hand.

Sensing Adesanya was in trouble, Pereira pressed and landed substantial shots which saw referee Marc Goddard step in and wave the bout off.

Nigeria-born Adesanya, who is based in New Zealand, was not happy with the stoppage while Pereira held aloft a '3-0 sign', a nod to his two previous wins over the 33-year-old in kickboxing before the pair joined the UFC.

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The fight was intriguing from the start.

Adesanya rocked Pereira with seconds remaining of the first round, delivering a right hand followed by a left hook but the buzzer saved the Brazilian.

Pereira bounced back in the second, landing heavy shots which left Adesanya scrambling. He was also able to score a takedown in the final moments of the round.

The pendulum swung once again in the third round with Adesanya controlling it from the ground. Pereira had no answer to Adesanya's grappling or wrestling from top position.

As the bout wore on, Adesanya seemed to be in control, using his distance and crisp striking to nullify the tiring Pereira.

But Pereira was not to be denied and claimed a famous win over an old rival.

Zhang Weili crowned champion

Image source, Getty Images

In beating Esparza, Zhang became a two-time champion having won the title in 2019 against Jessica Andrade.

"Today is like a dream come true. Ever since I lost the belt, I've dreamt of this moment," China's Zhang, 33, said following her win.

She was able to dictate the pace in the first round before landing some shots which Esparza absorbed.

Zhang grew in confidence as the fight wore on and was able to take down the 35-year-old American in the second round before applying the finish.

She has now recorded her eighth career win by submission, while it was only the second time Esparza has been submitted in her 12-year career.

Poirier defeats Chandler in all-time classic

Dustin Poirier marked his return to the octagon with a win over fellow American Michael Chandler in an enthralling battle.

The 33-year-old, who has not fought since losing to Charles Oliveira last December, submitted Chandler in the third round via a rear-naked choke.

Chandler, 36, was the aggressor in the early stages of the first round, but Poirier withstood the pressure before dropping 'Iron Mike' just before the buzzer.

The second round was controlled by Chandler as he utilised his wrestling from the ground which saw Poirier come unstuck.

But it was Poirier who would come out on top in the final round as he sunk in a choke which forced the former Bellator lightweight champion to tap.

McCann's hot streak is halted

McCann was submitted by American Blanchfield in the first round of their contest.

The 32-year-old fighter from Liverpool had pocketed two knockout wins earlier this year but was outclassed by the impressive American.

Blanchfield, 23, utilised her superior wrestling ability and finished McCann with a brutal kimura armbar.

McCann, who came into the fight as an underdog, was taken down after 50 seconds and was then unable to get back to her feet before Blanchfield secured the win.

UFC 281: Alex Pereira knocks out Israel Adesanya in final round to become middleweight champion (2024)

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