It only took four fights for Alex Pereira to claim UFC gold.
The Brazilian, who made his UFC debut on Nov. 6, 2021, became the middleweight champion by defeating an old rival in come-from-behind fashion. He scored a fifth-round knockout over Israel Adesanya in the main event of UFC 281 at Madison Square Garden in New York on Saturday.
Pereira was badly rocked in the first round, and he looked exhausted in the fourth round as Adesanya deployed a brilliant game plan, mixing striking with clinching and takedowns to sap his rival’s energy.
But there’s a reason why Pereira won the previous two meetings with Adesanya in kickboxing, and that’s his vicious power. He’s the only fighter to knock out Adesanya.
And now he has done it twice.
With the clock winding down in the final round, Pereira stepped on the gas and spent what was left in his tank as he hunted down Adesanya. Eventually, he backed “The Last Stylebender” into the fence, landed a huge right hand and followed with a barrage of punches to get the stoppage at the 2:01 mark.
Given the competitive nature of the fight, a rematch is almost certain. But, for now, the era of Alex Pereira has begun and he can call himself a champion with only eight MMA fights under his belt.
In the co-main event, Zhang Weili reclaimed the women’s strawweight title with a second-round submission of Carla Esparza. Zhang was simply too big and strong for “Cookie Monster” and kept Esparza on her back foot. A failed takedown attempt allowed Zhang to get around to Esparza’s back and sink in a rear naked choke to launch her second run as a champion.
Dustin Poirier and Michael Chandler gave fans what they wanted with a war in the featured fight of the night. Poirier had his hand raised in victory as he submitted Chandler with a rear naked choke.
The Sporting News provided live updates and highlights from the UFC 281 card. Here’s how it all went down.
UFC 281: Adesanya vs. Pereira results, highlights
Alex Pereira comes from behind to stop Israel Adesanya in the final round
Round 5: Izzy with a big body kick as Alex comes forward and digs a left to the body. Right hand from Alex lands. They clinch again. Alex checks an Izzy leg kick and Izzy goes down but bounces up to his feet. Uppercut from Alex and Adesanya is hurt! Alex is all over him. Bombs!!!! It’s over!! New champion!!!!!
PEREIRA DOES THE UNTHINKABLE!! 😱
— UFC (@ufc) November 13, 2022
SN Unofficial Scorecard: —
Round 4: Izzy with leg kicks. Alex barely misses a left hook. Hard jab by Izzy. Right hand lands behind it. Right hand over the top by Izzy and a body kick. Another body kick. Izzy picking him apart. Izzy clinches and breaks with a hard right hook. Alex with a jab and fires a left hook. Izzy ducks under and ties him up. They break as the round comes to a close.
SN Unofficial Scorecard: 10-9, Adesanya (39-37, Adesanya)
Round 3: Right hand from Izzy lands. Knee to the body from Alex and Izzy takes Alex down! Izzy has his back and is pounding on Alex. Izzy is working to get Alex’s back and puts a hook in while landing left hands. Alex is lost but is almost to his feet. Adesanya gets him down and is in his guard. Alex is GASSED. Izzy postures up. Axe kick to the body and a left hand to close the round.
SN Unofficial Scorecard: 10-9, Adesanya (29-28, Adesanya)
Round 2: Alex pressing forward quick. Gets stuck with a jab. Alex with a left to the body and misses a wheel kick. Izzy sticks another jab. Alex is kind of frozen as Izzy lands a leg kick and a jab. Alex lands a hard jab. And another. They clinch and Alex lands to the body. Izzy goes for a takedown but Alex blocks. Hard right hand by Izzy on the break. Hard left hand by Alex lands flush. Knee by Alex and Izzy clinches along the cage. Alex looks GIGANTIC in there. They are still tied up. They break and Alex lands a hard head kick. Straight right from Izzy land. Alex shoots and secures a takedown as the round comes to a close.
SN Unofficial Scorecard: 10-9, Pereira (19-19)
Round 1: Pereira launches a jumping kick to start the fight. Leg kicks from Izzy. Pereira fires leg kicks back. Body kick from Izzy. Head kick lands from Izzy but not clean. Big right hand by Izzy lands and knocks Pereira back. Pereira barely misses a left hook. Still exchanging leg kicks. Big body kick by Adesanya. Alex closes in and lands a body kick. Izzy circles off. Body kick from Alex and he barely misses a fight ending knee to the face. Izzy ties him up and Alex goes to work on the body. Izzy SMOKES Alex at the buzzer with a hook and he’s out on his feet. He’s damaged as he goes to the corner!
SN Unofficial Scorecard: 10-9, Adesanya
12:15 a.m.: The main event has arrived. Israel Adesanya and Alex Pereira will square off in a grudge match for Adesanya’s middleweight title. Pereira is 2-0 against Adesanya in kickboxing, but this is mixed martial arts. Who will win?
— Andreas Hale (@AndreasHale) November 13, 2022
Zhang Weili regains title with 2nd-round submission of Carla Esparza
Round 2: Esparza rushes in and gets cracked with a right hand. Esparza dives for a takedown but Zhang gets her back and sinks in a rear naked choke for the finish!
SN Unofficial Scorecard: —
Round 1: Zhang advances quick and Esparza backs her off with a quick flurry. Hard jab by Zhang as she starts to close the distance. Zhang is opening up now. Pair of head kicks from Zhang and Esparza goes for a takedown. Huge scramble and Zhang gets her back. More scrambles and Esparza ends up on top. Zhang gets back to her feet and lands a body kick. Esparza grabs the leg but Zhang reverses into side control. Zhang with elbows as the round comes to a close.
SN Unofficial Scorecard: 10-9, Zhang
11:40 p.m.: The co-main event is up next. Carla Esparza defends her women’s strawweight title against former champion Zhang Weili.
Dustin Poirier submits Michael Chandler in 3rd round
11:31 p.m.: It won’t matter if that second round was scored 10-8 because Poirier took advantage of a gassing Chandler, reversed a slam attempt to get his back and sunk in a rear naked choke for the finish. Unreal. But it’s what we expected. Absolutely stellar.
11:28 p.m.: Chandler just had a round where he snuffed out Poirier’s momentum with an early takedown and dominated with submission attempts and ground and pound. Could it be a 10-8 round?
11:22 p.m.: What an unbelievable round. Chandler had Poirier in deep trouble in the first round with big punches, a takedown and even deployed a German suplex. But Poirier roared back at the end of the round and nearly finished Chandler with a left hook and a barrage of punches. This fight is delivering!
11:07 p.m.: The people’s fight is up next. Dustin Poirier and Michael Chandler square off in a highly anticipated showdown that is expected to be the Fight of the Night. With eight finishes in 11 fights, these two have a lot to live up to.
Chris Gutierrez sends Frankie Edgar into retirement with brutal 1st-round KO
10:57 p.m.: It’s been a hell of a career, Frankie Edgar. But the ending to this was bittersweet. Gutierrez sent Edgar into retirement with a brutal knee to the face in the first round. Gutierrez was sharp from the outset with his striking and eventually baited Edgar to duck his head right into a knee that put the UFC legend to sleep. The arena fell silent amid the realization that this was the last time we’d see Edgar in the Octagon. Props to Gutierrez, and what a career, Frankie.
10:45 p.m.: After 15 years with the UFC, Frankie Edgar is having his final fight against Chris Gutierrez. Win or lose, Edgar is a legend in this sport as a former lightweight champion and for a career that saw him face just about every notable name in the sport. Soak it in one last time as Edgar walks out to The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Kick in the Door” in New York City.
Dan Hooker back in the win column with body-kick finish of Claudio Puelles
10:35 p.m.: After surviving a kneebar attempt, Hooker’s striking was the difference. He finished Puelles with a kick to the body in the second round. Puelles had Hooker in deep trouble midway through the first round as he went for a kneebar, but Hooker calmly escaped and dissected his opponent with his standup. Puelles repeatedly tried to get the fight to the canvas but was unable to do so and found himself on the wrong end of a series of punches and kicks. With no way to get the fight to the mat, Puelles was ripe for the taking and was dropped by a kick to the torso that ended it. Hooker is back in the win column after a brief rough patch.
10:15 p.m.: City Kickboxing is 1-1 tonight. Dan Hooker hopes to put the team back into the win column against submission specialist Claudio Puelles in the PPV opener.
10 p.m.: After an exciting showing in the prelims, the UFC 281 main card is set to begin. Here are my predictions!
My #UFC281 main card predictions in under 60 seconds.
Now go and make yourself some money. Or something. pic.twitter.com/epvDW7TzsN
— Andreas Hale (@AndreasHale) November 12, 2022
9:45 p.m.: And that is our sixth first-round finish of the night: Renato Moicano submits Brad Riddell with a rear naked choke. Moicano was dominant from the start with his striking but eventually got to Riddell’s back and sunk in the choke. Impressive performance from the Brazilian.
9:34 p.m.: We’ve had five first-round finishes in the prelims and the final fight before the PPV begins is expected to be a banger between Renato Moicano and Brad Riddell. Both are in need of wins; Riddell has dropped two in a row with losses to Jalin Turner and Rafael Fiziev, while Moicano was thumped by Rafael dos Anjos in his last outing.
9:14 p.m.: Welp, that didn’t go the way Reyes expected. Spann decimated the former title challenger in the first round with a jab. Yes, a jab! Spann’s power is for real and he fired a wicked jab that put Reyes to sleep. That was frightening. Oh, and then Spann revealed that this is the first fight for which he ever had a full training camp. Sheesh.
9:08 p.m.: Up next is Dominick Reyes facing off against Ryan Spann. Once upon a time, Reyes was arguably the better man when he faced Jon Jones for the light heavyweight title in 2020. He lost to former champion Jan Blachowicz and current champion Jiri Prochazka in his next two fights. He hopes to break a three-fight losing streak tonight.
8:52 p.m.: Erin Blanchfield has put the women’s flyweight division on notice with an absolutely dominant performance against Molly McCann. Blanchfield took McCann down, put her in a crucifix, pummeled her with ground and pound and then secured a kimura for a submission finish. She’ll be in the top 10 on Monday but she might not be far from a title opportunity at only 23.
8:45 p.m.: So, what have you missed? Well, three hellacious first-round knockouts as Carlos Ulberg, Michael Trizano and Matt Frevola each put in their ticket for a Performance of the Night bonus. With so many great fights on this card, these three certainly upped the ante for bonuses.
MORE: MMA schedule 2022: Date, division, location for upcoming fights
UFC 281 fight card results
- Alex Pereira def. Israel Adesanya for the UFC middleweight title via 5th-round TKO (punches) (2:01).
- Zhang Weili def. Carla Esparza for the UFC strawweight title via 2nd-round submission (rear naked choke) (1:05).
- Dustin Poirier def. Michael Chandler via 3rd-round submission (rear naked choke) (2:00).
- Chris Gutierrez def. Frankie Edgar via 1st-round KO (knee) (2:01).
- Dan Hooker def. Claudio Puelles via 2nd-round TKO (body kick) (4:06).
- Renato Moicano def. Brad Riddell via 1st-round submission (rear naked choke) (3:20).
- Ryan Spann def. Dominick Reyes via 1st-round KO (punch) (1:20).
- Erin Blanchfield def. Molly McCann via 1st-round submission (kimura) (3:37).
- Andre Petroski def. Wellington Turman via unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28).
Fight Pass prelims
- Matt Frevola def. Ottman Azaitar via 1st-round KO (punch) (2:30).
- Michael Trizano def. Choi Seung-woo via 1st-round KO (punches) (4:51).
- Karolina Kowalkiewicz def. Silvana Gomez Juarez via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28).
- Montel Jackson def. Julio Arce via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28).
- Carlos Ulberg def. Nicolae Negumereanu via 1st-round KO (punches) (3:44).