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Different sport, same result.
On Saturday night at New York City’s historic Madison Square Garden, Alex Pereira replicated his kickboxing success against Israel Adesanya to dethrone the middleweight champion in the main event of UFC 281.
Pereira outpointed Adesanya in 2016 and knocked out the Nigerian-born New Zealander in 2017, and the pair’s mixed martial arts meeting on Saturday ended in familiar fashion: with the Brazilian getting his hand raised.
Adesanya’s greater experience in MMA – with 25 bouts to his name compared to Pereira’s eight – looked set to be enough, with the 33-year-old almost stopping his challenger on the feet at the end of the first round and outgrappling the fatiguing Brazilian in the third and fourth.
But in the final frame, a re-energised “Poatan” hunted down Adesanya and finished the “Last Stylebender” on the feet with a flurry of punches to complete a rapid rise up the rankings and to the title.
Pereira, 35, had made an ominous entrance at Madison Square Garden, his arrival in the Octagon carrying an air of foreboding, but the charismatic Adesanya sought to seize the moment as he followed suit with a ring walk paying homage to the Saw horror-film franchise.
Adesanya’s grasp on the occasion seemed to tighten over the following 20 minutes, as he got the better of the striking exchanges in Round 1 and even briefly snatched Pereira’s consciousness from him with a right cross and left hook on the buzzer.
Pereira was able to stay standing and arguably edged a competitive second round, before Adesanya answered one of the key questions around the fight in the ensuing two rounds. The 33-year-old outgrappled “Poatan” in the clinch and on the canvas to pull ahead on the scorecards, with a sixth straight successful title defence minutes away at that point.
Pereira’s cornermen were clear in their messaging, however: “You need to knock him out.”
At once the 35-year-old pressured Adesanya, backing him up to the fence as he had done at every prior opportunity, and this time the Brazilian was able to connect with meaningful strikes. Uppercuts and left hooks slid through Adesanya’s guard and scattered the champion’s wits.
Referee Marc Goddard stepped in to save Adesanya, marking just the second defeat of “Stylebender”’s MMA career – his only previous loss having come in a light heavyweight title shot against Jan Blachowicz last year.
Meanwhile, the result saw Pereira ascend to the sport’s summit in just his eighth bout, with six of his seven wins having come via knockout/TKO.