Brazil’s Alex Pereira pulled off a stunning comeback to knock out Israel Adesanya in the fifth round and claim the UFC middleweight title while Zhang Weili choked out Carla Esparza to regain the strawweight belt at UFC 281 at Madison Square Garden.
Behind on the judges’ scorecards and running out of steam, Pereira unleashed a stunning combination of strikes in the final round to dethrone Adesanya, who had held the title for 3-1/2 years, in only his eighth professional MMA bout.
“I feel so good, I’ve been training all my life, I worked so hard for this,” an elated Pereira said in his post-fight interview.
Fighting out of a southpaw stance for much of the first round, Adesanya landed a huge right hand and followed it up with a left hook to the jaw that almost ended the fight, but Pereira was saved as the horn sounded to end the frame.
Pereira recovered and bounced back in the second round, but the fight swung in Adesanya’s favour in the third as he landed a takedown early and exerted heavy pressure on his opponent, forcing him to carry his weight and landing shots from the back.
After winning the fourth round comfortably, Adesanya looked to be cruising towards a decision victory until Pereira, who has a previous KO win over him in kickboxing, rocked him with a right hand and followed it up with a flurry of devastating punches to claim the crown.
In the co-main event China’s Weili, who lost the strawweight belt to Rose Namajunas in April 2021, out-muscled Esparza, taking her back early in the second round before sinking in a rear naked choke to finish the bout and reclaim the belt.
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