Mixed martial arts: Pereira pounces in fifth round for knockout over Adesanya

Alex Pereira (left) and Israel Adesanya during UFC 281. PHOTO: USA TODAY SPORTS

NEW YORK – Alex Pereira defeated Israel Adesanya via technical knockout in the fifth round on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden in New York City to claim the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s middleweight title, ending Adesanya’s reign atop the division and likely setting up a rematch sometime in the future.

Adesanya was likely up on the scorecards, three rounds to one, when he slipped in the middle of the octagon. He tried to recover but it was the beginning of the end. As Adesanya retreated to the fence, Pereira followed and peppered him with punches to the face, stunning him and nearly knocking him unconscious.

Referee Marc Goddard ended the fight as Adesanya’s body went limp, though Adesanya protested the stoppage as he attempted to regain his composure.

It’s Adesanya’s first loss in the middleweight division and only his second loss in mixed martial arts. The two men shared history in earlier kickboxing matches, when Pereira defeated Adesanya twice, once via decision and once with a knockout.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, Zhang Weili said at a news conference that spectators should be ready for a “spectacular moment” Saturday night.

Her moment came quickly, as Zhang used a rear naked choke in the second round to win the strawweight championship, her second time winning the title. Zhang cartwheeled around the ring after the win as the crowd erupted.

Carla Esparza is one of the longest-tenured UFC fighters and was the inaugural strawweight champion in 2014, but seemed outmatched Saturday night. Esparza was booed the entire fight and had been one of the least popular champions among fans because of her unaggressive approach in her last win.

Zhang won the title for the first time in 2019, when she defeated Jessica Andrade by a first-round knockout, making her the first Chinese-born UFC champion. Zhang lost her title in April 2021 to Rose Namajunas. A win over Joanna Jedrzejczyk in January earned her this title fight.

Zhang’s first title win came in Shenzhen, China, a moment that she has said was one of the best in her life. On Saturday night, the crowd in New York made her feel like she was back in China, she said.

Zhang Weili (right) battles Carla Esparza during their Women Strawweight fight UFC 281. PHOTO: AFP

“I felt the same level of support from all of you guys,” she said through an interpreter.

In another bout, Dustin Poirier submitted Michael Chandler with a rear naked choke in the third round of frantic back-and forth lightweight fight at UFC 281.

Both fighters showed dominant moments in stand-up exchanges and battles on the ground. Chandler took Poirier down in the first and peppered him with punches, but Poirier ended the round as the aggressor and nearly knocked him out against the fence.

His face soon reddened with blood with a cut to the upper lip.

In the second round, Chandler took Poirier down again with his superior wrestling skills and had solid punches on the ground, dominating the round.

In the third, Chandler took Poirier down again with an aggressive slam, but Poirier reversed it and landed on top. He then slipped his arm in for the choke during the scramble on the ground.

The fight carried massive implications for the 155-pound division, as both fighters were ranked in the top five. Dana White, the UFC president, predicted the bout to be exciting and said he thought it would earn the US$50,000 (S$68,600) “Fight of the Night” bonus.

Dustin Poirier (left) and Michael Chandler during UFC 281. PHOTO: REUTERS

Poirier, a UFC veteran and former interim champion, joined the promotion in 2011 and rose to his highest level of fame after completing a trilogy of fights against superstar Conor McGregor.

Chandler, who joined the UFC in 2021, quickly became a fan favourite after exciting fights against former champion Charles Oliveira, Justin Gaethje and Tony Ferguson, whom Chandler knocked out with a vicious front kick in May.

Poirier will likely earn a title shot in the near future or perhaps a fight against Oliveira, who is now the No. 1 contender who lost the belt last month to Islam Makhachev.

Alexander Volkanovski, the featherweight champion, will challenge Makhachev for the lightweight belt in February in an attempt to become a simultaneous two-division champ. NYTIMES

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