Alex Pereira maintained his combat sports dominance over Israel Adesanya by knocking out the UFC's middleweight champion in the fifth round of their headline bout at UFC 281 in New York on Saturday night.
Pereira, twice victorious over Adesanya in their kickboxing days and the only man to have stopped the Nigerian-New Zealander in any fight, stopped the champion for a second time with a stunning combination of strikes in the final round.
The Brazilian was down on the judges' scorecards and appeared to be running out of steam before unleashing the barrage which dethroned Adesanya, who had held the title for three-and-a-half years. Pereira becomes middleweight champion in only his eighth professional MMA bout.
Adesanya’s loss snapped his 12-fight win streak at middleweight, only one shy of Anderson Silva’s division record.
"I feel so good, I've been training all my life, I worked so hard for this," 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 at Madison Square Garden, Zhang Weili choked out Carla Esparza to regain the strawweight belt.
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.
Dustin Poirier made Michael Chandler tap in the third round of bloody slugfest that sent the crowd into a frenzy.
Poirier slapped on the rear naked choke to stop a frenetic fight that had both fighters seemingly on the brink of victory — the official scorecards had the fight even entering the third round — on multiple occasions.
In the second round, Chandler had blood flowing from his nose like as he mounted Poirier, who complained blood leaked into his eyes and he told the referee that Chandler stuck fingers in his mouth and pulled his head back.
“He was a little bit more durable than I thought he would be,” Poirier said. “I thought if I hurt him, I was going to put him away.”
In an earlier fight, former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar lost the final bout of his MMA career when he was dropped by Chris Gutierrez at 2:01 of the first round of their fight.
The 41-year-old Edgar absorbed a flying knee to the head for a brutal KO loss in his last time in the cage in a career that started in 2005. Gutierrez and Edgar had a long embrace after the spectacular finish in the 135-pound fight that quieted another packed crowd at MSG.
Edgar entered the night with a UFC-record 7 hours, 55 minutes and 9 seconds of total fight time. His 1,799 significant strikes were second-best, and 73 takedowns were fourth on the career list. He held the lightweight championship for nearly two years from 2010 to 2012.
“Ladies and gentleman, this is the final fight of his illustrious Hall of Fame career,” octagon announcer Bruce Buffer bellowed to a roaring crowd.