By: COOPER ALBERS / STAFF WRITER
History repeated itself on Saturday night as Alex Pereira defeated Israel Adesanya for the third time.
UFC 281 Adesanya v. Pereira took place on Saturday, November 12th at Madison Square Garden in New York City. It was the fifth annual UFC Card held at the historic arena.The world’s most famous arena,requires extreme excellence from its main events. Since its first appearance in the Garden, UFC has far exceeded this expectation by hosting some of the most memorable events in UFC history in the city.
Madison Square Garden saw the return of Georges St. Pierre, where he recaptured the Middleweight Championship from Michael Bisping, alongside the BMF Title fight between Jorge Masvidal and Nate Diaz. Perhaps the most iconic moment in the history of the sport, MSG hosted the Lightweight Title Fight between Eddie Alvarez and Conor McGregor, where McGregor became the first double champion in the history of the sport and apologized to absolutely nobody.
UFC 281 lived up to the hype this past weekend with the opening card resulting in a devastating first-round knockout from Carlos Ulberg. The card that followed was full of brutal finishes, shocking upsets, and good old-fashioned violence.
The preliminary bouts had the energy of Pay-Per-View Main Events. Out of the nine prelims, six ended in a first-round finish. Notable finishes included knockouts from Michael Trizano and Ryan Spann, alongside a submission from Renato Moicano over Brad Riddell.
New York Natives also showed out in front of their home crowd. Matt Frevola secured a knockout over Ottman Azaitar, and Erin Blanchfield ended the Molly McCann hype train with a dominant submission victory.
Following the standard set by the prelims, UFC 281 possessed the most action-packed main card of the year. No judges were necessary as all five fights ended via knockout or submission.
Kicking off the main card, Dan Hooker took on Claudio Puelles in the Lightweight Division. Puelles, riding a five-fight win streak, hoped to take down the seasoned vet in Hooker. Puelles’ awkward grappling style proved a tricky test for Hooker in the opening round, as he was taken down early and nearly caught in a leg lock.
However, Hooker remained calm and warded off Puelles’ attacks. A piercing liver kick from Hooker secured him the TKO victory in the second round. With the win, Hooker jumps back into the win column while Puelles receives his first loss since 2016.
The next fight on the main card saw future Hall of Famer Frankie Edgar take on Chris Gutierrez in his retirement fight. Edgar, hoped to end his career with a win, and he faced a dangerous rising contender who has gone unbeaten in his last eight bouts.
He was quick, sharp, and aggressive and landed a devastating knee that rendered Edgar unconscious in the first round. Although it was not the way Edgar wanted to end his career, he received a warm ovation from the New York crowd that commended him for his incomparable contribution to the sport.
The next fight saw a lightweight war between the most electrifying fighters in combat, Dustin Poirier and Michael Chandler. Chandler predicted his MSG homecoming fight with the former Interim Lightweight Champion to be “the people’s main event,” and it delivered in every way imaginable.
Poirier and Chandler traded devastating shots for the entirety of the first round, putting together one of the most entertaining rounds of the year.
The second round, however, saw a more calculated Chandler as he utilized his All-American wrestling ability. He found success on the ground as he tired Poirier and bullied him for most of the five minutes.
Chandler returned to this strategy in the final round as he lifted Poirier above the cage and went for the body slam. Unfortunately for Chandler, Poirier was able to scramble and take Chandler’s back. There, Poirier was able to lock in a rear-naked choke and secure the victory.
The Co-Main Event of the evening saw Women’s Strawweight Champion Carla Esparza take on Zhang Weili. Esparza hoped to solidify her position as a true champion following a controversial victory over Rose Namajunas, while Zhang attempted to recapture the belt to become a two-time champion.
Although Esparza was noticeably more active and aggressive than her last time out, she was seemingly no match for the challenger. Zhang controlled the striking and grappling aspects of the fight. She secured a crucifix choke in the second round and submitted the champion.
Although this would be their first meeting in the UFC, the two fighters had a history. Pereira has two kickboxing victories over Adesanya, one being a devastating knockout.
Since their last matchup, Adesanya had skyrocketed into stardom. He made his UFC debut in 2018 and quickly became one of the most dominant fighters in the history of combat. The calm, calculated mastermind defeated Anderson Silva, Yoel Romero, Kelvin Gastellum, Paulo Costa, and Robert Whittaker, defending the Middleweight strap an incredible five times.
However, he seemingly still had something to prove against Pereira. In just his fourth UFC fight, Pereira received the title shot against his former foe. The seemingly movie-like matchmaking would see Adesanya look for redemption while Pereira looked to prove his dominance by defeating the champ at his own game.
Much of the early rounds belonged to Adesanya. The first round ended with an impressive combo from the champ that left Pereira on wobbly knees. Adesanya would likely have put him away early if not for the bell.
Aware of Pereira’s power, Adesanya implemented grappling into his game plan during the third and fourth rounds. Although not known for his wrestling, Adesanya’s MMA experience gave him the edge over Pereira.
The fifth and final round saw an incredibly aggressive Pereira, who likely would lose the fight if it went the distance.
Having regained his energy, Pereira backed the champ up against the cage and began to tee off.
After a devastating barrage from the challenger, referee Marc Goddard had seen enough. He pulled Pereira off the champ, signaling a TKO victory for Pereira. Pereira had done it again, pulling off one of the biggest comeback upsets in recent memory.
The New York crowd was too stunned to speak, and It was in this silence that Bruce Buffer’s final words of the night echoed loudly throughout the arena: