UFC 281: Israel Adesanya loses middleweight title to Alex Pereira in stunning TKO upset

NEW YORK — Israel Adesanya was knocked out in his second kickboxing fight by Alex Pereira despite controlling most of the bout until the finish.

On Saturday in the main event of UFC 281 at Madison Square Garden, history repeated itself. Adesanya was controlling the fight, hurt Pereira twice and was seemingly on the way to a decision victory.

Then, out of nowhere, the hard-hitting Pereira cracked Adesanya with a combo and the course of UFC history was changed. The first right hand hurt Adesanya and froze him against the cage. Pereira poured it on and got the finish at 2:01 of the final round.

Adesanya hurt Pereira badly at the end of the first round with a right hand and a left hook, and again in the third with a kick to the midsection while Pereira was down and then a right hand.

Pereira was wobbled a few other times, but managed to survive. But the first time that Pereira landed big, the show was over.

Alex Pereira, left, punches Israel Adesanya in the UFC middleweight championship bout during UFC 281 at Madison Square Garden on November 12, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Pereira won a decision over Adesanya in 2016 in kickboxing and followed it with the KO in 2017. But Saturday’s win made him the UFC champion and ended the reign of one of the great middleweight champions in promotional history.

Adesanya was doing just about everything correctly until the finish. He was frustrating Pereira with his movement and catching him with counters. Pereira is a huge puncher and so the threat was always present, which Adesanya recognized.

At one point late in the fourth, Adesanya slipped and somersaulted backward and then got on his bike to avoid being caught.

He was mostly controlling the fifth until he got caught. It was his first loss at middleweight in the UFC, though he lost a decision to Jan Blachowicz in a bid for the light heavyweight title.