UFC 281: Alex Pereira Mounts Late Comeback, Stops Israel Adesanya in Fifth

Israel Adesanya and Alex Pereira, UFC 281
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 12: Alex Pereira of Brazil battles Israel Adesanya of Nigeria during the UFC 281 event at Madison Square Garden on November 12, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC)

Rarely has mesmerizing, style-bending champion Israel Adesanya been doubted since ascending to the top of the UFC’s middleweight mountain.

And that, perhaps, was the key difference in the build-up to UFC 281 on Saturday, where Adesanya put his 185lb title on the line against a familiar foe in Alex Pereira.

“Poatan” had twice defeated Adesanya, albeit in another sport, back in the pair’s kickboxing days. But those two wins had created enough doubt ahead of Saturday’s contest that Adesanya was being questioned, and truly doubted, for the first time in years.

As it turned out, those doubts were quite justified. Adesanya had said all week that he wanted to turn the fight with Pereira into a horror movie. He set the mood early, walking out to the theme from Saw. But at the end of it all, it was Adesanya who turned out to be another horror movie victim.

Carrying on with the horror movie theme, Pereira, best described as a “scary” guy, looked to have a monstrous size advantage. He came right out and threw a side kick off the opening bell, while Adesanya, a bit later, attacked the legs. A right hand by Adesanya just over a minute in was followed by another leg kick, while Pereira fired two low kicks then went high. Adesanya answered in kind, blocked by Pereira. A right hand found it’s mark for the champ, however. The champ went high with a kick once again, bouncing it off Pereira’s guard. A high kick attempt by Pereira was nearly caught, as the kicking exchanges and single strikes continued.

In the final minute, the pair clinched up, with Adesanya controlling initially, but Pereira ripping the body. They broke with ten seconds to go, and Adesanya rocked Pereira with a right hand to the ear! A second punch, a left hook, landed for the champ seemingly after the bell (though it had been lined up just before), but regardless, the challenger was wobbled as he headed to his corner.

Adesanya opened round two with a leg kick, as Pereira walked him down. The challenger landed to the body, and Pereira continued to march forward like a zombie, backing Adesanya up against the cage. Adesanya then began to open up, only for Pereira to land a couple of jabs. In close, Pereira ripped the body, and Adesanya landed upstairs. They reversed, Adesanya in control and dropping for a takedown, but he could not muscle the hulking Pereira down.

Coming out of the break, a heavy right landed for the champ. Pereira then cornered Adesanya, firing a couple of shots before the champion escaped. In a clinch, Adesanya drove Pereira into the fence landing knees and looking for a trip. Pereira then flicked a head kick that came dangerously close, deflecting off a shoulder; at the end of the round, it was Pereira landing a takedown, successfully!

Round three opened with the fight potentially being even. Adesanya landed a leg kick then went upstairs. Adesanya went low with a kick again, then trailed with a right hand that landed. Pereira in turn marched forward, landing a knee to the body in a clinch. A takedown then led to a scramble, with the champ taking the back! The first takedown, officially, of Israel Adesanya’s career. Adesanya let go with some ground n’ pound while controlling a wrist. Left hands landed as Pereira tried to power up by the fence.

Another scramble saw Pereira briefly grab a leg, but Adesanya pulled free, ending up inside Pereira’s guard. Pereira launched an elbow off his back, but Izzy’s elbows from top were going to do a lot more damage — and regardless, he was well on his way to winning the round. Adesanya backed off, avoided a few upkicks, and landed an axe kick to the body with Pereira still on his back.

Heading into the fourth, the massive weight cut of Alex Pereira, and Adesanya’s experience in five rounds fights, potentially could factor in. Adesanya again attacked the challenger’s lead leg. The champ landed a jab. A right hand followed a moment later.  Pereira, not done, backed Adesanya up to the feynce, but Adesanya pressed forward, landing a right hand again.

Pereira was beginning to slow. Adesanya faked a level change, appeared to do it again, then clinched up and tried to land a trip. That wasn’t there, but Adesanya moved Pereira to the fence, and tied things up. The pair traded looping hooks, both men landing. Adesanya moved out of range, but was caught against the fence again! A bit of success, and Pereira had suddenly found a second wind. The champ clinched up again, and dropped for a takedown, but once again the size of Pereira became an insurmountable obstacle.

The fifth and final round had Pereira arguably in need of a finish. The x-factor was the gas tank; Pereira had slowed early, but did he have enough left for a final surge? Early on, Adesanya tied things up, but he couldn’t find the takedown. Adesanya next chopped at Pereira’s leg, then tripped while stepping back. That led to Pereira charging forward, but Adesanya recovered and escaped.

Pereira then walked the champ down, kicking low, landing high with a jab, then tagging the champ! Adesanya began taking heavy blows, lefts and rights! The champ stumbled, then came back up. Almost on autopilot, Adesanya weaved left and right as Pereira continued to unload. Hooks and uppercuts hit home. The ref didn’t like what he was seeing, and moved i to wave it off! For the third time, between two sports, Alex Pereira proved to be the better man against Israel Adesanya. This time, the win earned him UFC gold.

Official Result: Alex Pereira def. Israel Adesanya by TKO, Round 5, 2:01