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UFC 281 Review: Pereira goes 3-0 against Adesanya with upset win

Pereira beats Adesanya at UFC 287

On Saturday, the UFC travelled to Madison Square Garden — the spiritual home of combat sports in the United States — and delivered an enormous card of enthralling fights.

The UFC 281 main event was a technical display of high-level kickboxing as two of the discipline’s finest athletes went back and forth for four and a half rounds. Reigning middleweight champ Israel Adesanya was out for redemption against his nemesis, Alex Periera, after the Brazilian bested him twice in bouts staged when they were kickboxing’s biggest names.

The consensus was that the larger space provided by the UFC octagon would favour the Kiwi, but that the small gloves would advantage Pereira, who throws his fists with greater power. And that’s how it played out. Adesanya remained elusive for four rounds, landed some crisp counter-strikes that rocked the challenger on occasion, scored some surprise takedowns, and was cruising toward certain victory. But then, in the fifth round, Pereira got him bottled up against the cage and unleashed his fearsome power.

Periera first scored with a huge left hook that rocked the champ, then followed with a flurry of uppercuts, straight right hands, and Adesanya had no answers to the onslaught. The ref mercifully intervened, and a new champion was crowned. A rematch beckons as these two fighters appear set to meet again with the score now standing at 3-0 to Pereira.

The co-main event also went largely to script, with the MMA dominance of China’s Zhang Weili on obvious display as she wrested the women’s strawweight title from Carla Esparza. Zhang appeared close to a certainty given her prodigious skill set and athletic ability, and she finished the bout with a second-round submission. Considering her strength, work rate, and growing fighter IQ, this belt could be in Zhang’s possession for quite some time.

Dustin Poirier prevailed over the explosive yet often reckless Michael Chandler. Poirier fought through adversity like few combatants can and grabbed a third-round submission over his bloodied opponent. The fight was in Chandler’s grasp several times, but he threw the victory away — as he tends to do in the heat of battle. Poirier is a clutch fighter who is never rattled, never panicked, and wins his toughest battles via superior composure.

Dan Hooker saw off the threat posed by heel-hook specialist Claudio Puelles, who had his chance to wretch the Kiwi’s knee from its socket in the first round but looked very poor on the feet and presented no striking threat. Puelles is more of a dancer than fighter when standing upright and needs to add some venom to his punching before he can advance into the UFC rankings.

MMA legend Frankie Edgar was sent into retirement in disastrous fashion when knocked out cold by a flying knee courtesy of Chris Gutierrez. Edgar has been among the bravest fighters to ever lace a UFC glove, but Father Time has now officially caught up with the veteran. Gutierrez looked sensational, moving fluidly, throwing feints, and then closing for the kill at the first opportunity. He may well be ready to stalk some elite bantamweights.

In the prelims, Dominic Reyes suffered what might be a career ending KO at the hands of Ryan Spann. Back in 2020 Reyes was unlucky not to be crowned light heavyweight champ after some suspect scoring saw him robbed of victory over Jon Jones, but has now been flattened three times in a row and should get out now before further damage is sustained. Spann, who claims he has never trained for a previous fight, might be ready to show his true talent.

Erin Blanchfield delivered a flawless performance against crowd favourite Molly McCann and looks an impressive talent to watch. At only 23 years old, Blanchfield possesses championship qualities and unlimited upside, and she dominated McCann from the opening bell.

Kiwi Carlos Ulber started the show with a highlight reel finish over well-regarded Romanian Nicolae Negumereanu. Ulber is another talent that appears destined for greatness after he dispatched his opponent with a lightning first-round finish.

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