Israel Adesanya won the UFC title after his third loss to Alex Pereira

Israel Adesanya won the UFC title after his third loss to Alex Pereira

Israel Adesanya won the UFC title after his third loss to Alex Pereira

NEW YORK — A few years ago, when mixed martial arts was still illegal and Dana White was traveling the country to sell his vision for another martial arts organization, he told anyone who would listen the same thing: The sport is great, White said, because every anything can happen at any time and there are many ways to win and lose a fight.

Israel Adesanyaone of the great middleweights in the history of the sport, found this out the hard way.

He led 39-37 on all three maps after four full rounds in Saturday’s Main Event. UFC 281 Held at Madison Square Garden and came close to finishing Alex Pereira late in the first round. He won the decision and was confident of another successful title defense.

Then the situation changed dramatically. White’s attitude that he sold ad nauseam in 2001, 2002, 2003 and even 2004 backfired on Adesanya, ending his middleweight title reign.

Pereira, who had a pair of kickboxing victories over Adesanya in 2016 and 2017, caught Adesanya with a right hand that ended Adesanya’s reign. He landed a few punches that forced referee Mark Godard to stop.

In just his eighth MMA fight and fourth in the UFC, Pereira stopped Adesanya at 2:01 of the fifth round before a stunned 20,845 crowd to become the UFC champion.

It was Adesanya’s fight to win, and the jeweler may be polishing the jewel that lands on Adesanya’s belt to represent another defense as Pereira changes the course of UFC history.

Israel Adesanya walks out of the ring after losing to Alex Pereira at UFC 281 on November 12, 2022 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

White put on headphones to hear the corner work between the fourth and fifth rounds. Pereira’s corner, including former welterweight champion Glover Teixeira, gave him a pass and urged Pereira to pick up the pace.

“It was great, the kind of thing you see on film,” White said. “I don’t know who it is, but he’s like, ‘You’re losing!’ You have to knock him out in this round. Move forward, throw a bunch of punches, throw your hands, and you’ll be a world champion in five minutes. It was something straight out of a movie.”

The last time Pereira faced Adesanya was on March 4, 2017 at Glory of Heroes 7 in Brazil, where he was knocked out in the last round. Adesanya won the first round, injuring Pereira, and scored eight points in the second round. then got knocked out with a third left hook that night.

In the weeks leading up to Saturday’s fight, Adesanya patiently answered questions about his two losses to Pereira and the exact knockout. He said that it was not in his head and that he successfully dealt with it.

And that’s how he fought on Saturday, free, smart and imaginative. He controlled most of the fight using his lateral movement, boxing skills and excellent sense of distance and timing. But Pereira worked hard on the calf kick and that limited Adesanya’s ability to move.

The end was partly due, he said, to “my leg.”

“I was in danger because of the investment he made in kicking calves,” said Adesanya, who also addressed the medical issues that plagued him.

White has repeatedly praised him during his title reign for being willing to fight anyone, and Adesanya showed why over four rounds. He was a skilled, intelligent and selective fighter and watched the fight. Adesanya said he believes he will stop Pereira.

But he was not sorry. “A lot of guys talk publicly and say they want to fight this guy or that guy, but behind the scenes it’s a different story,” White said. “Believe me, he wanted this fight. He’s a horse.”

November 12, 2022;  New York, New York, USA;  Israel Adesanya (red gloves) and Alex Pereira (blue gloves) after UFC 281 at Madison Square Garden.  Mandatory credit: Jessica Alcheh-USA TODAY Sports

Israel Adesanya and Alex Pereira after UFC 281 at Madison Square Garden. (Jessica Alcheh-USA Today Sports)

Pereira is also tough. The guy is still learning the sport and is a relative newcomer, but he took out one of the UFC’s biggest champions when he was behind and things looked bleak.

Adesanya now has a long way to go, but he says he wants a rematch. He is now 0-3 against Pereira, even though the kickboxing fight is not in the UFC. White said he hasn’t made up his mind, but he’s clearly committed to Adesanya’s wishes.

But that’s one of the things about the UFC. In the lightweight bout, Dustin Poirier fended off Michael Chandler with a second-round choke in the third round. They won Fight of the Night for their efforts.

The loss dropped Chandler to 2-3 in five UFC fights, but each was a memorable fight.

He talked about fighting so well and how difficult it was to get close and not win.

He talked about his journey, but it could have been about many other fighters, including Adesanya.

“It’s a metaphor for life,” Chandler said.

It certainly was for Adesanya. As Pereira celebrated, Adesanya met his team and said he was fine. He said he was still clear and could have continued if he hadn’t stopped the fight. He called his family and told them he was fine.

He did everything right after the fight, just like he did then.

Even with one mistake, history has changed, as White repeatedly said in the early days of this century.

Alex Pereira is the new UFC middleweight champion and once again Israel Adesanya tried to explain the obscure.

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