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Alex Pereira is the only person to knock out Israel Adesanya – and he’s done it twice.

Pereira scored a come-from-behind victory against Adesanya at UFC 281 on Saturday night to become the new UFC middleweight champion inside Madison Square Garden. 

The fight will be a bitter pill for Adesanya to swallow. Similar to their two kickboxing fights, Adesanya was winning the contest until he wasn’t. Adesanya nearly added to UFC 281’s seven first-round stoppages with a one-two that had Pereira in all sorts of trouble. Adesanya’s devastating shot came in the final second of Round 1, but he did not have the time necessary to capitalize. Pereira’s corner was panicked in their efforts to get their fighter’s head straight.

Pereira bounced back well in Round 2. It was a competitive, if unspectacular, round that likely went in the challenger’s favor. Adesanya scored the first takedown of his 14-fight UFC career in Round 3 and decisively controlled Pereira for the remainder of the round. Adesanya fatigued Pereira with pressure, ground-and-pound and a pretty axe-kick at the end of Round 3.

Pereira was noticeably labored in Round 4 and his output was severely limited. Adesanya was defensively sound, picking away at his opponent in a round that was clearly his. Pereira’s corner implored him to find the finish in Round 5, aware that Adesanya likely had a 3-1 lead on the judges’ scorecards. The UFC broadcast confirmed post-fight that Adesanya was up on all three judges’ scorecards heading into the final frame. 

Pereira answered the call, blitzed Adesanya and rocked him with heavy shots against the fence. Adesanya desperately bobbed and weaved but ate uppercuts and other big shots until the referee intervened.

Pereira thanked his teammates for the victory and told UFC commentator Joe Rogan through a translator that he had been working just as hard in camp as he had in this fight. Former UFC light heavyweight champion Glover Teixeira, Pereira’s primary training partner, told the commentators later of a conversation he had with Pereira between the fourth and fifth rounds.

“‘Do I have to knock him out?'” Pereira asked Teixeira. “You better knock him out,” Teixeira replied.

Pereira (7-1) captured the UFC middleweight championship in just his fourth UFC fight. Adesanya (23-2) managed five title defenses as middleweight champion and held the undisputed crown since October 2019.

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Elsewhere on the card, Zhang Weili regained her crown as women’s strawweight champion with a second-round submission of Carla Esparza. Weili dominated the grappling exchanges before locking up the rear-naked choke. Weili, Esparza and Rose Namajunas have now traded the belt among themselves in the last three fights. And Dustin Poirier and Michael Chandler delivered an action-classic before Poirier secured the late submission.

CBS Sports was be with you the entire way on Saturday bringing you all the results and highlights from the UFC 281 below.

UFC 281 card and results

  • Alex Pereira def. Israel Adesanya (c) via fifth-round TKO (punches)
  • Weili Zhang def. Carla Esparza (c) via second-round submission (rear-naked choke)
  • Dustin Poirier def. Michael Chandler via third-round submission (rear-naked choke)
  • Chris Gutierrez def. Frankie Edgar via first-round knockout (knee)
  • Dan Hooker def. Claudio Puelles via second-round knockout (body kick)
  • Renato Moicano def. Brad Riddell via first-round submission (rear naked choke)
  • Ryan Spann def. Dominick Reyes via first-round knockout (punch)
  • Erin Blanchfield  def. Molly McCann via first-round submission (kimura)
  • Andre Petroski def. Wellington Turman via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)
  • Matt Frevola def. Ottman Azaitar via first-round knockout (punch)
  • Karolina Kowalkiewicz def. Silvana Gomez Juarez via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
  • Michael Trizano def. Choi Seung-woo via first-round TKO (punches)
  • Montel Jackson def. Julio Arce via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)
  • Carlos Ulberg def. Nicolae Negumereanu via first-round TKO (punches)