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UFC 281 notes: Israel Adesanya loses middleweight title in finish-filled night

Weili Zhang also regained the UFC women's strawweight title in the co-main event.
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In just his eighth MMA fight, former GLORY kickboxing champion Alex Pereira pulled off a major upset, knocking out rival Israel Adesanya in the fifth round at UFC 281 at Madison Square Garden to win the UFC middleweight title.

Pereira (7-1) got Adesanya up against the fence and caught him with a powerful punch that rocked the champion. He went for the kill, unloading more punches as Adesanya attempted to unsuccessfully evade. Adesanya protested the stoppage, but didn't talk to Joe Rogan after the fight about why.

Going into the fifth, Adesanya was up 3-1 on all the judges' scorecards. Adesanya nearly finished the fight in the first round, rocking his opponent as the round came to an end.

Pereira made his UFC debut last November and picked up three wins in the last year, but his past rivalry with Adesanya in the rings of GLORY helped fuel booking this fight. Pereira defeated him twice during that era, one of which was by knockout.

Winning the title in just his fourth UFC fight puts Pereira in company with former UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar as fighters to win UFC gold with such little MMA experience. Anderson Silva won the middleweight title in his second UFC fight but already had a wealth of experience from PRIDE.

Adesanya (23-2) was looking for the sixth defense of the title he won in October 2019. Whether he seeks a rematch or moves up to light heavyweight remains to be seen.

The finish was the 11th on the show, tying the record set at UFC Fight Night 55 in November 2014. 

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Weili Zhang reclaimed the UFC women's strawweight title with a second round submission win over Carla Esparza in the night's co-main event. Her strength was too much for Esparza, eventually ending things with a choke while ensnaring her in a crucifix.

After winning the title in August 2019, Zhang lost the title to Rose Namajunas in April 2021 and failed to regain it in a rematch. This was Esparza's first title defense since defeating Namajunas in May.

Former interim UFC lightweight champion Dustin Poirier submitted former Bellator lightweight champion MIchael Chandler in the third round of their 2022 fight of the year candidate to add to an incredible night of action.

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Ahead of his eventual induction into the UFC Hall of Fame, former UFC lightweight champion and three-division fighter Frankie Edgar's career came to an end Saturday via a vicious knockout.

Edgar, who had announced UFC 281 would be his final walk to the Octagon, was knocked out at 2:01 of the first round via a flush Chris Gutierrez knee straight up the pike.

The loss was Edgar's second straight and his fourth straight defeat in which he was finished by T/KO (Gutierrez, Chito Vera, Cory Sandhagen, Korean Zombie).

Edgar became a fan favorite during his early UFC run, winning the lightweight title and competing against the likes of Gray Maynard three times, Benson Henderson twice and BJ Penn three times. He dropped down to featherweight and twice competed against Jose Aldo for both the undisputed and interim versions of the title.

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With the announcement earlier in the day of a champion vs. champion clash between lightweight champion Islam Makhachev and featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski at February's UFC 284, they announced an interim featherweight title fight for the same show during Saturday's broadcast: Yair Rodriguez vs. Josh Emmett. 

Rodriguez is coming off a July win over Brian Ortega while Emmett has won five straight with his last coming via a June split decision over Calvin Kattar. Neither has held UFC gold before.